Fun. Used to describe everything from roller coaster rides to dinner parties, the word fun gets thrown around a lot while traveling. People tell you a certain city or sight is fun and others are not so much. The phrase “was it fun?” is one I hear nearly every day without fail. While seemingly benign, I think this “travel culture of fun” often times makes people behave in a way that they themselves do not find very fun. Let me explain.
While traveling, there feels a tremendous pressure to have fun. Your family and friends are sitting at home or in cubicles back in the states (or wherever) and YOU feel that you owe it to everyone (including yourself) to have an enjoyable trip. After all you spent a great deal of money to get to France (or wherever) and to not have fun would seem to suggest that you might have wasted your money. And perhaps more importantly you are letting down your friends back home you are living vicariously through you.
With social media, all your activities for a day can be logged almost instantly and the pulse of your adventure can be felt from thousands of miles away. So to show how much fun you are having, you post a photo of you smiling at a beach in Nice (or again wherever). Your friends and family see it, tell you it looks like fun and the cycle begins. Feeling like your trip is a failure (in some perverse way) if you are not always having fun, you make an effort to do lots of things each day and maximize your happiness.
I have seen this in literally EVERY country I have been to. Travelers come through and try SO hard to have as much fun as possible. To the point that even when they are not having fun they still post photos online that make it seem like they are. In fact, I distinctly remember hearing someone in China say that they were happy they got a photo of them smiling in the Forbidden City for Instagram because they hated that day. He said, “Because of that photo, no one has to know.”
While sad and odd, stories like this are more common than you might expect in the traveler / backpacker community. People always feel the need to be having fun or demonstrate that they are having fun to people back home. Rarely in the context of a hostel do I hear people talk about not liking their trip. Furthermore almost no one would dare to tell people back home that they are not enjoying their time in beautiful Nice, France (or wherever) for fear of backlash. Even I personally experienced this when I was venting about essentially eating bread for days because I lost my wallet and they retorted how little sympathy they felt. All this is to say that traveling is a weird adventure and one that inevitably has its ups and downs. I (the minority) think to acknowledge those fluctuations is healthy, and perhaps more importantly allows you to truly appreciate then zeniths.
In Amsterdam, I encountered a refreshing break from this backpacking “culture of fun” and just got to relax with one of my good friends. We hung out with people from Carleton and outside of it and in simple, I had a blast. Unlike other cities where I had a list of things to do, I simply went with the flow and focused more so on spending time with friends than seeing the sights. In the end I never went inside the Ann Frank House, I didn’t boat through the canals, and I never ventured too far outside the city. But, looking back I would not change a thing about my visit. From attending a dinner party for their study abroad program to joining in on an impromptu game of ultimate Frisbee outside the Rijksmuseum (as seen in the image above), my time in Amsterdam was an unexpected blessing in surprise. Outside of guidebooks and tour groups, it was simply exploring a new city with friends. It was fun in precisely the way traveling should be. Thus taking a step back from my normal routine I was reminded of the simple pleasure going abroad can bring.
This is not to say that I am not enjoying my trip (I am) but I think I have been moving around for so many weeks that I may have forgotten what it feels like to put the passport down, sit down with friends, and just relax. Thankfully my time in Amsterdam was a reminder, and I could not be more thankful for all the fun I had.
P.S. I met a guy from Carleton at the frisbee game. Small World.
– Robert Yeagle