Travel Snobbery Defined

A Gathering of
A Gathering of “Travel Snobs”, Photo by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Travel snobbery. Does it exist? If so, how would you define it?

When mulling over the topic in the beginning, the first question seemed to be a “no-brainer” as I personally felt the collective answers would be a resounding “Yes!”. And, as you read through the replies, you will find that proved to be the outcome. It’s in the definitions of “travel snobbery” where things truly became interesting… Is it the backpacker? Is it the cruise ship dweller? Is it anyone, or everyone, who steps over their own threshold to venture somewhere else?

Ant Stone

Trail of Ants

Travel snobbery exists. It’s probably oozing over this very panel discussion in the guise of anti-snobbery.

Travel snobbery exists. It’s probably oozing over this very panel discussion in the guise of anti-snobbery. I imagine it as a slobbering beast that roams the globe — almost always “off the beaten track”. Its backpack is the lightest, it’s been away the longest, and of course its tales are the tallest, and capable of usurping even the hardiest of travellers. It can usually be heard coming with the battle cry of “Why didn’t you…”, which echoes through the most secret dorm rooms and rarest cabanas of the world. It’s nearly died one more time than you. It’s spent a pound less. It’s cooked eggs with remote locals, been interviewed by rural TV and most often — perhaps tellingly — travels alone.

Daniel Massie

Dan’s Adventure

Travel snobbery most definitely exists. There are those who consider their experiences better than yours if they have stayed in one place for longer than you as they have got to know the place in more depth. Then there are those who consider the Lonely Planet “must dos” to be the be all and end all, if you haven’t done them, you’ve clearly missed out. There are also the travellers that have to do everything in the cheapest way possible, if you’ve spent more than them on accommodation, meals, transport or anything else, well you just aren’t as good a budget traveller as them. Conversely there are those who have a more lavish budget so enjoy spending more on things, some consider others to be “slumming it” by staying in backpackers or cheap guest houses. So I guess you could define travel snobbery as considering you’re own experiences to be better than anyone else’s and not even considering that other people’s were just as enjoyable.

Angelina Hart

The Little Travelers

YES!! Emphatically, it does exist! Travel snobbery is a very subjective thing that has definitely evolved over the years I’ve been traveling. When traveling through Europe as a college backpacker, the biggest travel snobs were those with more travel experience. My friend and I had spent the previous summer working as activities directors at a Jamaican hotel, so we were not virgin travelers backpacking with our Let’s Go Europe guides. We were snobs. Europe was super boring and blah after spending the summer before up mango trees with Rastafarians, and I hate to admit it, but we were not ashamed to let everyone we met know it.

Off The Beaten Path
Off The Beaten Path, Photo by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Now that I’m 40, I know many travel braggarts that post their photos on Facebook of ski trips to Vale and fancy resorts in Kauai. But I, as a single mother, took my two girls to Iran last year – and I have to say when at a dinner party I always ‘win’ the most interested ears in the room. No one really cares about a great beach vacation. But everyone in the room wants to know why on earth I went to Iran by myself with children. So off the beaten path still wins and I’ll have to admit, I am still a travel snob in that way. I couldn’t imagine ever lowering myself to a ClubMed vacation or vacationing somewhere with no cultural component. Some people flaunt money and others like myself experience. What I’ve found over the years is that people are more drawn to those with great stories than those who spend thousands of unnecessary dollars.

Daniel Roy

Backpack Foodie

I’m in the “live and live” camp when it comes to what one believes are “superior” travel practices. For instance, I’m a big advocate for eating locally and avoiding multinational fast food chains at home and on the road, but I understand it’s a matter of lifestyle choice.

For instance, I’m a big advocate for eating locally and avoiding multinational fast food chains at home and on the road, but I understand it’s a matter of lifestyle choice.

That being said – there is a lot to be said about travel consciousness. Certain travel practices – such as package tours to multinational-owned resorts that merely exploit the local economy to funnel the money out of the country, or exploitative tourism to tribal villages who do not see the money trickle down – should be held in lower esteem. Travel is not a right, it’s an immense privilege, mostly in the hands of the First World. If looking down on exploitative or destructive travel practices is travel snobbery, then call me a travel snob.

Jon Brandt

Travel Guy

I once met a couple traveling through Argentina, and after talking for a while the boyfriend told me that he was an amateur photographer and had some high tech equipment. But after explaining that I was into photography as well, he went on to say how stupid he found it to take pictures of famous landmarks, or to have a picture of yourself somewhere. I listened respectfully, but couldn’t agree less.

His theory was that you shouldn’t waste your time taking a picture of something that has already been photographed by a million other people, and that taking a picture of some garbage in front of the Taj Mahal, for example, was more interesting. I was pretty put off by this because, let’s face it, I’m guilty of wanting a picture of myself in front of a place I visit. Not all of them, but if I feel touched by the place I visit, I want to remember it.

That’s kind of the point of travel in the first place, to be touched by a place. You can’t take it with you, so you snap a photo in the hope that years later you’ll remember it and be touched again.

bugs on the way to Cheb
bugs on the way to Cheb, Photo by Derek Logan

Andy Jarosz

501 Places

Luxury travellers looking down their noses at backpackers and vice versa are the most obvious examples of travel snobbery. The snobbish luxury traveller sees the backpacker and wonders why they have come to a place when they haven’t got the money to visit the main sights, while they can’t imagine ever sleeping in a budget hostel, especially in a dorm! The snob backpacker on the other hand sees the luxury traveller (he calls them a tourist of course) as someone who visits a place but doesn’t see it; who ticks tourist sights off a list but never really understands what they are about.

I think a little travel snobbery exists in all of us. We put so much emotional effort into our travels, that when we see others who adopt a completely different approach to our own it can be easy to question the value of their travelling style. It’s probably unavoidable and we should at least be aware of our prejudices so that we can control them.

Many backpackers are the luxury travellers of the future, while those in posh hotels often look back at their time backpacking many years ago and are glad they can now travel in more comfort. They are often two sides of the same coin, linked more closely than either dares admit.

Many backpackers are the luxury travellers of the future, while those in posh hotels often look back at their time backpacking many years ago and are glad they can now travel in more comfort. They are often two sides of the same coin, linked more closely than either dares admit.

Dave

The Longest Way Home

Yes it most certainly exists, and does so, on several levels. I’ll try a few outline definitions:

The Person Who’s Traveled For A Couple Of Years: Ego unleashed they have seen better things than you, been to more places, and doesn’t mind reminding you of that whenever possible.

Money Bags: Yes they like to rough it, they don’t mind hostels, but damn it they won’t share a room, they want an en suite, a direct taxi to the place and if there’s no WIFI, forget it.

Kidwonder: Dashing around the world in a heartbeat, they’ve been to all the “cool” places, and don’t have time to sit still for a minute. Naturally enough, if you are more than 2 years older than them, then you are blatantly ignored.

All in all the worst snobbery I’ve heard is from a group of younger travelers who openly talked about a 50+ guy traveling in the same hostel being too old to stay there. I’m sure he could hear. Made me ashamed to stay there.

Pam Mandel

Nerd’s Eye View

Travel snobbery is all too real and unfortunately, all too rampant. At my desk, it’s defined as the attitude that you’re traveling “better” than someone else — be it more authentic, green, local, correct, whatever. Sure, there are as many ways to travel as there are humans that hit the road, but unless we’re talking sex tourism or bottom feeders (subsets I’ve got no patience with) then I’m just happy people are out there traveling.

Lola Akinmade

Geotraveler’s Niche

Travel snobbery has certainly been exacerbated by that never-ending clichéd debate of Tourist versus Traveler. Stepping off a half-sinking wooden canoe versus a cruise liner onto the same Thai beach somehow makes the canoe rider a “more authentic” traveler?

Readying For Next Cruise
Readying For Next Cruise, Photo by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Exploring a place in the traditional sense (sampling local cuisine, enjoying cultural activities) is no longer enough. One must trek through treacherous jungles even locals avoid, eat poisonous foods off endangered species lists, and constantly place-drop at parties and get-togethers.

“What? You can’t bargain in Quechua? Tskk”

The travel snob aims to elevate their travel experiences at the expense of devaluing yours. It really is ironic that many travelers who themselves explore other cultures to learn, grow, and become more open-minded to various aspects of the world build an internal caste system.

Want to know if you’re a travel snob? If a friend shares their experience riding a Cambodian rickshaw and you retort with “Bah! I actually rode backwards on a motorbike with three other passengers in Vietnam!”

