There is nothing original in exploiting the types of people you meet traveling abroad. There have been many similar posts circulating the internet on past mediums describing the typically-flawed and caricatured version of a tourist. They’re usually written in list format and allege to be factual portrayals cementing a certain nationality, creed or class into one bracket without any flexibility.
We’ve all heard the claims that the Chinese make for the worst kinds of tourists and take too many pictures. While in Vietnam, I shared a hostel with a lovely girl from Beijing and we spent two days touring together. Not once did she use her camera over our pho dinner at a Saigon cafe or during the cruise down the Mekong Delta, whereas I held my iPhone in one hand and GoPro in another, taking more photos than I cared to later edit. Although, I did see Chinese people taking selfies of themselves drinking water from a fountain in an airport and in front of every single Hello Kitty store in Asia (there are plenty), so perhaps there is some truth to the outlandish stereotypes.
The masses also implore that the Americans are by far the loudest and most righteous and yet I couldn’t so much as hear myself think in the presence of the pompous British during a painfully long bus ride to Vienna. Possibly from growing up in a high-volume household, I’ve become incredibly sensitive to jarring noises and was able to pick out scores of other languages contributing to the overall noise pollution in any social situation. I did try to remain in the peripheral when in unfamiliar places, mostly by default since I was often alone or not in the company of other anglophones.
Locals on the overnight slow ferry to Boracay may vehemently oppose my shining self-assessment as an exemplary representative of the American population after the time I consumed in surplus of eight Red Horses. It was an awkward and uncomfortable 12-hour ride and I desperately needed a beer blanket. I can’t be sure (hoping it was an alcohol-induced dream at 2am) but I may have hung myself off the side of the boat, arms spread out like wings and reenacted the famously cringe-worthy Titanic scene where Leo declares himself King of the World (in my fantasy I was the Queen). I’ve always wanted to do that, I just thought that when I did I would remember it and there wouldn’t be a disappointed Filipino demanding I go back to my cabin and stop embarrassing myself on behalf of my entire country. A shameful story to be told in its entirety during another post perhaps.
Without denial or dream-like drunkenness, I admittedly do have a distinctly deafening laugh, but only when I find something hysterically funny. So, take it as a compliment. As you can see, there are always counter examples based on outside influences as to why negative stereotypes about one’s own nationality are never true. This is simply because there are assholes from every country. Sometimes you have the displeasure of running into that stigmatized asshole who misrepresents an entire nation. Sometimes, YOU are the asshole without even realizing it. I regrettably have been, only I’m well-aware.
Because it’s not possible, this isn’t going to be an exhaustive breakdown of all the crazy characters that roam the earth, but instead a commuter’s catalog written purely from my perspective. Keep in mind that sometimes these categories may cross-contaminate because thankfully, or rather hopefully, human beings learn from their past mistakes and adapt. Without further disclaim, here is my completely biased inventory of the types of creatures I’ve encountered throughout my journey.
College Caleb – He has studied abroad in Rome for three months or taken an all-expenses paid family vacation to New Zealand a few years back so is clearly an expert on all things travel-related. Caleb usually jet sets during the holidays or summer months between breaks. In extreme examples, he’ll take a gap year from university altogether in order to find himself and some drug paraphernalia as well. Caleb has convinced himself that he deserves this retreat from all of his hard work sitting in an ivy-league desk quoting Kierkegaard during his European Philosophy and Existentialism course. He also falsely believes that he has funded this trip from previous summer jobs, completely disregarding that his tuition and living expenses have always been fully covered. He spends a great deal of time shirtless and barefoot in the hostel, wearing only board shorts while shooting pool. Caleb will command the floor by walking around the table, taking turns sipping his cheap beer and flexing his pool stick, telling monotonous stories of all the other country’s hostels he’s occupied. It’s the proverbial pissing contest of wanderlust. While backpacking, he will pick up trendy foreign phrases and use them ad nauseam upon his return. He will return home with a new sense of fashion and a different haircut featuring shaved sides and a mini man bun. When he goes back to school, he starts every sentence with “When I was backpacking through Paraguay …”
Hipster Heather – She is a rich hipster, although, aren’t they all? A poor hipster is generally just called homeless or welfare recipient, but then it isn’t trendy… yet. Heather is drawn to gentrified cafes serving up matcha green tea lattes (to be fair it’s delicious, but so is street coffee) and organic gluten-free granola in even the most remote places of the world. She is traveling because her friend Mia did and Mia said it was hashtag trendy new word of the year. She’ll pop open her sleek new 12-inch gold MacBook Pro to write a few travel-inspired poems and check her bank account to make sure she has enough money. Just a measly $300k leftover from her trust fund, so she decides she should probably start cutting back on obscenely-priced hand-made jewelry and leather goods. She’ll complain to someone with $100 in their bank account and $10 in their pocket how broke she is and they will happily buy her a beer. No matter the climate, Heather wears tattered denim and clunky boots, not the trek-savvy hiking variety but the fashionably loose untied cost-a-fortune kind. Occasionally spotted in tie-dye apparel, crocheted handbags and hair wraps, she feels particularly moved by the ethereal meaning behind expensive local paintings of Balinese waves and the resilient life of a cockroach. Heather argues the semantics of “traveler” over “tourist.” She considers herself the former. *Instagrams vintage-filtered photo of child beggars playing together shoe-less in the dirt. Caption: Cambodia has got me like … #savage #squad #goals #AF #passportonfleek #thosetemplestho #thirstykids #angkorWHATTT #extra #wanderlust #travelandchill
Lifer Lucas – Lucas’ lifestyle defies the laws and desires of the human race. He is a lifetime loner, always moving from place to place and never knowing a stationary home. Lucas considers himself a citizen of the world. He cheaply traverses borders, living in shanties, bungalows and hostels, finding work through any means necessary. Lucas will promote bars, pass out flyer ads, work the graveyard shift at guesthouses, clean toilets, farm fields, sell drugs, etc. He owns only want he can carry in a light backpack. Lucas has dreads, not to make a statement but after years of limited access to proper hygiene. He rarely indulges in institutionalized medical facilities or preventative healthcare and is probably better off because of it. As a permanent transient, he has had more romantic partners than showers. He smells like salt, beer and cigarettes. Lucas has a fascinating perspective on life that makes for intriguing conversation.
Expat Eva – Eva has had it with corrupt corporations and the perverse politics occurring in her own backyard so she moves to another country where she is blissfully unaware that it isn’t any different. She still pays questionable taxes, steers clear of dodgy government policies and endures rampant sexism and/or racism Eva has become so disenfranchised by all the negativity back home that she doesn’t seem to even notice, until she does. Meanwhile, she eagerly dives into the new culture and slowly learns through trial, error and humiliation about cultural sensitives and certain practices. She recognizes that the quality of life for foreigners is comparatively better overseas than in her native country so she resists the urge to go back when things get a bit complicated, which they do often. Eva travels from country to continent until she finds the right fit for both her professional goals and personal growth.
Sexpat Sam – Not up for the challenge, Same enjoys the easy things in life. He is an advantageous, self-serving opportunist. Doesn’t look at the world and wonder how he can make it better, but instead at his own life and how he can make himself hornier. Sam is lacking in confidence, social aptitude and morality and needs the attention of disadvantaged, uneducated women to boost his pathetic ego. The Sams are usually displeasing to look at, even more so when using childlike hand movements in a lazy attempt to communicate with the young women’s shell he uses. Sam’s exterior is as repulsive as his interior. In a more transparent world we would call these men “predators” or “statutory rapists.” These rich, retired, bored, lonely men, capitalize on this abysmal industry rather than using their hoarded wealth to invest in the betterment of society. Apparently 5 seconds of self-gratification is more important than the development of the female mind and encouragement of her future. They often travel independently as to ward off any competition. Sams can be found in any country where women’s inequality runs rampant, which is just about the entire world save Iceland. The only slight sense of justice is Sam subconsciously knows these women would never laboriously lie beneath his unsavory convulsions without monetary compensation. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to care.
