Undoubtedly one of the greatest joys of travel is meeting like-minded people along the way. I would even venture to say that whether one’s recollections of a particular place fills you with warm fuzzies or a sense of indifference has more to do with who you spent time with while there than with the location’s inherent merits.
For instance, I had an incredible experience trekking through Patagonia because our five-person team gelled so cohesively. I can no longer separate my memories of that trek from the people who I shared it with. Likewise, sad to be parted from my new little group, I was in a bad mood for the following week that I spent in Buenos Aires on my own.
That being said, sometimes the characteristically negative interactions one has with other travelers can be equally memorable. The loud, disrespectful guy who turns on the lights in a dorm room after coming home from the club at 3am. The backpacker who complains about spending the equivalent of 30 cents more than the locals, on a purchase at the market. Or, the pretentious traveler who exudes superiority whenever she opens her mouth.
I met the last example during my stay in Lanquin, Guatemala. There was an American girl there in her mid to late twenties, admittedly very attractive, who always wore cowboy boots paired with a mini-skirt and rapidly batting eyelashes when she spoke. She had a rather hairy, pony-tailed English guy traveling with her on a motorcycle, and they struck me as a rather mismatched couple.
George, the English guy (I have somehow blocked her name from memory), explained how they had met up in Nicaragua and how he had invited her to join him traveling the rest of Central America with him on his motorcycle. He was very down-to-earth as he explained that they were enjoying their slow travel style, and he was obviously completely enamored, with an “I can’t believe she’s with me” look on his face as he talked about her.
I should mention that I was in a typical Mayan stone sauna at this moment, and that George and his travel companion had an audience of about eight others. The conversation was proceeding as typically as you’d expect in a hostel full of strangers meeting for the first time: Where have you been traveling? How long are you traveling for? Where are you from? Etc.
I addressed the American girl with the typical latter question. Despite her strong East Coast American accent, she nonchalantly replied “Oh, I’m a citizen of the world”, while running her fingers through her black wavy hair.
Stifling my desired response of “Is that what you tell immigration authorities when you cross the border?” I replied asking, “Ok. But what part of the States are you from originally?”
“Oh, I was born in Boston. But I don’t consider myself American anymore.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“Well, I haven’t lived there in so long. I’m location independent.”
“I see. So, how long are you traveling for on this trip?”
“Oh. I’m traveling indefinitely. For example, when I met George I’d just finished six months in the Darien. I never know where I’m going next. That’s why I’m a citizen of the world”.
This girl had such an air of conceit in her voice that I felt like punching her in the face but instead I just swallowed and smiled. And then came the punch line, when someone asked her how she liked traveling by motorcycle.
“Oh, it’s so much fun and unpredictable. We just go wherever we feel like whenever we feel like it. The only difficulty is bringing my hula”.
“Your what?” I ask.
“My hula-hoop. I hula everyday when I travel.”
No-one likes a know-it-all show off. Even if you’ve visited over a hundred countries and have been on the road for the last ten years, it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It makes you privileged. Travel should enlighten, build confidence and a sense of tolerance and community. So feel free to share your experiences, your wisdom and your stories with those less ventured,
but do so to encourage, not to impress.
Otherwise you’ll be shunned by others and some blogger will write a nasty post about you when they get home.
From that point on, whenever I would see this girl, I would avoid engaging in conversation. The next day when I spotted her and George inside the Lanquin Caves, I really wanted to ask her where her hula-hoop was.