Travelling at 19 is wild and innocent. But one day you turn around and you're no longer 19. You're just travelling with people who are.
This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Remember when you were 19 and you went to Ibiza or Bali for the first time and saw a temple and thought "pffft temples" and then spent the next two weeks getting drunk and trying to fuck something? And you were comfortable in that decision because you knew you were travelling and that word alone proved your fondness for cultural exchange and spiritual engagement, while affirming your special sensitivities and unique talents to the world.
Yes, discovering travel was a wonderful thing, and it took you to a lot of kinky and obscure countries throughout your 20s. Only now the curtain is falling on your 20s and you're noticing all the other travellers are still 19. Suddenly you're at some backpacker's hostel in Laos, listening to an asshole strumming "Wonderwall" on their travel ukulele and an unpleasant thought blunders into your head: "Am I too old for this? Have I become a creepy douchebag?"
Obviously, I'm talking about myself. I went to Laos and it was great to eat Asian food all day, and I'm old enough to genuinely love temples, but something was off. Actually four things were off. Four things that made me suddenly hate all backpackers and backpacking.
Problem 1: Backpacking Is the Opposite of Having Children, Which Is Why Backpackers are All 19 and I'm so Alone
Image via Flickr user YoTuT
I think the appeal of travel is zero responsibility. If you're backpacking and you don't like a place, you can leave. If you don't like the people, leave. When you're backpacking you're not even blemished by who you are. No one knows what you're about, or if you're cool back home. You get a fresh start every time. Even if your one hobby is shitting yourself in sleeping bags and that's your thing, and everyone back home knows it's your thing—no problem! You're cool while you're overseas!
But getting married and having a baby is the opposite of this. If you have a weird hobby, your partner and their family will gather in a living room and hold cushions on their laps and ask themselves if the police should know. As a married person with a baby, you are inside an adorable hormone-reinforced prison of your own design, and you will not travel again until retirement.
Subsequently, travelers are all 19. That or they are people escaping cultural norms. Both groups are equally obsessed with "finding themselves" which is one of the most dreary conversation topics ever invented.
Problem 2: Everyone Is Obsessed With Finding Themselves
Image via Flickr user Keith Parker
In the history of the world, do you know how many people have found themselves by making out with Germans and falling off motorbikes? None. In fact, most people go home sick, broke, and rattled after a few weeks. Also, how many meaningful interactions have you actually had with the honest-living indigenous peoples of (insert country here)? And buying a poncho from someone doesn't count.
I have a poncho and the label says, "Made in China." Ironically I wouldn't go to a Chinese poncho factory because my brain says, "peace and understanding don't come from a factory in China," and yet my memento of peace and understanding did come from a factory in China. Also the 40,000 year-old hilltop lady who sold it to me didn't consider herself to be a purveyor of peace and understanding. She was just the shop front for some third-world supply chain I didn't understand.
Problem 3: Travelling Makes Me Racist
Image via Alba Campus
Not racist in the well-trodden anti-brown people sense. In fact, Laos showed me how infinitely smarter, nicer, and all-round better the locals were to my own countrymen. Laos is a country that's been more heavily bombed than any other on the planet, simply by the unfortunate virtue of being next door to Vietnam. And are they bitter about it? On the surface, no. They treat foreigners like friends, whereas in Australia we lock up foreigners for simply trying to get a job at Domino's.
Instead, travelling makes me racist about people from rich countries. We're all so annoying. British lads travel about in packs of seven trying to get laid, while consistently being the most sunburned people in the whole country, sporting sleeveless shirts that advertise backpacker bars, and wearing thick clumps of ancient festival bands with which they spread fun vibes and disease.
Dutch and Germans just go around the world looking for the most horrifically authentic travel experience the can find. "I hate this town," they always tell you in a tourist town packed with other Dutch and Germans. "Last week we were up in Tkugytfsuyfspoguhfsg, have you heard of that place? No, I didn't think you would have. It's very remote. Very remote. They don't even have people there, it was just us and leeches. We loved it."
Americans tend to travel alone, but they travel only so they can find new people to talk to about America. You will never hear an American ask "where are you from?" If you think that's what you've heard, you're wrong. They were just talking about how expensive it is to get a drivers' licence in Delaware.
Israelis are also a bit like this. Israelis treat travel a bit like an elaborate form of Tinder, whereby they travel the world looking for other Israelis. Then they find each other and gather in Israeli-themed restaurants where they spend weeks watching Family Guy and eating falafel and getting dangerously, terrifyingly stoned.
But of all the nationalities, no group of people are more irresponsible and cheerfully insensitive than Australians. Our women will go from sober to alcohol poisoning in 15 minutes, and then scream heart-wrenching insults at taxi drivers before slumping asleep in a garden bed. As an Australian guy I'm aware we do this too, but with more time up our sleeves before passing out. We use this time to alternate between frothy-mouthed lust and aggression while pissing on everything we can and stealing drinks from bars and nicking hotel fixtures and/or religious icons because we think it's funny. Both sexes do all of this in shorts, even when it's snowing, and we all think this lends us a sort of naive charm.
I could go on but you get the point. Travelling has filled my head with cultural stereotypes and that's bad.
Problem 4: Actually, This One Isn't a Problem, It's More of a Solution
Image via Flickr user Ian Mackay
So I can't do this anymore. I've gone travelling too many times. I've had all of the six backpacker conversations that exist. I've become all too aware that backpackers are douchebags and that I'm a douchebag because I'm one of them, and I'm wasting my whole holiday stewing about the fact we're all douchebags. But I have a plan.
Next time I travel somewhere, I'm going with a mission. It could be anything, based on what I'm into at that moment. Like I'm going to climb the tallest tree in Japan. Or intern on a film in Nigeria. Or convince the richest person in Slovenia to come out for a beer and then sit in silence when the bill comes. Or fucking whatever, I don't know. Just something that punctures that cultural surface that as a backpacker, is just so easy to skim. Just something to do that's not seeing a temple, or getting wasted.
I don't know if this will work but I hope it does. Because I can't do the baby thing yet, and without travel there aren't too many other secular, 21st century doctrines to worship.