The Gypsy Life

by Nic Olson

Tourists are scum. I have no reason to believe the opposite.

When I am in the realm of travel, I easily get lost in the ticket booking, bus catching, cathedral gazing, street food eating, intestine cleaning, photo taking routine. But in the time I take to sit in the park or wander the back streets, I quickly become ill. Not physically, at least not right now (that tripe taco sat with me alright, actually). The fatigues and ‘responsibilities’ of a traveler can allow a fog to settle over their view of this grand old mountain of unequal and unbalanced lifestyles. Traveler and travelee. Tourist and the people of the tourist ravaged nation. Any traveler without some underlying guilt is far too lost in the personal, expensive, hiking boot fantasy that traveling has no negative side. I want to travel, I don’t want to be a tourist. What does this mean?

It means I need to remember things like this:

The poor already knew that they were poor and did not need the wealthy people of another wealthier country to come support the ‘industry of tourism’ or ‘bestow charity’ through volunteering or proselytizing. Unfamiliar faces simply reminding them of the places they will never go, the foods they will never try, and the ‘blessings’ and ‘luck’ that they will never have. It’s not like visiting dozens of ancient ruins and walking through market places makes a man knowledgable or worldly; traveling is just the logical step when you’re sick of your job and tired of your home. So, subconsciously or not, I personally seek purpose by attempting to document my time with a camera that I didn’t pay for, or by writing words that drown in cynicism. Or, I seek to legitimize my selfishness in travel by trying to help where I can, volunteering, which only further deepens the make-believe hierarchy of foreign power and wealth being all that matters and all that can save.

A friend emailed and said that I am ‘so lucky that I’m living the gypsy life’ and although I don’t neglect to see the luck I have, I doubt each day that the life of most travellers could be seen as meaningful. It is a form of mockery, flaunting wealth in the face of locals, eating churros and drinking beer. The locals make fun of tourists in languages that they can’t understand, but the tourists don’t know it, or if they do, must know that they deserve it in response to their mockery of wealth.

It could be seen that our options are either to be ignorant sitting at home, or to be ignorant away from home, as long as we are trying to stave off ignorance in either setting. As long as different culture is more than just novelty, but is understood as real life. Not just a playground for the well to do, nor just a sideshow for our better off, more advanced lands. But the line is thin and I’ve been walking it for far too long.

I will find myself in this same place if I continue to travel, trying to enjoy myself with new friends overtop of my ever present, unwavering guilt. The more I try to avoid this guilt and see my travels as unendingly positive, the closer I become to a tourist, and the scum begins to build. The life of a gypsy, when oblivious, can be wonderful, but when an understanding is reached of the inequality of it all, scum is evident and inevitable.

This scum embitters the fruits of travel.