Rasta Ray – Ray is a laid back kinda guy. He doesn’t really get bothered by the little things and spends his days simply existing. Like any religion, the initial intent and purpose got lost somewhere along the lines and its traditions distorted. He dresses the part, smokes the drugs and listens to Bob Marley. “One Love” y’all! Wait, didn’t Bob Marley have an unknown amount of illegitimate children with miscellaneous women that he didn’t support? Oh right, forget the details, we mean big picture love, group orgy love. I’m sure his denied children really felt the love. Anyway, Ray is quite the individual, just like everyone else. He did have a point to make, a novel idea to share, but either had forgotten it from excessive cannabis consumption or was too busy napping by noon in the comfy bean bag beach chairs at the resident reggae bar to make note of it. Ray believes everything is a conspiracy. He frequents superficial universally-influential events that cultivate unity, spirituality, self-love and hemp, such as mainstream music fests. He selectively ignores that they’re owned and operated by corporate billionaires. He’ll just wait around for someone else to change the world and then complain about their methods and find fault in their motives once they do. Peace, love and vibes.
Solo Sadie – Sadie is well prepared, for the expected at least. She is a woman, she plans ahead. Sadie is an inexperienced traveler at first, both confident and curious. Sadie has scoured the internet for information and advice-heavy blogs detailing everything from safety precautions to practical apparel. She’s picked up guidebooks, read through them twice and intently studied the maps. Sadie has been told numerous times that she is crazy for adventuring alone and reminded of all the horrible things that could happen to her. Natalee Holloway and Brokedown Palace, the fear mongering persists. She is hell-bent on proving all the naysayers wrong, so she proceeds brazenly, but cautiously. Truthfully though, Sadie must spend more time, effort and money in taking extra precaution by planning strategies for worst case scenarios. She is always hyper-vigilant of her surroundings and on a slight edge. Sadie quickly learns however, that she can’t always be in control of everything around her. She slowly begins to ease off the intensity, but still follows a few simple guidelines, such as walking in well-lit areas, only riding in reputable cabs, taking pictures of their license plates, holding her thumb over her bottled beer, finding nearest exits, walking with keys or sharp objects protruding from her tightly-clenched knuckles, guarding her valuables and assets in satchels or lock boxes and substituting alcohol with water. She always comes equipped with insect repellent, sunblock, lip balm, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Sadie enjoys meeting new people, especially other single female wanderers because they intuitively understand each other. They’re certainly not opposed to meeting romantic suitors either and actively put forth an effort. Every once in a full moon, Sadie allows herself to lose all inhibitions, get caught up in moments and live wildly with abandon. These instances make for exceptional stories. They also trigger morning-after anxiety attacks.
Solo Seth – Seth is a fun, friendly youthful guy. He mingles and meets new friends with ease. Unlike Sadie, he doesn’t have to be as deliberate in his decision-making. Seth has a kind, adventurous spirit and is obliviously unaware of his penile privilege in traveling. He can effortlessly get away with being more carefree and taking far greater risks. Seth’s biggest concern is avoiding the dreaded phone and wallet pickpocket from the local street workers, a problem he could surely resolve by avoiding prostitute-populated areas. He enthusiastically engages in a lot of EPIC activity. Seth is an educated reader and thinker who doesn’t want life to pass him by. He’d rather grab life by the balls instead of the opposite. Seths are better individually. Group Seths have a different dynamic, especially if they’re all fighting for female attention to be the alpha-pioneer.
Flynn Family – They’re a peculiar bunch, definitely far from the cookie-cutter Brady days. They have a wealth of disposable income and invest it in the best way possible, through shared experiences. The Flynns value family time and cultural immersion. These aren’t the all-inclusive lavish resort kind of people, but instead a single-studio cabin kind of crew because they don’t plan on spending that much time indoors anyway. The parents discovered the joys of exploration long ago and intend to instill the same sense of wonder and world appreciation into their children. They’re not overly protective and encourage the little ones to wander in every sense of the word. They help keep group tours in business and their comedic banter provides entertainment for everyone else. The dad is extremely outgoing and loves chatting with anyone willing to listen. The mom is in control of the camera and rarely makes it into a single picture. The fortunate children are enthralled fun-seekers who are blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime, unlike so many others not lucky enough to be kin to a globetrotting pair. This group also includes fun, unconventional couples in search of the road less traveled. While they may choose to eventually settle down and grow their family later, they’re in no rush. They’re perfectly content in the moment just sipping coconuts in the silent sun.
