Think of the word, “travel.” What comes to mind? For me, it’s adventure, seeing new places, spontaneity, and learning about different cultures. With the rise of Travel 2.0, travel seems to have taken on a different meaning.
Websites like TripAdvisor and IgoUgo are useful for learning about places beforehand, and racking up good activities and restaurants based on user reviews, but the concept of Travel 2.0 has grown so large it takes the place of authentic experience.
I’ve been living in Prague for over two months now, and know the city pretty well. I know where I’m going in the city center and walk with purpose, different from tourists who wander about with maps and cameras in hand. Still, I get yelled at by a tour representative asking if I want to go to a boat party that evening, or want a Segway tour.
This morning on my walk to class a tour guide approached me saying, “Hablas español?” I am Latina, and I do speak Spanish, but I didn’t respond out of habit and continued on my way. He stopped in his tracks, stunned, and yelled, “Wooooow!” after me, as if my dismissal of his solicitation was absolutely appalling. I laughed it off for several reasons. One, I know I don’t look Czech, but I don’t look like a tourist either. Two, these tour guides thrive off of the idea that people can’t experience a city without a guided tour or boat cruise. Three, the tours offered aren’t aimed at giving a taste of the true Czech culture in Prague. They’re curated to offer the most picturesque views and dine in the most expensive restaurants.
For people who don’t travel so much, this seems very appealing. They want to trust the people of the culture they’re visiting, and oftentimes have no idea what they’d be missing by following an online guide or guided tour. I don’t mean to discredit travel blogs and guides – they can be very resourceful when traveling to a new place. But they shouldn’t be the only means of exploration.
Before this year, I only ever travelled with my family on vacations, and they weren’t too often. I thought of travel as described earlier, but vacation as leisure. When these are combined, you get tourism. And it makes sense for families. Everyone wants their plans to go over as smoothly as possible. Naturally, they follow the opinions and recommendations of experts, and those who claim to be.
I was perusing a travel website looking for a good club in Prague that I haven’t yet been to. I noticed on the sidebar that the number 1 club recommended by the website is Cross Club. It should not be. The first night I ventured out into Prague nightlife, I went with a group of friends to Cross Club because it was recommended by NYU and is practically famous on travel websites. It was the worst club I’ve ever been to. From the music, to the environment, to the people, I just didn’t jive with anything. I never expected the “best club in Prague” (I’d like to speak with whoever coined it as that…) to be decorated with strange metal robotic sculptures and play laser beam techno music. My friends and I stayed for the hell of it, but will never figure out the appeal of it. Later we learned that it’s like a haven for pickpockets and crackheads. Good.
The best experiences I’ve had during my travels have been ones that I have planned and executed on my own. I’m a firm believer in finding your own adventures even where there may seem to be none. My heart sinks at the thought of only seeing a new city for a weekend – it’s simply not enough time to get the full picture. Still, I think only a minority of people travel this way. Travel 2.0 is progressing, and expanding so far out of the authentic experience of discovery that I worry what the traveling industry will become. I think Travel 3.0 is on the way. Virtual Reality tour of Europe, anyone?