Two weeks ago I went on a short vacation with my family and there was nothing “perceptive” about our travel. We ate, we drank, and we sat around a swimming pool. Apart from walking down the beach and back one day, we didn’t leave our all-inclusive resort. Am I a bad traveler?
In the insufferable “traveler” or “tourist” debate, I would certainly be tagged as the latter on this trip. I could partially justify it because I had won this three-night stay through a travel story of mine winning first place in an annual contest run by a travel writers’ organization. But the truth is, I picked this particular resort in Puerto Vallarta from a list of prizes. On purpose. I really wanted to go there and do nothing for three days with my family. And the further truth is, I’ve done it before, in this same city even.
The first trip I took with my then-girlfriend, now-wife a very long time ago, we went to Jamaica. I booked us at a nice locally owned small hotel on the beach in Negril and we spent part of the time exploring the island on a motorbike. We bopped around different bars and restaurants in the area. On the way back to the airport though we met a lot of people who had spent the week at an all-inclusive resort and they looked damned happy I had to admit. And unlike me, they were coming back not smarting from paying for lots of meals and drinks after arrival. Since then I’ve met a lot of other people who have gone to Jamaica and stayed at places like Couples Resorts for a honeymoon or just a getaway and would gladly do it again. Including people I think of real travelers.
After Jamaica we went backpacking around the world for a year. Then another year, then another after that. We made snide remarks about the people overpaying for fancy resorts in Sharm-el-Sheik, Antalya, and Agadir, in those resorts that follow the same playbook on every continent.
But then we we had a baby and were totally worn out from the messed-up sleep schedules and constant attention, we dropped said baby off with one of her grandmothers and made a beeline to the Riviera Maya of Mexico. Through a deal from Skyauction, we spent less than $100 a night for the two of us at a low-end all-inclusive and did almost nothing but eat, drink, and be merry. We slept for 10 hours a night and spent much of the rest of the time lying in a beach chair or hammock. While waiters brought us cocktails. We returned fully recharged.
Since then I’ve repeated the experience, in places where you wouldn’t want to leave the resort anyway (like Cancun) and places where you could but we were having so much fun that we didn’t (like Club Med Ixtapa).
So if you want to really explore a place and get a feel for the culture, stay at a private local hotel that’s not too big and spend most of your time outside its walls. I’ve done that in the same places where I’ve stayed inside the resort walls, on other trips. But sometimes all you want to do is decompress, sit on a beach, and enjoy the pleasures of unlimited food and drink. When that urge hits, call yourself a tourist and be proud. That label is not like a tattoo: you can return to being an explorer on the next trip.