Travelers sometimes associate poverty with authenticity and seek those with less to see more. When you travel to a place, are you missing out on what is ‘real’ if you don’t see the poorest parts of a city or country? There is often the discussion over different types of travelers and “real travel”; but does seeing poverty bring you any closer to reality?
Talking About Real, Literally
Travelers by definition don’t stay in the same place for too long and the longer they do, the more of a local they become. It’s possible to travel slowly to capture the feel of a given place, but in essence you have to stop traveling to achieve that state.
Most people who travel to a place stay for a short period of time and attempt to unravel a culture in a few days or weeks, searching for an absolute truth about a city and its inhabitants. It’s as if the well off places are dreams and everything else is reality when in fact it’s all real.
To understand a people culturally you have to look at the spectrum of classes and lifestyles, not just a single one. Places and people that are poor (in terms of material wealth) aren’t any closer to an absolute truth than anyone else.
In many ways, culture is independent of wealth and income – poor and rich people adapt to an environment within a shared cultural context. You may see how hard the life of a porter is but the life of an accountant in that same city is just as authentic as anyone else’s.
The Human Condition
I’m living in the medina, or old city, of Marrakesh at the moment and everyone is telling me how much of the ‘real life’ I’m seeing although I’m not convinced. As a place, group of people, or individual improves their living conditions, they do so within the framework of their culture.
- It’s all real – as the economic condition of Morocco or Thailand improves, it does so with an Arabic or Thai touch to it. When and if these (and other) places Westernize, they will in their own way partially because they view the West differently. The West isn’t incorporating those places, those places are incorporating the West in a very unique way.
The reality travelers are searching for consists of the human element. We want to know what makes us, Homo sapiens, at the core, human. We’re all human and real whether we’re rich or poor, which is something you can only see when you witness and live within both.