How ‘Revenge’ Ruined Travel


We closed down just as the world started reopening up.

‘Revenge travel’ is a media buzzword we can trace back to 2021. Just when the world began to reopen. It was than that people decided to make up for lost time.

The thought of avenging or punishing goes with the idea that the virus was the enemy. It fit the metaphor. Indeed, many past mistakes and misdeeds came to the fore during the critical period of the pandemic.

But ‘revenge’ is not, as some pundits said, another way of saying ‘life’s short, I want to connect with humanity and nature.’ On the contrary, it brings about a desire to repay an injury or wrong. And that’s what’s happening in travel (and in society.)

It’s as if people closed down just the world was reopening. Because all too often ‘I want to explore the world and seek experiences that make me feel alive’ has come to mean ‘therefore I’ll do as well I please’ (myself.)

Permanent installation by Via Zamboni, Bologna.

The evidence is everywhere:

We’ve been good (en)during lockdowns, through campaigns pro and against vaccines with opinions galore about every inch of what we should and should not do. Now is the time to enjoy a well-deserved break.

There’s growing evidence that suggest people are feeling as if they should be able to do whatever they want, particularly when it comes to travel. When someone has spent a lot of time and money to plan and take a vacation, it better be great.

Perhaps it’s also a reaction to the steep increase in pricing—from airlines to hotels to beaches to restaurants—everything has become much more expensive. After the first wave of travels that dipped into savings, some destinations have become unaffordable.

But—the point remains.

‘Revenge’ brings out the worst in us; it indulges the dark side. And ironically prevents us from the joy we feel we deserve.

Stuck within the confines of our homes for long stretches we dreamed of far-away places. When the only way to travel was virtual, we used screens and social media to visit many parts of the world we might not have planned to go to.

It’s easy to see how all this pent-up desire became very ‘me-focused.’ Tour operators are increasingly witnessing a lack of knowledge or care about local customs and norms. “People don’t seem to care how their actions affect those around them.”

There’s been less (frequent) business travel. More of the people who are traveling do so infrequently and out of their own pockets. More people are traveling now who probably didn’t in the past (nearly at pre-pandemic levels.)

“I marvel at how accessible great art is and great culture is to travelers … and I marvel that there’s not more people than are in their own little two-bit way terrorizing the culture.”

Rick Steves

Make no mistake, there is a decrease in civility. Examples of coarseness in culture range from movie theaters, to Broadway and concert venues. With social media, everyone’s become a star in their own show.

Many travelers today are competing for social media likes and views. Tour operator Rick Steves says this is making people distracted. “They’re not paying attention. They’re not in the moment. They’re missing the beauty of it.”

I popped into a bakery in Cervia (RA) to buy some flat bread (schiaccia or stria). Their bags are filled with food stories and local recipes — what a great idea!

We can learn so much if we were to be there when things are happening. Rather than buried in a phone. It’s the exact opposite of what it seems in highly-edited Instagram shots—places and people are way more interesting than we give them credit for in social media.

There’s a bridge I saw in Firenze a few years ago that is still standing because both the Germans and the allied forces knew it was a work of art. We can say the same for many buildings and places all over Europe. Too precious to destroy. And yet…

‘Revenge’ is a forever cycle. Top vacation spots—there are many in Italy (apparently celebrities all vacationed in Capri, Amalfi and other parts of the peninsula this year)—threaten tourists with hefty fines, deportation, and jail.

The tourist who was filmed carving initials on the Colosseum faces up to five years in prison and $16,000 in fines (ANSA.) But it goes beyond the fines and reparations. Beyond public spaces, privates are engaged in a stand-off with tourists.

  • A café in Italy charged a customer $2.20 to cut a sandwich in half—they stand behind the decision.
  • A small extra plate for her three-year-old daughter on the Riviera costs two euros.
  • A couple of tourists were charged 60 euros for two coffees and two small bottles of water at the Cervo Hotel in Sardinia (pricing was posted on the menu.)
  • In Puglia, a set of sunbeds with umbrella costs an average of 50 euros on weekdays, but the price doubles on weekends. 

Prices are definitely up in Italy, in some places 240 percent. So high that many Italians are vacationing in Albania and Montenegro this year. Sans Italian cuisine, but more affordable.

The truth is that tourism is among the biggest global industries and, as such, it has tremendous environmental, cultural, and economic impact. We need to acknowledge and address what’s happening says award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker.

It’s an issue that involves everyone. France has been working hard to protect its culture.

“Tourism officials told me one of their biggest worries is becoming victims of their success: too many foreigners buying second homes or retirement homes in French villages and Parisian neighborhoods, which could tip the balance and undermine that sustainable and widely admired French way of life.”

