Are you on Team Local or Team Luxury?
There are two competing ideas in tourism that attempt to dictate the way Americans travel. In one corner, Team Local is all about immersion. They say that the greatest reward of travel is to see how the locals live and to join them in their lifestyle.
In the other corner, Team Luxury has little tolerance for slumming it. They believe that vacations should be fun and comfortable and that you owe it to yourself to allow for some pampering on the road — especially in challenging destinations.
The question becomes most salient when traveling internationally, where the economic opportunity and hospitality standards can differ wildly from what we expect in North America. Do you seek out the kinds of hotels that locals might use, or do you book rooms at four-star properties separated from their surroundings by a walled compound?
Trying to weigh both sides of the issue leads me to one conclusion: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. This should come as no surprise. After all, I can’t even bring myself to be consistent in my own travel preferences.
More and more tour operators have begun to incorporate people-to-people experiences, home visits and other immersive components into their trips. I always find myself thoroughly enjoying these visits. In these circumstances, I seem to side with Team Local.
Sometimes, though, I side with Team Luxury. I visited Cuba a few years back, and although I found the destination deeply compelling, it was also deeply challenging. Modern amenities, for all intents and purposes, do not exist there. It was brutally hot, and most hotel rooms have no air conditioning. I remember telling my travel companions at the end of the trip that I was very glad I had come to Cuba but that barring major changes, I would probably never be back — in many ways it is too difficult a place to visit twice.
I may live to eat those words. Norwegian Cruise Line has recently begun taking steps to offer cruises to Cuba, and other smaller companies are already operating cruises there. Discussing this development in the office, I told some of my colleagues that I would love to go back to Cuba on a cruise. I could enjoy the beauty and culture of the destination during the day and then retire to a luxury ocean liner, where I could eat delicious, familiar food and sleep in comfort: the best of both worlds, I told them.
As a young, culturally aware travel professional, I’m supposed to value immersive and authentic travel experiences. And I do. But I also value delicious food, a clean bathroom and a good night’s sleep.
If you’re trying to solve this problem for your own travel group, my only advice is this: Don’t put people in a box, and don’t paint yourself into a corner. Give people options, and see what resonates with them. And try to cut people some slack when they don’t enjoy the same experiences that you do.
After all, we may be divided between Team Local and Team Luxury, but in the end, we are all part of Team Travel.