You just might be a travel snob.

Cooper Schraudenbach

True Nomads

Of course it does!! Travel, on one level, like everything else, has become a contest, a competition. Who can go further, more remote, more expensively, more exotic – and anywhere there is competition, there is snobbery. Travel is full of “holy grails”, so to speak, and everyone on the road covets these trips and experiences.

enjoying the view
enjoying the view, Photo by Marlis Seelos

Talk about Arunchal Pradesh, Antarctica, Tibet, Bhutan, and Patagonia, and you get the idea. People flock around to hear your story, and pepper you for information on logistics and “was it worth it?” – The whole time with stars in their eyes. Of course, the “in” destinations are always changing, as the old become commonplace, travelers are always pushing the envelope, looking for that next dream destination.
Bhutan would be the gold standard – popular, mysterious, and exclusive with a difficult and expensive 200USD a day visa. If you have gone, you will have to fight the urge to exercise your newfound snobbery, and if you haven’t, you will be judged by the snobs that have.
This of course refers to backpack travel snobbery, for those of us who read Conde Nast, we will address that form of travel snobbery in the next installment.

Nellie Huang

Wild Junket

While on the road, I’d met a couple of travel snobs. In their opinion, backpacking is real travel, the best way to experience a country’s culture. They tend to belittle other forms of travelling (luxury, tour package, flashpacking) and think of themselves as the ‘better’ traveler. I recently wrote a blog post about travel snobbery — plenty of examples discussing the root of the problem. I think it all boils down to travelers being self-centered and immature: we all have to face the fact that we are not the only people who like to travel. There are millions of people out there who have an equal passion for it. Whether they are independent travelers, tourists on a package or road trippers, there are so many out there just like you, equally curious about the world, adventurous in trying new stuff and excited to be seeing the world.

Greg Wesson

Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe

We all have different tastes, and what we like to do impacts how we decide to travel. I’m sure that all of us, from time to time, have looked at another traveller (or even non-traveller) and thought that they were wasting their opportunities on their trips. Personally, cruising seems like the fifth level of hell to me, and I can’t understand people who travel to a new city to sleep all day and party all night. I can party all night at home. What is important is not if travel snobbery exists (because it does), but rather how we let it effect us.

What is important is not if travel snobbery exists (because it does), but rather how we let it effect us.

We shouldn’t let others ideas of what is the right or proper way to travel dissuade us from choosing the “how,” “why” and “where” of our travels. Similarly, we need to be vigilant not to feel superior to those that choose to travel in a way that we don’t understand. As long as they are travelling in a way that is thoughtful to their needs and the needs of the communities they are travelling through, then they are all right in my book.

Nora Dunn

Professional Hobo

Because travel is considered a luxury by most people around the world, travel snobbery kind of comes with the territory. I think there are a number of different brands of travel snobbery, depending on the “snob’s” echelon of travel and level of insecurity. It all has to do with your frame of reference and travel preferences; I think travel snobbery in general is a function of not being open-minded to other methodologies of travel.

Travel snobs will judge you by the number of countries you have visited, or the length of time you’ve been on the road, or the activities you’ve done, or the hotels you’ve stayed in, or even how far off the beaten path you’ve gone.

The sad thing is that travel is supposed to open up our minds and make us aware of other ways of life. However old habits die hard, and despite the inherent hypocrisy of it all, I think travel snobbery will always exist.

Private Luxury
Private Luxury, Photo by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Hannah Barth

Hannah In Motion

Of course travel snobs, like any other kind of snobs, exist, though it’s a puzzle to me how to define such a person. Part of me thinks back to Paris when answering this question. The land of crib-dwellers dressed in haute couture and moms who rarely leave their bastion of the 16th arrondisement, I think of the myriad of school vacations the French enjoy. Les moms sit in the best cafes and chat about their next family vacation to Martinique or Morocco, au pair girl in tow. This seems to be a pretty apt definition of a travel snob: someone who travels to the most chic destinations and would never dream of staying somewhere not recommended by Conde Nast.

Then again, there’s always the opposite end of the spectrum: the backpacker who thinks anything with a starred rating must be overdone, and anyone who doesn’t experience the local culture via city dirt between their toes is not living the true travel experience. I fall into the second category and am, admittedly, a travel snob in this respect.

