I never use guide books. I’m not a ‘follow the leader’ type of person. If my imagination is ever reduced to walking the same path, seeing exactly the same sights at the same time and ‘hot bunking’ the same hostel/hotel flop as tens of thousands of other newly minted ‘globe trekkers’ , I will stop traveling altogether. In recent years there has been a spate of homogeneity that has brought traveling to a new level of boring. Mass tourism began with the publication of guide books. Starting in the 1950’s with the ‘Europe on $5 a day’ issues up until today’s ‘The Lonely Planet’ and ‘Rough Guide’. The ‘guide book’ has reduced the world to a deep overused wagon rut over a field populated by mindless unadventurous pap, all following in each others footsteps.
The guide book mentality has been followed up with a new phenomena, ‘the bucket list’. How non-spontaneous and unimaginative can life be if you have to plan your ‘fun’ in advance from a list mapped out by someone else that has been based solely on current popular trends? What if you were to miss out on line item ‘a’…’jump out of a plane’…would you go to your grave a failure? What ever happened to ‘live for today’ and ‘living in the moment’? The ‘Bucketeers’ now have a new resource with which to plan their lives, there has been dozens of ‘1000 must see places before you die’ books published in the last few years. This attitude to travel is an extension of the limited imagination expressed in guide books. “OK, everyone stand in a line and march like brainless robots and take a picture”. There are popular ‘travel destinations’ that more resemble meat processing plants than anything that might have attracted travelers in the first place.
I think the worst example of this lemming-like behavior can be exemplified in a movie, ‘The Beach’ filmed partially in Thailand. It starred a perpetually boy faced character who ‘left home’ supposedly ‘seeking’ a quasi-spiritual ‘experience’ by ‘finding’ a secret island already populated by people who looked, dressed, talked, obsessed and bitched in exactly the same jargon while expressing the ‘entitlement generations’ expectations as he had. Apparently the producers of ‘The Beach’ found communal ecstasy in sameness and this attitude towards accepting homogeneity as real life struck a popular chord with like minded simpletons the world over. Since then, one street in Bangkok in particular, Khao San Road has been completely made over to resemble ‘the tribe’ scene from the movie set. Freshly pressed dreadlocks and corn rows, newly cut tattoo’s, Bob Marley pants and every other de rigeur ‘beach’ fashion accessory is ubiquitous. A movie about life’s individualism’s has produced an entire cohort of followers that have descended on Thailand to be fleeced by sharp eyed trinket sellers, how apropos.
As expressed in Newtons ‘Law of Motion’, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, there are people who refuse to be herded and corralled by the guide book mentality of homogeneity. They are impossible to meet in hotel hot spots deluged with ‘tourists’. These are people who refuse to accept that the grinding conformity that working and professional life imposes on a person should extend to their travel time. I’m certainly not talking about the dentist who pays a Sherpa to carry him bodily up a trail on Everest so that he may ‘conquer the mountain’. I’m talking about the people who can find their own path by visiting unusual places, places whose names do not appear in any guide books, bucket lists or ‘places to see before you die’ publications.
I am suggesting that a person accept more unpredictability by going outside their comfort zone. This may mean anything to any number of people. I don’t expect anyone to throw themselves into life and death situations such as I am fond of doing. But, I do suggest that when you have driven, de-trained or disembarked at your destination, don’t follow the crowd. Just for fun, next time you find yourself in some tourist hot spot, head in the exact opposite direction than the crowd is headed. Look for places on the map that don’t appear in any guide book. That’s where the real action is.