SIMON PARKER IN MY OPINION
Travellers’ Top Trumps, the new favourite game of millennials keen to impress with their globetrotting, is not the way forward
‘Have you done India?” I heard being asked from a nearby table across a coffee shop in Sri Lanka recently, my ears pricking up at the boastful conversation emanating from below a mop of blonde dreadlocks. On the ground beside me, a pair of 20-something Britons were discussing their recent travelling conquests around the globe as they sat, anklet-deep, in the soft sand – their turmeric lattes, dusted in cinnamon, glowing rusty auburn in the fierce tropical sun.
“Yeah, I did India in, like, a fortnight. I’ll do Thailand in 10 days I reckon.”
It was a lovely scene, indeed – lapping waves and rustling, lofty palms. But that choice of word, “done”… the cynic within me was riled. When did this enter the travelling lingo?
Why have countries, cities and regions become places that must be “done” – completed and ticked off like the levels of a video game?
I confess to once viewing the world similarly, believing that I had to try to see all of it. I hoped this would make me a more rounded, experienced traveller – but as my bravado has mellowed, I’ve begun to think that this philosophy is wholly unhealthy, for myself and for the planet. And don’t think I haven’t considered how rich this now sounds, coming from someone who travels endlessly for a living.
As a mostly solo traveller, subtle eavesdropping is one of my favourite pastimes. And while I sit and write copy or edit audio on my laptop, I’m often secretly tuning into the conversations around me in departure lounges, cafés and bars. More and more I’m hearing this word “done” – as though two weeks is ample time to digest and understand a country as rich, diverse and complex as somewhere like India, before then moving on to the next nation-shaped prize.
Perhaps, very delicately, this also plays into the global mess in which we now find ourselves. This is an era in which countries, cultures and nationalities are simplified and homogenised in political rhetoric, when, in reality, our planet is distinctly more complex.
People used to name-drop as a means of showing off, but these days place-dropping is all the rage. Mingle with millennials, especially, and the conversation will soon become an impromptu game of travellers’ Top Trumps.
All substance and context is often lost from travel chat. Instead, it’s a slapdash verbal onslaught in which contenders attempt to outdo each other. Tulum trumps Cancún.
Bhutan beats Nepal. Svalbard triumphs over Lapland.
I suspect this culture has been fuelled by the proliferation of the “must do” narrative of the modern travel media, where lengthy prose has been often been shunned for thrifty blurb.
It’s a culture in which we must do hundreds of things “before we die” – instead of engaging in arguably more rounded and worthwhile experiences. We live in an age of quantity, not quality.
Furthermore, tour operators depend upon cash flow and repeat business – a turnover of destinations to get “done”, before selling you the next place. All of this feeds into the worrying rise of overtourism and crowding at beauty spots around the world. We now feel obliged to do everything that everyone else has done – and tell everyone about it, immediately.
I’ve previously written about the negative impact of social media on the travel experience. But compared with listening to someone massage their ego with a list of destinations they’ve “done”, I’d argue in this case that platforms such as Instagram can be extremely
Why have countries, cities and regions become places that must be ‘done’?
useful. We live in a time when the ritual of catching up with friends has been cheapened, because most of us are following each others’ lives from the palms of our hands, on an hour-by-hour basis. Nevertheless, having one eye on people’s holiday snaps does save us the rigmarole of listening to them reel off a routine of travel clichés at a party.
As a teenager I liked the idea of trying to see every country on the planet, but the older I grow the more I realise that this is a distinctly selfish and self-absorbed conquest. I would much rather know fewer places better – even if that does mean, for me, that some of it will remain undone.
Taking a few snaps isn’t ‘doing’ India