Six Guilty Travel Pleasures

Like most people who’ll be reading this, I love to travel. I’d say it was my passion, but it’s more than a passion: it is my obsession. I love tasting weird foods you wouldn’t think twice about eating at home and resorting to charades to convey what I’m trying to buy in a local market. I love unusual and often uncomfortable ways of getting from A to B, struggling with new languages and am always ready to take the highs (stunning landscapes, world landmarks, tasting new beers) with the lows (squat toilets, 20-hour bus rides, relentless haggling).

But sometimes I feel the need to take a break, to take refuge in something familiar. This subject is totally taboo when you’re chatting with fellow travelers in hostel bars, a situation where people feel the need to convey how hardcore they are on the road – how little they spend, how infrequently they wash, how uncomfortably they travel (come on, we’ve all bragged about the 40-hour third class train trip that only cost 25 cents).

Still, we’re not in a hostel bar, so while the travel snobs aren’t listening I’d like to share with you my top six guilty travel pleasures; six little luxuries I take refuge in when travel gets tough. If you’re honest I’m sure you’ll admit to having indulged in a few yourself, even if you don’t dare mention them in public.

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1 – A familiar flavour

This might well be the biggest travel taboo out there – travel snobs prepare to be dismayed. Before I make this confession, let me say that I’m the first to stand up for local food. Sampling regional dishes is an integral part of life on the road and one of my favourite things about travel. But I’m also willing to admit that at times I tire of curry, stir-fry or goat stew and pap for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At times I just fancy a western meal. It happens to us all, whether we’re suffering from Delhi Belly, fed up of spice or simply craving some flavours from home.

Options for western cuisine might be limited in some parts of the world, but you’ll usually find a hostel bar serving greasy bar snacks, a high-end restaurant in some fancy hotel or there’s always the greatest taboo of all – a fast food chain. You’re bound to meet those who’ll look down on you for craving ‘your food’, people who claim they always eat the local food, that eating locally is what travel is all about. But do you know what? These are usually the people who feel insecure with their travel experience.

The key is to be comfortable enough with yourself and your travel style to say “screw it – I’ve been eating third-rate meat doused in too much chili for the best part of a month – I fancy a Big Mac!” You know you’ve eaten in the most authentic local restaurants, that you’ve sampled frogs’ legs, bulls’ penis or live squid and if some day all you fancy is a burger and a pitcher of beer, then why not? Travel is not only about the local experience – it’s surely also about enjoying yourself!

>>read about The McDonald’s Debate: Is McCulture Always a Bad Thing?

2 – My own personal soundtrack

OK, so I know that travel is enhanced by meeting locals and I generally love to chat with anyone who’ll indulge me, but sometimes, especially on protracted bus or train journeys, I tire of the superficial conversations that a language chasm inevitably causes.

Many of you will be shaking your head or tsking at this admission, but I’m sure if you’re completely honest you’ll agree that at times you’ve regretted starting a conversation with that eager English student who’s still in Small Talk 101. At these times, I swallow my travel snobbery and grab my iPod, shutting out the world for a while. In fact, I’m not even sure that I feel guilty as I ignore everyone around me and watch the scenery go by to my own personal soundtrack.

>>read about How Music Makes the Foreign Familiar

3 – An atmospheric pint in an Irish pub

You find them in the most random of places – a Kathmandu alley, a Cuzco plaza, a backstreet in Seoul and in pretty much any sizeable South African town. When I first started traveling I shunned all Irish pubs, believing them to be for unadventurous newbie travelers unwilling to sample local culture. But every so often, when local brews fail to hit the mark, when I crave a bar with furnishings a little plusher than plastic patio furniture, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong.

Now and then I like to shell out some extra cash, order a pint of imported beer, chow down on some sort of meat pie and enjoy a little entertainment, whether it’s a live band in a language I understand, a pub quiz on familiar trivia or just a chat with other travelers not too proud to acknowledge the things they miss about home.

>>read about Place in a Pint Glass: Traveling Around the World Through Beer

4 – An afternoon off

The first time a friend told me she’d spent the afternoon at the movies while traveling in Indonesia I was horrified. What a waste! She could have been visiting temples or bartering for a new bikini on a white sand beach. But now I realise that once in a while even the hardiest backpacker craves a bit of normalcy.

Life on the road can be hectic and often we seem to feel the constant need to be doing something – something to further explore our destination. Sooner or later, the relentless hikes, shopping trips, museum visits and religious encounters will sap your energy, so why not seek refuge the way any city local would – settling down with a bucket of popcorn (or the local equivalent) for a couple of hours in a theater.

Of course if you’re a technological traveler you don’t even need to seek out the local cinema. Just take a night off, buy a couple of cold beers and shut yourself in your room to enjoy a movie on your laptop, PSP or whatever gadget you pack in your rucksack. Sure, your backpacking peers might frown upon it, but a couple of hours away from the traveler’s life will most likely revive your enthusiasm and help you to actually start distinguishing one city from another again.

5 – Handing the reins to someone else

Guided tours naturally come with their drawbacks – a hiked up price and diminished freedom among them – but occasionally it’s nice to get someone else to organise things. When you’ve been traveling for months on end or struggling through a tricky land like China, it’s always joyous to book a short tour and relax for a few days.

It’s wonderful to spend a few days without haggling for a room, figuring out the public transport system, deciphering a menu or even consulting your guidebook to see how to spend your day. In truth the guided tour is probably the backpacker’s ultimate guilty travel pleasure, for if you get hooked on them you’ll lose your right to call yourself an independent traveler. Still, traveling can sometimes feel like it’s turning into a job, so perhaps the guided tour should be viewed as a mini break from your normal day-to-day life.

>>read about 10 Ghostly Tours to Take Around the World

6 – Ditching the Budget

As a rule I’m a budget traveler. I spend less so that I can travel for longer. I stay in rooms with questionable mattresses, eat in restaurants with questionable hygiene, barter for everything I buy and travel in the cheapest class, even when that means sitting on the floor with a chicken in my lap. But just because I travel like that doesn’t mean I don’t crave a little luxury in my life. My sixth and favourite guilty travel secret is plain and simple – the upgrade.

The upgrade can mean many things. If you usually opt for dorms, it could be an en suite double (even if it’s still in a hostel); those who usually go for the latter might treat themselves to a cheap deal on some hotel room. Maybe it means getting your own berth on a train, rather than sharing a seat meant for three with a family of twelve. Maybe it means jumping in a cab rather than on the roof of a bus. And if you’re really lucky (and wealthy) perhaps it means the ultimate upgrade – choosing business class on a long-haul flight.

One thing is for sure – it always means a smile on your face. Most likely you’ll have no regrets about treating yourself to a little splurge once in a while, even if you don’t admit to what you’ve done when you’re back in the hostel bar the next night.

>>read about Five Ways to Score Luxury Travel Deals

What are your guilty travel pleasures? Why not post a comment and share your thoughts with the BootsnAll community?

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Read about author Lucy Corne and check out her other BootsnAll articles


Photo credits:
iPod on train by Ooojasonooo on Flickr, Tour bus by windelbo on Flickr, Beijing McDonald’s by yewenyl on Flickr , India Cinema by Dicko2007 on Flickr , Hotel room by colonnade on Fickr , Irish pub by Cristina Puscas and may not be used without permission

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