Welcome to Week 2 of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge 2012.*
The prompt for Week 2 of the Challenge is:
Are you an indie traveler? What do you think makes someone an indie traveler? We think you can be an indie traveler if you’re trekking through the Amazon, if you’re relaxing on a beach in Mexico, or if you’re wandering the streets of Berlin. We think you can be an indie traveler without even leaving your hometown – as long as you’re challenging yourself and your assumptions about the world, learning about people or a place different than your own, and seeking out experiences that help you better understand the local culture. What does indie travel mean to you?
This is an interesting question because I have never really thought about it. I also really don’t like labels – for example, the whole tourist versus traveler debate really irks me. Why does it matter?
Why does it matter how you travel as long as you are traveling?
If we assume “indie” is short for “independent” then indie travel would basically equate with solo travel, but I don’t think that is what the term really implies. Even the prompt given this week suggests something more.
I think we can probably all agree that the person who simply hops on a cruise ship, jumps off at a few ports of call and otherwise isolates themselves from the local culture and people probably wouldn’t fit the definition of indie traveler.
But what about the person who takes a group tour through South America, meeting locals through pre-arranged homestays and sampling the local cuisine? Are they any less an indie traveler because they went with a group rather than on their own? The idea of traveling independently would seem to be the opposite of traveling in a group, but it is certainly possible to challenge yourself, learn about other places and seek out experiences to better understand the local culture while on a group tour (regardless of what any naysayers might have you believe!).
Does indie travel have to be budget or no-frills travel?
I feel like there is an implication that it does, but I disagree. Staying in a hostel dorm and skimping on meals to save a few bucks doesn’t mean you’re doing anything to immerse yourself in the local culture, but I feel like people assume that kind of low-cost travel is somehow necessarily more “authentic.” You don’t meet locals staying in hostels – you meet them getting out into the community, going to local establishments (not backpacker bars) and, yes, taking guided tours and excursions led by locals. Learning about the culture and opening yourself up to new experiences happens when you leave your accommodations, so why does it matter where you lay your head?
And does indie travel have to be backpacking or otherwise traveling light?
Again, I feel like there is an implication that it does and again, I disagree. Why does it matter if you carry a backpack or roll a large suitcase? How does the fact that you carry a hairdryer, a makeup bag and five pairs of shoes prevent you from learning about the culture you’re visiting? In short, it doesn’t. Do what’s right for you so you enjoy your travels – while there’s value in challenging yourself, there’s no point in making yourself miserable.
I don’t consider myself a backpacker, even though I grudgingly carry a backpack. I am definitely not a minimalist – even if it means carrying a little more, I like to have clothing and shoe options and my regular toiletries from home. If I had the space, I would definitely be carrying a few more shirts, pants and shoes on my current trip!
I have always considered myself a budget traveler, but I am not one to skimp on experiences and, while hostels have been a necessity on my current trip, I have been much happier and more relaxed when I have had the comfort and privacy of my own hotel room.
I do consider myself an independent traveler, even though I have taken my share of group tours. I like to get off the beaten path, I am always looking for new and interesting experiences that give me insight into the local people and culture and I enjoy a good challenge. I have found all of those things traveling with a group, plus the bonus of making lifelong friends in the process.
So does all that make me an “indie” traveler? I’m still not sure.
And I don’t really think it matters.
*The Indie Travel Challenge 2012 is a weekly community blogging effort in which travelers from around the world share their stories. For every week in 2012, BootsnAll will post a prompt, question, or even a challenge.