Destination shaming, it needs to stop
Alright, let me stand up on my soapbox for a few minutes: I’m sick of hearing people bash destinations around the world.
There, I said it.
Whenever I read a post on social media about how an individual had a terrible time on vacation, I sympathize with them. I truly do. That’s until I read their warning or call of action to everyone else saying, “Because of what happened to me, don’t visit this country!”
I get it, you had a terrible experience. This post isn’t meant to belittle that experience. I hope this post educates people about the harm these angry posts do.
How is having a terrible experience different than blatantly hating a country?
Now, giving an honest review of a certain company or accommodation that you received in that country is completely different than deeming an entire country unsuitable for travel.
For instance, I had difficulties with a car rental company in Iceland. And yes, I wrote a blatantly honest review about them and let people know about my experience. Yet, because of this experience, I’m not telling everyone I know not to visit Iceland, I simply tell them to be cautious when booking rentals with this certain company.
To let my experience of a country hinge upon the outcome of a business transaction is both naïve and dangerously reckless as a traveler. I’m only doing a country a disservice but chalking my experience up to how the food tasted or whether my hotel had bed bugs.
In all honesty, I don’t know if I can hate a country. It would require a lot of bad experiences for me to consider a country as skippable by other travelers.
Even though the travel advisories issued by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs hardly sway my travel itineraries. In short, it’s important to note the travel advisories, but it’s not a valid reason for me to never see a destination.
Travel is about so much more
Travel is about learning about diverse cultures and traditions. It’s about the friendliness of the locals, the unique vistas you cannot experience back home and the stories you have never heard before.
After closely examining those parts of your vacation, do you still come to the same conclusion? I sincerely hope not.
Sometimes different cultures and traditions will put us outside of our comfort zone and it won’t be enjoyable at that precise moment. Yet, each adventure I take I hope to be pushed further and further outside of that cozy bubble I’ve constructed for myself.
I yearn to witness experience unique to a certain locale because that’s exactly what will make me grown and become a better person — a more understanding person. The less uncomfortable and scared I am of the unknown, the better off I will be.
These countries are someone’s home.
When it comes to talking about our travels, we also have to be conscientious of the fact that these destinations are someone’s home. For some, this is a beloved sanctuary — they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. For others, it’s where they’ve called home for years and they respect it because of that.
That dawned on me recently when I was vacationing in Belize. Belize is a third-world country, so living conditions for some locals are much different from what I have witnessed before. There’s also a huge disparity in wealth. One moment you’re driving through mountain villages with homes without roofs, and then, 45 minutes away, through a town undergoing serious renovations to accommodate the 10-plus new resorts being built.
Although Belize is drastically different than my home, it doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of a travel destination. In fact, we should celebrate these destinations that are so unlike our own countries because they allow us to learn and experience life through a new lens. When I was in Belize I was not worrying whether I was connected to WiFi to update my social media status, I worried whether I could find clean water to drink and find enough that would last me for the next 24 hours.
Your experience is different than the locals’
Most of us are usually only in a destination for a limited period of time. Therefore, our travel experience will be far different than the experience of those who have roots in these countries. My limited experience of searching for a clean water source was just a small glimpse into the life of a Belizean. Finding clean water is something the Belizean people deal with daily. I’m privileged because I got to experience what their daily struggles are like, but I don’t have to live in those conditions — at least not for long. I had a return ticket so I could enjoy the comforts of my own home where I constantly had clean water.
In addition, we cannot judge an entire country based on the experience we had in one city or in the countryside. To even begin adequately judging a country, we’d have to travel the country for years and experiencing several vast destinations within it. Again, within a country, there’s many different cultures and lifestyles. To consider a country homogenous with the rest of the states, districts, within it is again naïve.
Stop comparing destinations
You can’t really compare burgers and pizza. You can say which you prefer, but you cannot say which of the two is a better choice overall. To determine which option is better there are many personal factors that would need to be considered — taste preference, what nutritional elements individuals are looking for, etc.
It’s very evident that you cannot compare burgers and pizza, just as though you cannot compare apples and oranges. Similarly, you cannot compare countries to each other.
As I illustrated, it’s never a level playing field. At its face value, I cannot tell you whether Colorado or Guatemala is better. From my experience, I can deduce which one is cheaper or has less touristy attractions. Yet, it’s precisely that, my personal experience, which is vastly different than anyone else’s.
Check your privilege
As a United States citizen, I’m privileged in the fact that I have many guaranteed freedoms. I can say, write and express myself however I want, with very few limitations. I’m able to practice whatever religion I choose and not incriminate myself in the court of law. This is just a glimpse of the daily freedoms that I am guaranteed.
On top of that, I’m blessed with the fact that I live in a relatively safe neighborhood and have access to clean water daily. I’m able to eat until I am full and there is never a shortage of food or heat where I live.
Yet, that cannot be said for the rest of the world.
Remember the big picture
In the big picture, forgetting our privilege has dire consequences. By not examining our privilege we establish the hierarchy of “less than” which leads to dangerous and incorrect assumptions.
Yes, it would be incredibly fortunate if the entire world had enough clean water and food to feed the masses. But overall, my way of life isn’t something the entire world needs to replicate.
For instance, hygiene practices vary all over the world. Some countries use bidets other countries don’t use toilet paper. Who am I to judge if someone cleans themselves differently than me? What entitles me to say that the way I clean myself is correct?
This example helps me illustrate the problem of comparing countries’ cultures and customs. In many ways, we’ve placed our country at the top of the hierarchy. Also, in the process have created assumptions that all countries should be like ours.
This is not to say that countries cannot adapt and learn from each other’s customs — such as policies and how they treat one another — but they shouldn’t be forced to do so. We shouldn’t have to think of countries in duality– good or bad, black or white.
Instead, we should embrace our world’s vast differences and uniqueness. After all, it wouldn’t be so exhilarating to travel if we were all so similar and the landscapes were uniform.
Go to countries that challenge your political beliefs
Buckle up, I’m going to blow your mind for a moment. You can still go to countries that challenge your political beliefs.
I’m a self-proclaimed feminist, and yes, I will travel to countries in the Middle East that are some of the lowest ranked countries in terms of gender equality. So why would I choose to go there?
To educate, to make a difference, to learn about the struggles these women face on a daily basis and how I can make an impact and make a positive influence in their lives. I need to hear directly from these oppressed women what I can exactly do to help out.
This means traveling to countries that still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). It also means traveling to countries where women do not have the right to vote. For me, it means stepping outside of my comfort zone. It means visiting areas where women’s education isn’t supported and where women are considered second-class citizens.
These cultural norms may be hard for me to witness and endure, but each offers me insight and a chance to education and become more educated about this global issues.
I strive to be a worldwide advocate for these women who do not have a voice. Thankfully, I can use my privilege and help out those less fortunate than me. By telling these women’s stories and sharing a glimpse of what their lives are like will spark a discuss worldwide and begin to implement change.
The big takeaway
Please, think twice before posting on social media about how much you hated a certain country. Seriously consider: what good will it do?
You most certainly have the right to write an honest review or talk about your experience, traumatic or otherwise.
Instead of chalking your disagreement over a business transaction to disliking an entire country, pause. Take a step back and think of why you didn’t enjoy this vacation. Don’t generalize a location by the limited experience you had there.
Regardless of how much time you spent in a location, you have a story to tell. Just remember that your story is the one of many that make up a narrative of a destination.
We also need to keep the bigger picture in mind. How can we help other travelers? Are there initiatives that we can contribute to that would benefit this destination and the locals?
Rather than complaining on the internet, let’s do something about it.