I know I can sound all holier-than-thou when I talk about how I haven’t shopped in months, this whole needs so many clothes, stupid wasteful luxury (“the height of Capitol excess”). Walking the large, Suria Mall in Kuala Lumpur… just wow. It has that smell, that mall smell, the smell of capitalism. There are stores I used to shop at without thinking, spending hundreds at a time, like Banana Republic and Guess, and those that I can only dream of shipping in, like Burberry and BCBG. It’s almost enough to make me want a real job again.
I stand by the fact that seeing a city as an independent traveler and as a traveler on business are two very different things. I’ve visited many cities as a traveler in either class, but there are a few circumstances that have allowed me to see the same city from both sides.
The first can result from multiple visits, for instance, New York City. I’ve stayed in a hotel right off of Times Square and enjoyed a dinner of filet mignon topped with foie gras and truffle macaroni. I’ve stood in the rain for over an hour, trying to find the right bus or ferry to get to Staten Island and praying my Kindle didn’t get wet.
The second way to experience a city both as bourgeous and backpacker is if a city is a level so economically beneath your home country (ie: cheap), that even no money is some money . All I need is a glance at the international exchange rates to remind me that that the dollar doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to, especially compared to other first-world currencies (damn you, Great British Pound!). The US Dollar buys so many insert-cheaper-currency-here that a city like Budapest, Hungary, will accept you and your dusty flip-flops into a restaurant with waiters who have crumbers (this means its fancy).
I think that there are benefits and disadvantages to each type of travel. I think that if a city appeals to you and you have the means, trying to see both sides is great. You could argue that more of the local culture exists on the ground floor, so to speak, and you be right. Night markets and street stalls, taking public transportation, sitting in parks, visiting grocery stores, can give you a taste of how it feels to live in that culture. However, there is something to be said for taxis that whisk you through the streets, the best version of local cuisine (if you’re giving a foreigner a taste of an American burger, you’re not going to Macdonald’s), museums and other activities reserved for those with more free time and disposable income.
I guess this means I can’t stop traveling!