[F]oxymoron

[F]oxymoron

Yes, travel snobbery exists! If it didn’t exist, travelers would have a difficult time massaging that snobbery into snark, and that snark into genuine, authentic travel experiences. Or perspective. Or entertaining stories!

Now, to be more serious, one of the joys of travel is reveling in the ambiguity of the unknown, and since we all start from somewhere completely different, we all carry around a special kind of ignorance when exploring new cultures. Travel snobbery is ignoring this.

So if you’re the kind of traveler that scoffs at spending an extra 2 cents for a bucket of cold bathing water, keep on keeping it real. If you’re the kind of traveler that scoffs at squatting – anywhere – to drop a deuce, keep on keeping it real. If you’re the kind of traveler that only travels with an entourage of personal assistants, keep on keeping it real. All of you place the act of travel into perspective.

In this world there’s more than enough room for all kinds of travel snobbery!

Swim-Up Bar
Swim-Up Bar, Photo by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Our Two Cents Worth…

I concur, snobbery exists and I’m a travel snob. I am one who enjoys the pampering of an all-inclusive and enjoys the “just off the beaten track” road trips to “nowhere in particular”. I won’t be strapping on a backpack to hike the Inca Trail in this lifetime nor ever follow the Silk Road. I’m missing out, I know. But, I’m not dead yet…

I’m a snob because I sit at the swim-up bar and snub my nose at the guy from Milwaukee who’s just happy to see they serve “real” beer in a can (Miller Lite) so he doesn’t have to drink the local swill (Red Stripe – I like Red Stripe) from the tap. (His words.) That makes me a snob. I also pride myself (and my husband) in that we connect with the employees, rather than the guests. We’ve been invited into their homes, met their families and built relationships. They earn their living the same way we do here at home – they deserve my respect. The guy from Milwaukee – he needs a lesson in manners. I also don’t care to hear about his plumbing business’ woes. I can get that here at home. (Call me jaded.)

Regardless, I agree we are all snobs in our own little ways – that’s life. It’s the connections we make during our travels that set us apart from the proverbial pack.

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Discussion »

  • #1Ant

    Great collection everyone. Probably could of done with restricting the word count, I reckon. But nonetheless, some really insightful thoughts.

  • #2Eugenia Van Bremen

    Interesting article, & something I’ve never thought about before. But I’ve got to say (and I don’t mean this meanly)…who cares?

    A few of the writers seem to get very aggrieved by the travel snobs. Why waste the energy & time on them? It seems like it only leads to frustration at best, and self-doubt at worst.

    I haven’t started my long-term travel journeying yet (still in the planning stages), but I’ve run across the same kind of snobs in other walks of life. They used to drive me nuts. But now, I just tell them that life’s not a competition, I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing how I’m doing it, & that I’d rather talk to someone with less of a superior attitude. Then I move on.

    And usually find someone much more interesting to talk about, who’s truly interested in sharing instead of one-upping. :)

    And if I can’t find anyone like that…well, the company of my own thoughts is more than enough to keep me happy. :)

  • #3Phil J

    Travel ‘snobs’ definitely exist… but I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps some are just proud. The ‘notches on the belt’ always feel good, and I am personally glad to have visited the varying cultures in this world. In any case, most nomads will inevitably encounter annoying travelers!

  • #4tourist

    Travel snobbery is travelling highest class!!!hotel suits, exslusive resturants, escotred by a limusine&your private guide.Travel snobbery is not mingling with the “natives”, actually it is like you are travelling in a glass box touching nothing , smelling nothing, hearing nothing , tasting nothing of the uniqe destination you came to learn about!!!Travelling snobbery is spending most of your stay behind barriers , I prefer staying home waching National Geographics than Travel snobbery!!!

  • #5rob

    @tourist

    i dont think that staying in a nice hotel dampens a travel experience. i travel cheap because i dont have a lot of money. if i did have more money i would definitely stay in a nicer place as opposed to the 4 wall and a lumpy mattrass shitboxes i usually stay in. these cheap guesthouses are great because it means i can travel – however they by no means whatsoever enhance my experience.

    and as far as transportation goes – i have had more than my fair share of ridiculously long bus journeys where my head has been slammed under some guys sweaty armpit for the entirety. if i had the cash i would take the odd flight as well. the novelty has worn off – get me to the airport!

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