No one collects the ugly postcards. We don’t like casting light on the less-than-ideal corners of our experiences. It’s the highlights we put the stamp on to send back home. The pretty parts.
I was in Málaga, Spain earlier this year. It was Easter weekend, and the town was bursting at its seams. Which loosely translates to… no parking. We drove outside the charming pedestrian streets of the city center towards the fringe neighborhoods. The architecture changed from the intricate historic style to flat, square, overwhelmingly nondescript buildings built with more haste and less design. In short, we were driving through the area that wouldn’t likely make it to the face of any postcard.
A thought struck me at that moment. About expectations, and how they influence our first impressions. Paris is by all accounts a beautiful city, but you wouldn’t know that pulling in to Gare du Nord the first time. If that was all you had to form an opinion of the City of Lights on, my bet would be that the songs would sing her less praises.
Paris has her blemishes, just like any other city. Bangkok has her share of slums mixed with the glittering shopping malls. That’s what makes them real, and not a postcard. As a traveler, it’s our duty almost to recognize the bad with the good. Responsible ecotourism is rising in popularity, as is the concept of volunteering abroad. People are finding new ways to see the world outside of the traditional vacation model, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I have no opinion either way, as far is which is better, vacation or travel with a purpose. I’d like to think of myself as an equal advocate for both. I’m more making an observation here about the potential of an experience to enrich when taken as a whole.
Being aware of the entirety highlights differences… in cultures, in lifestyles… in communities and the individuality that makes them what they are.
Travel opens your mind.
So let it.