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Brave New Traveler | 28th September 2009

Can Life Changing Travel and Luxury Co-exist?

While the “tourist/traveler” debate is a dead-end, can we assert that luxury and life-changing travel are generally opposite to each other? Ross Tabak explores the answer. You’re sitting in a dirty alleyway, perched on a bright blue plastic stool eating the best bowl of noodles you’ve ever had. A group of fanny-pack toting tourists shuffles by, following their guide’s umbrella and craning their necks to hear her narration. You let out a chuckle, happy to be on your own, free of the constraints of an organized tour and content in the knowledge that they have no idea what they’re missing. You return to your hole-in-the-wall guesthouse, only to find that the tourists and their umbrella are staying on your floor. The tour group mentality has always been an easy target for anyone who travels, making us feel better about our own adventures and providing a convenient Other to poke fun at. It’s getting harder and harder though, with companies like Urbane Nomads billing themselves as “travel mixologists” and blurring the line between hardcore travel and hand-holding tours. According to them, they’ve: “turned the typical tourist itinerary on its head- taking the tourist through a city’s back alleys, revealing its seamier (and/or more interesting) side , continually testing the limits of accessibility in travel or using a local folklor ic legend as a premise for an itinerary revealing current social and political problems.” (…) Dive the Great Wall of China with Urbane Nomads DIt’s also probable that, before this company existed, their clients would have spent ten thousand dollars on a luxury tour of Western Europe instead of hot air ballooning in Burma. As a concept, I think Urbane Nomads is the sort of tour company we’d all like to run. It’s the “urbane” part that bothers me. Adventure has always been a departure from the urbane, and if we begin to blur the lines between everyday comfort and eye-opening experiences we stand to lose the most important aspect of travel: to transform ourselves.

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