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Identity Crisis

21 °C

so we have a bit of an identity crisis... After traveling for a while you notice that there are different economic strata of travellers, a caste system really, to define the traveler.

The classification is based on a sigulare criteron - the size of your budget. No other critera are in the equation... it dosen't matter if you are a doctor or CEO or I Banker back home. It doesn't matter what kind of car you drive back home or even if you have a car. Out here, on the road you are defined by your budget.

Now... nobody comes right out and asks this (well, almost nobody... I did actually have a young American guy come straight out and ask me how much money I have for the trip while I was awaiting my flight to Turkey at JFK.) It's all rather subtle usually.

Your travel class (ranging from budget to posh) is judged by a collective of external signals including, but not limited to.... how you dress, your luggage, where you eat, what you eat, where and when you drink, how you booked your trip, what you do at your destination and perhaps most importantly.... where you stay.

in the circles we generally travel in, doing your trip on the cheap is really a source of pride (for yourself) and credibility (for others). A budget traveler needs to have done his trip cheaply in the same way that 50 Cent needs to have been shot 11 times (but he don't walk wit a limp!)... it lends street cred.

so we have some things going for us: First of all, like any good cult, you need a charasmatic leader... or in it's place a definative text. In the absense of a traveling David Koresh the budget traveling world turns to the Lonely Planet for guidence. We have 3 different LP's (had 3 until Karoline left 'East Africa' in a cab). If you booked through a travel agency back home... you are so not cool. I meean why would you do that when you could just read the LP and do it on the fly.

Secondly, the look: The budget traveler must have the appropriate look casual, yet hip and any exotic flare helps. Typically, this means jeans and t-shirt for guys a wrinkled buitton up and flip flops are acceptable. Girls can rock the same and throw some exotic looking jewelry, a sarong or linen skirt into the mix... but any attempt of trying too hard to look good is frowned upon.

Third, the luggage: Bottom line. Anything you can't strap to you back is strickly unacceptable. Suitcases... especially rolly bags are laughed at.

Forth, destination: It is acceptable to hit the popular travel spots, but the more off the beaten path you get the better. Fortunately, everybody from the west that is even in Africa gets bonus points for even being here, as Africa itself is off the beaten path. (esp. americans... we can't count on one hand the amount of americans we've met).

Fifth, accomodation: This is probably the most important criteria and usually comes up in the conversation when you meet people (i.e. this morning at breakfast, a girl asked us "Have you been staying at backpackers (hostels) through your whole trip?") A budget traveler gets extra cred for staying at cheap and cool spots and extra point for dorm rooms as opposed to private rooms. Even extra points for camping.

Sixth, mode of transport: Flying is seen as a bit posh and should be reserved only for those long legs across the ocean. Private bus tours are cool because you can sometimes hook up with other travelers. But the more typical bus is prefered (and there are bonus points if you have some horror stories about how long/horrible/hot/life-threatening your bus ride was... any story about AK-47 toting gaurds searching you is a big bonus). Renting a car is a little posh, but can be seen as practical.

Seventh, food/beverage: What, where and how you eat and drink is important. Obviously, the grocery store and the kitchen is the best option... followed closely by finding a 'killer deal' in a restaurant/bar. When you are at a bar, do you drink the cheap local brew or a cocktail, etc... you get the point.

All this being said... we are in a bit of an identity crisis. We have a very modest per dium budget and we've been under it most days... but, then again, it depends on what you are counting. The system we've been using is kinda like ENRON's mark-to-market accounting system that ended up getting them in a bit of trouble. For instance, we don't count 'big purchases' like the new camera or the gift shopping for you guys or the shopping spree we went on yester day for some new clothes, etc. Furthermore, sometimes we'll hit really nice restaurants for dinner, which we feel we 'deserve' since we just came from developing countries. We are giong to be touring vineyards around capetown (which is decidedly not budget traveling). We have flown twice in the continent. We rented a car. AND the sin of all sins... we splurged and stayed at a place with airconditioning and our own bathroom and TV in Zanzibar.

So the question presents itself... are we budget travelers? And as much as we want to say we are - after all most of our accomodations have cost us less than $10/night, we are expert hagglers, we have hit the cool locations, have the look and otherwie we usually meet the criteria... but we are not strict about it.

So... maybe we are a bit up market... perhaps our proper label is 'saavy traveler'... any suggestions?

Posted by LargeTuna 02:53 Archived in South Africa Tagged backpacking

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