This post has only questions but no answers. Quite simply because I don't have any. But I like to think that the right answer will come if only we learn to ask the right questions first.
Are we still allowed to like Bali?
This is a question that has been bugging me for a while. Who cares you may ask, and you would have a point because really - who does care? Is anybody judging me and my like for Bali but me? Maybe, maybe not but the question remains - who cares?
Bali has been to Australia what Mallorca's Ballermann has been to Germans for years. It has become a haven to so many Eat Pray Lovers wanting to find themselves whatever that may mean, it has become a cliche and is now home to every major travel blogger holding workshops and retreats for millennials on how to become a travel blogger too. While everyone admits that the times of untouched rice paddies views have long made way for Starbucks & Co., we like it because it is still just the right amount of "exotic." We can feel adventurous without having to venture too far from our comfort zone. Yes, the traffic is terrible and the pollution horrific and everybody agrees that something called 'authentic' is not to be found in Bali anymore and yet, surfers, yogis, digital nomads, honeymooners, and those seeking spiritual enlightenment are still flocking to the island year after year searching for exactly that - authenticity and easy living.
I am one of them; I hate to admit.
What got me thinking was a post by a German blogger, accusing especially other travel bloggers who in her eyes encourage irresponsible tourism by still promoting Bali. Another post popped up in my feed today, speaking about overtourism and also points the finger at travel writers calling us corrupt. There is a grain of truth in these posts, and apparently, this grain has bugged me enough to think about it and question my love for Bali and the way I travel in general.
From a business point of view - Bali sells. All those travel bloggers with their workshops will attest to it as do my own stats - my Bali content is some of my most read on this blog. Still, I get that blogger's point - we as writers have a responsibility to this world and not just to our reader. If we could just ignore the former, it would give us absolution to write what readers want to read, pushing any blame away from us. Who can blame the producers of trashy reality TV shows if so many of us are watching?
Personally, this situation is a dilemma for me because I am not in Bali to follow a trend (and really - can Bali still be a trend?) I am here because despite all its issues and shortcomings I still like it. Am I supposed to be here and not write about it, not share on Instagram? Difficult as I tend to share my daily life with you and I travel slowly, meaning I usually spend a month in a destination (or longer, depending on visa requirements) before moving on and mix 'office hours' with content creation during any given trip.
And I believe in travel. I believe in the concept of travel helping us move closer together, to understand each other better, to walk in someone else's shoes if only for a while. Lisa Lindblad, one of my travel heroine phrased it like this:
"It is a guiding principle of what I do and, if world peace may be a reach, the capacity that travel has to change people’s lives is certainly not. I believe that travel should be a requirement and not a privilege."
I genuinely believe she is right, but maybe that is naive of me. Especially in light of so many travelers lounging at Bali beach clubs, enjoying 2-for-1 cocktail hour, families spending two weeks in the secure four walls of a Club Med, and me traveling on a luxury train through India with a personal butler while people sleep on the platform our train has just pulled into? Has traveling as we know it today and the touristic development in recent years, become the opposite of Lisa's beautiful sentiment?
Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who lives in Ubud part of the year. While he loves his life here he also complained about the 'scene,' the Eat Pray Lovers and their Lulu Lemon yoga pants and vegan smoothie bowls. I get where he is coming from, but I think what holds true to yoga also holds true for traveling. Both have become a business, yes, but personally, I have seen the positive impact both yoga and traveling has made on my life, what they can do to change a life so who am I to judge how someone goes about it? You need some chic outfit and a green juice to make it onto your mat today? So be it! Maybe you went to class purely to get a cool shot for Instagram, but maybe it was also the first time you didn't think about the guy who broke your heart for an hour, felt accomplished after you got laid off from your job or had a good cry because something inside you shifted once you curled up in Child's Pose.
And I think the same holds true for traveling. We see adventures on a plate thanks to Anthony Bourdain, feel inspired to sail the Seven Seas after watching Blue Planet, and gasp in awe when browsing through National Geographic but the truth is, we all define adventures and comfort zone in our own way. Not all of us are meant to hike Everest or eat snake cooked seven ways.
I have a friend who is a cameraman for a major international channel and regularly goes to some of the most dangerous areas in the world, reporting on wars and disasters. Looking at him you would think this man has no fear and hearing his stories, you would think his comfort zone knows no bounds. I thought so too. Until I suggested, we grab a quick dinner at one of the many street food places in Bangkok. Turns out this is where his comfort zone ends - he will not ever eat street food, something I found hilarious considering his profession. Then again, chances are you won't find me out camping in the middle of nowhere for days on end, doing number two in a hole in the ground.
It just shows that comfort zones are something highly personal to each of us. For some of us, a Pad Thai is the extent of how far we will go when it comes to food and Bali as far as we are willing to travel to get a glimpse of what we consider unusual and adventurous.
Who am I to judge someone else's comfort zone as long as they are trying to broaden it just a bit? Sometimes, I just want to drink coffee and not leave my fancy hotel bed and also don't want to be judged for that.
I am sticking to my guns of trying (trying being the operative word here!) not to judge someone on how they want to travel and where and the fact that yes, I still like Bali. But the questions these blog posts I mentioned remain: how are we as travel writers contributing to overtourism, what is there to be done about it by the travel industry as a whole but also by an individual traveler? Is it as simple as choosing different destinations, as traveling as responsibly as possible and not ride elephants or is it time for us to stay home, world peace be damned?