Have you noticed the desperation in the travel-addicted community over the past year? Out of habit or anxiety, many people I used to follow or still do tried to keep a similar level of talking about travel even when they were forced to stay put by the pandemic. Some shared photos of past travels. Others wrote posts about what they realised about the entire culture of travelling. Yet others shared their dreams and longings, and some still managed to sneak some travelling between constantly changing restrictions. I took some time to view these posts and hold their loss, understanding that many of them were really struggling with the sudden restriction of a habit that was making them happy.
But then, around April I think, I unfollowed all travel bloggers, except those who post interesting things about their country of residence. No bitter feelings or newly found anti-travel ‘wokeness’ here, it’s just that as they were raising social and sometimes economic capital for themselves with these posts and I was still travelling, I used to habitually check them out, maybe compare or get ideas, but as I viewed their posts for the last time in my lockdown shelter, I couldn’t see anything in them that held any value for me. I did not follow many cheery and cheesy ones anyway, but even the nice, reasonable, respectful ones, who could have claimed ‘I am a traveller, not a tourist’ or even denounced this claim because of its divisiveness, no longer felt like they are giving me anything. Instead, I embarked on several non-travel journeys, and I believe many people have, too.
Numerous blogs, microblogs, magazines, and individual careers are all about travel. Now that travel is so heavily restricted, how does one write about it in a meaningful way?
The first inspiration for this post came from an instagram account that promotes tourism to Malta. Since 21 March, Maltese authorities suspended commercial flights, making leisure travel next to impossible. So if that account is all about promoting consumer travel, should it stop posting, or should it find new ways to keep its followers engaged? The account painstakingly sought out hashtags like #thankstotravel, #moretoexplore, #staycurious and others – and many travel bloggers and ‘influencers’ jumped at them too. Many of them desperately struggle to stay relevant as people ease into the new normal, but these promises of delayed gratification (‘you will be able to consume travel destinations in the future – meanwhile, please, please consume these promises of future consumption’) sound out of place and tone-insensitive.
Still, making snarky remarks about the struggles of these people and businesses to stay relevant as their livelihood is threatened would not be helpful. I believe that amid this crisis, we should use even stronger filters of kindness and helpfulness before we publish or post anything. Social critique of systemic flaws in the travel industry is helpful, because it is necessary for improving our societies, but picking on individual ‘influencers’ and businesses is not. Instead, I would like to invite them to critically reassess what’s helpful and kind in their business model.
Between two listicles in The Guardian recommending Ohrid in North Macedonia as a top holiday destination (2016 and 2017), the price of the newspaper’s recommended hotel seems to have doubled. This tiny detail reveals that the country is basking in attention, and having it on one’s list of places visited is no longer a badge of off-the-beaten-track travel. Thanks to direct flights, many people visited the country and continue singing praises to this day. And why wouldn’t they, given that N. Macedonia has mountains, greenery, water and city life to enjoy?
Anti-consumerist travel achievement: fully ditching make-up. This happened way before 2018, but I never blogged about it much. I had never used much of that stuff, but every little item means more space in the luggage and more toxic chemicals down the drain. Using nail polish requires a nail polish remover. Using mascara calls for special fluid suitable for the eye area. Everything is packed in unrecyclable single-use plastics. It’s so much easier without any of these things! When I was younger, I allowed myself to get convinced that especially formal occasions demand following social conventions. I understand that many women also use make-up as a form of creative expression, and that these things help people, especially with less standard looks, feel more confident. Going around without make-up and not using facial cosmetics means exposing one’s skin to a world that is often cruel and merciless for women. Just think of the language in advertising: ‘impurities’, ‘imperfections’… Let’s cut this crap – we don’t owe the world perfection. Leave the cyborg looks to those people who are paid to look like this.
Real estate mogul Frank Salt, whose family-owned business is one of the largest in this sector in Malta, is known for writing somewhat puzzling columns for the Times of Malta, the country’s largest, conservative-leaning newspaper. I won’t help the editors, who eagerly publish all this, in their clickbaiting efforts, but you can find out about Salt’s interpretation of things by searching for his name plus ‘Times of Malta’.
In one of his columns in December this year, he said of British colonialism: “It was a match made in heaven.” Later in the column he wrote that it paid off to be friendly and not to mistreat people from other countries. Perhaps he was correcting the damage of his previous column, which I wanted to discuss here not because of its any meaningful contribution to public debates, but because of a very interesting warp in Salt’s reasoning, where he starts off by stereotyping and blaming people from other countries and ends up admitting that many of the problems boil down to bad infrastructure. Continue reading →
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
Between the main inhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago lies a not-at-all hidden gem, the island of Comino. It has only three permanent residents and serves as a bird sanctuary. It is also known as a habitat for various reptiles. As such, it is not overdeveloped like the island of Malta, and tenting, heavily restricted on Malta, is popular here. Despite these advantages, it′s not the land that attracts hordes of tourists to the island. Like a cumin seed from which its name is said to be derived, it adds delightful flavor to the archipelago experience.
Tourists looking at the rocks through their smartphone screens
I finally went there after visiting Malta on vacation and having moved to live here this year. I was told that May is the best time to go, and it′s best to skip the high season, but I missed that chance this year. I can see why people were giving me this piece of advice. The Blue Lagoon, the most famous place on Comino, with sea so magically blue that it could serve as an endless artistic inspiration, was littered with noisy party boats, pedestrian paths full of vendors selling stuff, so and reminded me of Sharm el-Sheikh a bit. Continue reading →
Ah, work-related travel… Anything is better than those single-day trips to Brussels I was made to take at some point, but I′m sure that everyone who travels for work is struggling to strike a balance between being fresh and alert in the morning and seeing as much of an unknown city as possible during the limited leisure hours. I stayed in Rome for four days and three nights, with a very busy schedule, but not only the organizers made sure that we see something, but also I was blessed to have a companion who has lived in Rome, as well as a colleague who grew up there and generously shared tips before I went.
I was prepared that if I do not manage to see the famous landmarks, at least I will enjoy charming urban landscapes.
Yet I managed to see everything I wanted – Rome is really easy to navigate, walkable, and has efficient public transportation, given its size and Mediterranean culture.
The best excuse to explore more of one′s country of residence is teaming up with people who are there for a very short visit. This is how I set out to explore the famous South-Eastern areas on a warm and lazy Sunday. Specifically, the fish market of Marsaxlokk has become a popular tourist attraction, and as for Birzebbugia, I did not know what to expect at all.
My first impression of Marsaxlokk was that it was shockingly hipster. I realized that I hadn′t seen such a concentration of hipsters anywhere in Malta. Whatever their lifestyle, the faux-lumberjack look is not popular with the Maltese at all. Accordingly, hipster men were in a company of colorfully dressed women, who would otherwise not stand out as much. There were many elderly tourists, too, probably English, given how much they had undressed for the bright but still not so generous Mediterranean sun. And some local families, too, looking for a bargain.
“…And if you′re planning a stag party, have a nice stag party,” a flight attendant said on my Amsterdam-Prague flight. To me, putting the words ′nice′ and ′stag night′ in one sentence is a sign of out-of-the-box thinking taken to the extremes, but I smiled to myself. This sounds very Dutch. After all, Amsterdam ran an information campaign for purchasers of substandard drugs to seek medical help immediately. What else could the service industry wish typical tourists in Prague, I wondered, remembering my first trip there in 2011. “May the content of your stomach be easy to clean?”
I went to Prague to attend a conference, and decided to stay the weekend after with friends. I was highly motivated to bust the myths I created for myself last time and to enjoy a completely different experience.