Nomad Naiya – Naiya has hit rock-bottom and discovered it is liberating. She is physically and mentally exhausted to her core and decides it is time for a change. This pit pushes her to an awakening, an introspective breakthrough. She begins to explore every dark corner of her own psyche. She’s finished with the constraints, expectations and difficulties of her life and wants to erase her past and start anew. Naiya gets rid of all earthly possessions with the exception of her passport, luggage and a few of her favorite books. She wants to go where no one knows her name or tax ID. Naiya strips herself clean of old limitations and opens her eyes to new possibilities. Naiya’s goal moving forward is to live life with an open mind and nonpartisan perspective. Her steps become lighter, but her impact greater. She does yoga and nourishes her mind and body with only goodness. Her energy is infectious to other drifters who encounter her on their journey. She is genuinely unconcerned with modern technology, materialism and attention-seeking social media. Naiya becomes the enlightened, the clichéd, the impossibly whole-hearted happy vagabond you read about in every inspirational meme.
Retired Rianne – Rianne has lived a lifetime; she has seen and done it all and nothing surprises her anymore. She still has a home to go back to in the motherland for special occasions or family gatherings, but spends most of her retirement living overseas. She prefers the vibrance, cuisine and architecture of an unfamiliar city. Rianne is older, wiser and exudes sophistication. Rianne relocates to classy, quiet cities, the kind that value art, culture and a good cup of coffee. She becomes an observer, occupying only a small corner in a locally-owned family-run cafe. They appreciate her loyal business and affable conversation so give her free samples of their best cheese to accompany her carafe of Cabernet. When you’re retired, it’s 5 o’clock everywhere, she says jovially. She is an avid reader, devouring words that satiate her hunger for understanding the world from differing viewpoints. Rianne plods away in her leather-bound journal writing cluttered, chaotic thoughts. She has friendly conversations with travelers who remind her of her younger self and smiles sympathetically, but enviously at their naive exuberance.
Jacques – Jacques is French, obviously. He is from one of the larger, wealthier cities that encourages education and travel. Because of this advantage he speaks several European languages and expects that everyone else does as well. Although he fails to learn even a modicum of Thai during his many trips to Phuket, Jacques will berate you publicly if you have the audacity to so much as step foot in France without a fluent handle of the native language and complete knowledge of their rich history. The hypocrisy is lost on him and he doesn’t appreciate your sarcasm. Jacques and his amis are as outwardly nationalistic as a born and bred second-generation Navy SEAL, Republican-by-blood, gun-wielding, stripes-wearing Texan. Jacques flaunts his arrogance and his entitlement like a badge of honor. Though Jacques travels to get away from cold Paris winters, he would prefer that whatever destination he travels to functions exactly like France. He still has croissants for breakfast with a side of cigarette followed by a thimble of espresso. He will find the French quarter in every foreign location to break bread and slice cheese just as he would in Montpellier. The thought of eating on the go, snacking standing up, dining solo or the dreaded food served in a bag which is commonplace in Southeast Asia, disgusts him. He scoffs loudly at even the thought of such barbarism, or maybe he was just pronouncing a throated nasally “r”. Jacques’ favorite mantra is, “I don’t want to go there, too many French people,” which proves that the French don’t even like themselves. If you are charmed enough to get in the good graces of one of the few humbled French, they do make for incredibly generous and hospitable hosts. Just don’t mix artisanal cheese with mustard in their presence or you’ll be sworn at with a barrage of phlegm-filled curse words.
*Most of the names are for alliteration purposes only and can be interchanged with that of the opposite gender, except for the Solos and Sam. Sam is definitely a man.
So, which classification/s would you consider yourself? Unless of course you are the most unique angelic traveler and every place you have ever visited thoroughly enjoyed your company and awaits your return with bated breath.