Egotourism – Putting the You in Travel

Travel FacesWhen I was a kid, I used to sit on the floor of my grandmother’s single wide trailer and look at her collection of National Geographics.  My grandfather was usually away in Sumatra, Iraq, Hong Kong, Norway or somewhere else – and I would look through the magazines trying to find stories about the places he was visiting.

I suppose, like many kids, National Geographic was my introduction to world travel and the fact that there was more to the world than just the little mountain town we lived in.  That yellow border and all those huge fold out maps, not to mention the full color pictures in the magazines laid my path out ahead of me, though I didn’t know it until much later.  The funny thing is, I can remember tons of those stories but I can’t tell you who wrote them. Not a single one of them – they may have been the stories of great expeditions, new discoveries, or something else – but they weren’t egotourism.

I should define that term – maybe the best example would be the now very famous viral video by Matt Harding “Where the hell  is Matt?”

Egotourism is the kind of writing, film, travel, or blogging that puts the person doing the reporting first. In the video above, the focus really isn’t on the places so much as on the fact that Matt is in all of them. There’s a huge difference between this kind of thing and the National Geographics I used to look at. Those were about the people, the places, the history, the culture – today, when I look at a lot of travel blogs – what I really see is the ego ahead of all the rest of it. Let’s get it clear – I’m guilty of it – this site started out as my personal adventures – My name is Vago and this site is called Vagobond, maybe it’s not as direct as ‘Nomadic Matt’ or ‘Adventurous Kate’ or “Johnny Vagabond” but the intent was certainly the same – as time has gone on, I’ve tried to put much less focus on me and more on the travel – some of those others have too, but there is plenty of Ego-Tourism out there still.

What am I doing here?I remember that when I walked around the Island of Oahu, I thought it would be newsworthy and was surprised when no one really cared – it was only 130 miles, after all. Same with hitching across Canada with only $2 – it was a stunt – or rather- it was something I was doing that I tried to make into a stunt but without much success. Since that time, I’ve seen people doing far more adventurous, dangerous, silly, or just plain insane things.

Rolf Potts went around the world with no baggage (and did it the smart way with sponsorship first), I met two guys who walked across America dressed as Spanish monks (I have no idea why – they weren’t monks, they were using twitter to pick up girls and getting hammered every step of the way – maybe they were monks), I met a guy riding a unicycle from Egypt to South Africa (no idea if he made it or not), I’ve met plenty of hikers, cyclists, walkers, runners, buskers, and solo sailors and while I love the circus aspect of ego-tourism and the spectacle of the ‘Hey, look at me in this crazy spot doing this crazy thing!” – I’m also a little bothered by it. It can get ugly very fast – someone pointed me to a website of a guy who is ‘fucking his way across every country in Africa’ which is nothing short of sexploitation at it’s very worst and degradation on top of it.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here except, I have become a bit weary of the egos in travel. I’ve become a bit jaded about the reasons people are traveling and in some cases, I’ve decided that travel just isn’t worth it because you have to deal with the travelers. The tourists are fine, but the travelers tend to be so focused on themselves and how much better they are than everyone else that it is just unpleasant to be around them.

Lame travellers
The old Turk is far more interesting than this backpacker....

I have a friend that went to Petra recently and she told me that she met no less than fifteen people who described their profession as travel bloggers, five travel writers, and a few travel photographers. She was only there for a week! One thing for sure, it made me scratch Petra off the list of places I want to go right away. Those might be the coolest, nicest people in the world, but more likely they would be like the couple I sat near on the public ferry yesterday going up the Golden Horn – on his backpack was a 5 inch square that said ‘Don’t touch me Bitch’ – both of them had thousand dollar cameras and took pictures each step of the way and as they spoke loudly, I got to overhear their conversation – it was so incredibly petty and I just wanted to shake them and say “Stop talking for a second and look at those six schoolkids throwing stones from that rusty bridge!” or “Hey, look at that old Turkish man over there cleaning out his boat. How long do you think he’s owned it? Wow – wouldn’t he make a better picture than the Galata Tower?” – but I didn’t. They wouldn’t have liked it and frankly, it’s none of my business. As I said, I’m guilty too – but perhaps not that guilty. At least I hope not.

It’s just a bit sad. One of the reasons I love the Sahara is because I remember sitting at Moha’s mom’s house eating her homemade date syrup and a huge loaf of desert khobz. Turkey is special for those hikes in Manisa with everyday Turks who told me “If you see food, help yourself, just be ready to run!” I was in those places, doing those things, but what made them special were the people, the land, the texture. Perhaps, I’m simply becoming disillusioned as the texture of travel starts to feel like people are laying their texture over the top of the local texture, the big travel egos end up blotting out the texture of the local ways, and the spectacle eats up the experiential.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing here this week – in my mind. In terms of my body, I am back in Morocco playing with my infant daughter, hugging my beautiful wife, and enjoying the tastes and smells of this place that I sometimes wish my own big travel ego didn’t forget to notice is really quite nice.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook