BackpackMister and I believe in being travelers, rather than tourists. As a result many of our vacations have been what I would call hard travel: long, dangerous bus rides, food poisoning from iffy food or water, bare-bones accommodations with dirty sheets and nothing pre-arranged but the flight. I believe we’ve been richer for the experience, because with hard travel comes deeper understanding of our world, not to mention, greater compassion.
But after a number of these challenging travel experiences in succession we decided, for once, to take it easy.
BackpackMister surprised me with the gift of an all-inclusive vacation to Las Hadas Golf Resort & Marina in Manzanillo, Mexico. It was a splurge, an extravagance. Gone was our typical cultural immersion. The frantic feeling of needing to find a place to sleep by nightfall was absent too. And not once did I have to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether the sheets were clean. It’s really the first time I’ve taken a trip and have been happy to report that all we did was eat and drink.
The staff were, without exception, attentive and friendly. Nicolaso welcomed us warmly at breakfast at El Palmar every day. Alondra guided us to our table at Los Delfines for lunch and Lagazpi, for fine dining, in the evenings. Richart cheerfully assisted us with our needs from his post at the front desk. At the large pool, Juan Jose answered every question with a wide grin and “Muy bien!” And all day long by the side of our peaceful, exclusive pool, Serge delivered the best pina coladas in the world.
All-inclusive experiences leave me conflicted. For me they also come with a substantial side of privileged class guilt. After all, we got the passport stamp but we didn’t experience “real” Mexico. We never had to practice our rudimentary Spanish-speaking skills. Even the food was inauthentic; it took three days before I saw a tortilla. The only locals we saw were the staff, except when a wedding was held on the resort. We witnessed a lot of bad behaviors too: tourists who were rude, disrespectful and overly demanding of employees, and many didn’t tip. Among some, there was a definite sense of entitlement…a true source of frustration for me.
As travelers, I like to think the Mister and I are different. But I’m not so sure. We were still uniquely privileged people on an expensive holiday, one for which we spent more than a local earns in a year. In a week’s time we left the resort only once, to experience El Camaron shrimp tacos for lunch with some tourists from Kamloops, BC. It was refreshing to get in a cab and speed through Manzanillo traffic, and the food was delicious. But that night when I had the traveler tummy grumbles, I was thankful to be back on the immaculately-appropriated resort.
The lesson I came away with is this: it is good to take vacations where you do very little, where your room is clean and pretty, where the food is safe, and where the drinks are plentiful. And as travelers, we should be careful not to judge the occasional, pampering getaways. But when I think of the many people who experience the world solely through all-inclusives, well, that concerns me. Because in the end we aren’t really experiencing a country, we’re not really growing our world view, we’re experiencing what a resort owner imagines we want to see and eat and do. And that is very often only a small departure from the circle of comfort we experience in our home country.
True travel – with all of its challenges – still offers the best way to come to new understandings about the world.
So, go ahead, give yourself permission to enjoy your time as a gently coddled guest – even if you are proud to call yourself a traveler, not a tourist. It is restorative experience in a largely chaotic world.
And for your next journey, trust yourself to find your way in the world. Gaze upon her unadorned face and be vulnerable so that you can fully absorb the lessons she has to teach you.
There is a world beyond the all-inclusive, and it is beautiful. But every once in a while a little pampering can’t hurt.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer, food-lover and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Photo on 11-2-12 at 3.52 PM #3
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb.
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at rollerbaggoddess.wordpress.com.