In hanging out and talking travel with friends, it’s become apparent that certain destinations are “cooler” than others. The “coolness hierarchy” is based on a few calculations, including the perceived danger of the travel destination and the degree to which it is far away and culturally different than home. For young American travels, that means Peru is cooler than Mexico, Senegal is cooler than France and Cambodia is cooler than Japan. What, I wonder, is the driving force here?
Part of it is the feeling that certain destinations are “worn out.” Hundreds of thousands of young Americans have backpacked Europe and have seen the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum, whereas the temples of Angkor Wat and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe are less covered in Timberland-brand footprints. I noticed this phenomenon when comparing friends’ responses to my stories of traveling in Ghana against the responses of the same friends after my trip to Italy. Rome and Florence just weren’t seen to as “special” as Accra and Cape Coast were.
I think this is partially a function of each traveler’s personal possibility. Some people just aren’t as willing to tackle West Africa or Southeast Asia as a destination because they are so very different from home, whereas Europe is seen to have many of the same amenities and cultural norms as home. There’s certainly less culture shock when traveling to Europe than there is when going somewhere more “exotic.”
On the flip side, there are travelers more like me who begin to shun the destinations perceived as “safe” and seek out the most culture shock as possible, almost like adrenaline junkies seek out the world’s tallest and fastest roller coasters. We want something as opposite our home culture as possible, and we’re bored with destinations that just aren’t different enough. All too often, we shun Europe and similar destinations as “boring.” It’s a fascinating phenomenon, a gentrification of travel.
I think travelers on both sides of the issue need to rethink things. Those that stick to “safe” places to travel are missing out on some of the most interesting cultures and beautiful vistas the world has to offer. They’re effectively limiting themselves to a certain set of destinations, a limitation which is anathema to travelers such as myself.
Conversely, people like me who shun the tired-and-true travel destinations like Europe are also missing out on experiences which ought not to be missed. I was admittedly less excited to travel to Europe than I was when going to Africa, because I thought my trip to Ghana set the bar very high for international adventure. However, I found Italy enjoyable in a much different way. As a history junkie, I felt a strong connection to the ruins of the Roman Empire and the artistry of Florence. Had I rejected Italy even before I went because it wasn’t “cool” enough, I would’ve missed out on a great trip, and that would’ve been a shame.
For travelers, there should be no self-imposed limitations on travel based solely on the “coolness” of a place. There is no medal for going to the coolest destination; travel is not a contest between those who travel. Equally life-changing, safe travel can be had in Europe and in Africa; in Japan and in Vietnam. Why limit those opportunities?