Many of those well-travelled writers insist you are not a “real” traveller if you don’t feast on local food.
For me, my first meal when in Singapore is always chicken rice at a hawker centre. I have a favourite spot for sauerkraut and bratwurst when I have a layover in Frankfurt. I found a family-run hole-in-the-wall in Greece that serves the most delicious moussaka — so much so that I went back three days in a row.
Food is something so deeply at the heart of all cultures. It transcends religion and language and is one of the easiest ways to connect with locals because eating is something we all do and can experience together.
But for some, eating traditional dishes, street food, and unfamiliar fare just isn’t for them. British friends of mine visited Tunisia, and on their return complained that they couldn’t find anywhere to have a Sunday roast. Each to their own. I will admit that I rolled my eyes a little when they said that, but it’s not something I will slate them for — they just wouldn’t be my choice of travelling companion.
I also won’t begrudge those travellers who make their way through Europe on a shoestring — those who take it as a badge of honour to do everything as cheaply as possible, taking a few extra slices of bread and pieces of fruit at the breakfast buffet to carry them through until dinner. I won’t, because 18-year-old me did exactly that: jaunting through Europe over the university summer holidays with the sole aim of fitting in as many big-ticket tourist items as possible in the four weeks I had.
If Instagram existed at that point, I probably would have been one of those people as well.
So many Kiwis checklist their travel wish list: “I did Rome and Paris last month!” “We’re doing Japan later this year!”
This attitude probably stems — in part — from the fact we live so far from anywhere, and Kiwis are known to love a bargain. We want to extract as much value as possible from our long-haul trip.
There are also those who say collecting stamps to fill passport pages or rattling off a string of countries visited proves absolutely nothing.
They find it abhorrent that so many millennials spend their time away hunting down the most visually pleasing and desirable angles for their social media feed.
They say you need to spend time in each location, get to know its secrets, and “live like a local”.
I spent five weeks driving 14,000km across Russia in a Toyota Prius. That experience taught me there is much more to Russia than the bustle of Moscow and the gleaming canals of St Petersburg. Some of the jewels are tucked away, hidden in the depths of Siberia.
But conversely, the only place in France that I have visited is Paris. Several times. From those visits I learnt that it is hard to beat a French pastry basket in the morning, that even the smallest amount of retained high school French goes a long way, and that the Mona Lisa really isn’t all it is cracked up to be — but the Louvre is.
I’ve spent an hour queuing on Roys Peak in Wānaka for the coveted photo overlooking Lake Wānaka. Was the hike overrated? Of course — it’s a gravel zig-zag running 16km up and down the side of an otherwise unremarkable hill. Was the photograph worth it? You bet.
Every journey results in new perspectives, a better understanding of the world, and a cracker of a story (or a photograph) that inevitably makes those back home jealous.
But each experience is different.
If you have ponied up the airfare, spent time pounding the pavement of a foreign land, and taken in the sights, sounds and tastes that interest you, you have fulfilled the exact requirements of what it means to travel.
Travel where you want to go, and do what you want to do when you get there. Just don’t complain if others do things differently. Or if you can’t find a roast chicken meal on a Sunday.