Today, as I sat exhausted, sweaty, and disappointed under the sweltering sun on a park bench next to Big at the Dominican Republic National Aquarium, I realized I was no longer the intrepid, shoestring traveler that I once was.
“What’s wrong with me?” I wailed to Big. “I used to be able to trek around with a guidebook, a backpack, and a loose plan and have a great time.”
“You’ve changed,” he replied with a conciliatory smile.
“I’m not the person I used to be,” I said, letting it sink in. “I just can’t travel like this anymore.”
I lived in Cuba for five months, where I regularly hitchhiked around the city—be it with the local police, a curious person with an extra seat, or a dutiful citizen looking out for someone who they mistook for a fellow comrade.
I lived in Ghana for ten months, with increasingly frequent water shortages and electricity outings, ravenous malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and even came home with intestinal parasites—but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
And now I am counting the seconds until the day when Big and I get to the all-inclusive resort that I’ve booked for the second part of our trip. I want steaming buffets and made-to-order grills, fresh fruit on platters that won’t give me diarrhea, syrupy mixed drinks while I sun, and lazy water sports to pass the time. Once I take an inventory of the recent trips I’ve taken to Mexico, India and China with my Harvard classmates, I realize that whether I’d like to admit it or not…
I am officially a bougie traveler.
“But what have I gained?” I asked out loud, more to myself than to Big.
Before he could answer, I realized that, “Well, I could have never been able to pay for the type of travel I’ve gotten used to over the last few years. And now I can. And I should be really grateful for that.”
There are moments in life when we realize we are no longer able to do the things we once could—be it have a great day with only five hours of sleep, go on three dates in a week with a smile on your face, work 60 hours a week with abundant enthusiasm, or travel to developing countries on a shoestring budget. The key is to accept that you’ve changed, and then adapt to your new preferences and capabilities rather than fight the change.
My transformation into a bougie traveler helps me realize that no matter how much I shop at the store, I am not forever 21. The things that used to matter to me while traveling (spend as little money as possible and see as much as I can) are no longer as important. For every country I visit, I want to see the highlights of their best museums and buildings, eat the most delicious of their local food, see their national music and dance, spend an afternoon volunteering with a group of local children, see the special plants and animals that thrive in their environment, buy the earrings made by local craftswomen and men, and experience their movie-going culture while watching a local blockbuster. After that, I want to indulge in luxury that I can’t yet afford in my own country, and then go home with a bunch of beautiful memories and pictures.
So for the rest of my time in Santo Domingo, I am going to do just that. I am going to take taxis and not feel guilty about it, continue eating at the overpriced local restaurant that has yet to serve me something I didn’t like, and I’m going to a club tonight to watch the fiercest merengue dancers I can find. Then, once I get to the resort in Punta Cana, I’m going to nap in the sun, wake up to sip my pina colada, and then ride horses on the beach with Big.
I’m no longer the hardcore traveler I once was, but I’m no longer mourning it. I have the resources to help me adjust to my new disposition, and that is something to be infinitely grateful for. Thank God for growing up.