Elizabeth Becker

Some countries are taking a preemptive approach. Bali and Iceland ask tourists to promise to respect their culture and environment after visiting it. Palau requires visitors to sign an eco-pledge on arrival. Indonesia announced plans to ban access to sacred places.

Local activists known as ‘Caterva’ use fake warning signs on some of Mallorca’s (Spain) most popular beaches. The signs say things like ‘dangerous jellyfish’ or ‘falling rocks’ or ‘no swimming,’ in English. Hidden lines of text in Catalan explain ‘open, except for foreigners and jellyfish.’

How Caterva uses humor to counter the influx of mass tourism.

Dubrovnik in Croatia had to endure drunken noise re-enacting Game of Thrones’ ‘walk of shame’ on the Jesuit Stairs in the old town. The city has successfully curbed some of the public nuisances through recent media campaigns. 

Visitors to Australia can no longer climb Uluru (Ayres Rock). The country recognizes it as an Aboriginal sacred site. Amsterdam recently launched a ‘stay-away’ ad campaign targeting drunk Brits.

Credit: Roger Coulam/Alamy.

The Netherlands tourist board says it’s now focused on ‘destination management’ rather than ‘destination promotion’ (Perspective 2030 report.) They want to switch tourists’ attention to other cities in the country.

Better infrastructure—connections between cities by train and public transport—does help people reach more cities. (Italy does alright in the north, it could do better in the south.)

Can we ever make up for lost time?

We change. The pandemic has changed us. In some ways for the better, in others for the worse. It’s good to understand that. Travel is a privilege. In ancient times, the traveler was a guest—which came with duties and responsibilities.

I’ve always avoided what Paul Bennett (Context Travel) calls ‘drive-by tourism.’ People go to a place for a few hours and want the ‘supersize me’ experience (complete with selfies), with no sense of the country, culture, and people during or afterwards.

You get what you pay for—and also don’t get what you don’t invest in.

While many spend hours trying to find the best deal(s) online, not enough people invest time in researching the country/ies where they plan to travel. What are the norms and customs? Goes nicely along with—what are the best foods?

A few years ago we traveled to Aruba. I had never been. Some people on the island speak Dutch. But most people speak a local language called Papiamentu. We downloaded a dictionary online and ordered a phrase book—just so we could greet locals appropriately.

If you make the effort to learn a few words of the language, that will go a long way to connect with people. Same goes for research about what’s happening in the area when you’re there. Hotel amenities may not be as important as a country’s history and customs in the great scheme of things.

I still remember the time I was in Oslo for a keynote and I forgot Norway doesn’t use the Euro as currency. Lucky for me, someone who was attending the event paid for my coffee. “You better earn it in the talk,” she said. Touché. I was there only for one night and thought I could get by.

June 2, 2022 – ‘Festa della Repubblica’ Republic’s Birthday ceremony in Lucca, Italy.

Rather than trying to make up for lost time, we could be making the time we have work in our favor. Travel differently. My first trip abroad was three weeks. A longer stay is something to consider, especially if you can work from anywhere.

I still try to spend as much time as possible in fewer locations. It gives me the chance to go deeper into what people do in that place. I want to live like a local as much as possible. Where I go, what I do, who I talk with, and how I spend.

Five days in Lucca last year were perfect for tasting and savoring the city. One month and you’ll get to appreciate how the locals deal with bureaucracy—crucial if you ever consider moving to Italy.

Travel can expand our minds. It’s a path to a richer life.

Travel is a big part of my life. I love learning about new cultures, watching how people do things, savoring the foods, walking along the streets with my nose up in the air looking at architecture, and yes, I enjoy vising museums and festivals.

There’s much to learn from people and places—the similarities and differences. They’re there, if we take the time to be alive while in and to the place and its people.

‘Revenge’ and trust are two sides of the same coin. We should learn the art of disagreement early in life, we don’t. But we can become better at making useful choices based on time dependent information.

For example, when to travel and where to go. Then, how to be there when we go.

Overtourism

It’s not a new concern. The term has been widely discussed in tourism literature since the mid-1960s. We’re just grappling with its exponential form. Quality of travel may be up for many, but quality of life is down for the residents.

The congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists can result in conflicts. It can lead to housing shortages. Too many Airbnbs in an area and you price out citizens. It’s an issue cities and local administrations need to address.

“We have to control the influx more if we don’t want it to become a complete Disneyland here.”

Dirk de Fauw, Mayor of Bruges

While a few try to get a snap for Instagram, ‘I just want to get home.’ (Shutterstock.)
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