It is June, which to me means summer is here! It is getting hotter, kids are finishing their last days of school, and parents are planning vacations (maybe less this year because of the recession). I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced--the resort vacationer.
International travel can be one of the most amazing experiences imaginable. It can open your eyes to new cultures, new foods, new ways of life. It can also break your heart and change your life. It can help you to see how little material things some people have. It can inspire you to ACT. On the other hand, it can also just be a luxuriant week of excesses that does little besides reinforce the inequality in the world.
When I went to Nicaragua with Outreach International, we spent 10 days or so visiting some of the poorest communities I have ever seen, then we spent the last two days of our trip reaclimitizing to the "Western world" at a beach resort. This contrast was hard to deal with on many levels. The excesses at the resort were socking compared what we had just experienced the day before. It was heart-breaking to see such wealth while our friends in nearby rural villages were struggling for daily necessities. One of the more shocking realizations we had was that there were some people that came to Nicaragua and only went to that resort, then went home saying they had been to Nicagua, claiming they had experienced the culture.
This kind of resort vacation misses the point of international travel. Not only does it inhibit the cultural exchange that is so valuable, but it also refuses to acknowledge the immense poverty in the world. As a matter of fact, it could even be accused of making fun of that poverty. Certainly we would consider it taunting if a child ate a huge ice cream cone right in front of another child who's mom wouldn't (or couldn't afford) to buy her one.
I guess this brings us back to the tough question of how much is too much when others have nothing?? Which is something I don't know if I will ever figure out or feel good about.
Either way, I do have a couple of recommendations for traveling...outside the resort:
CouchSurfing- It sounds odd, but it is really an amazing way to meet people. You stay with local people for free, offering your couch for others to stay when they are visiting your city. Don't worry, the whole system is based on recommedations, so you can avoid creepy and scary people :) It is a great way to get a taste of local culture! Check out this NY Times article about it. I joined CouchSurfing a couple months ago and love it!
Global Exchange- An organization with a mission of building people-to-people ties around the world. They set up great Reality Tours if you really want a taste of local culture, with some volunteering involved too. It is expensive, but they do all the work of planning the trip for you.
WWOOF it!- This really doesn't have anything to do with dogs. It stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Basically you work on an organic farm and you stay there for free. Great way to meet people, experience the local culture, save money, and give back to Mother Earth!
And if you aren't up for these options, then just LEAVE THE RESORT!