I’m convinced people lose 30 IQ points the second they step foot on an airplane. No matter how many times a flight attendant pleads with passengers to please step into your row when putting your bag in the overhead bin so that we can board faster, people suddenly become deaf. Unfortunately, this is something that will never change. But there are travel trends that come and go and evolve. There are travel trends of the last decade that I’ve loathed and wish would go away. And I don’t think I’m alone. Here are some of the most annoying travel trends from the last 10 years.
In 2012, Delta Airlines announced it was introducing a new class: basic economy. Translation: turning the back of an airplane into a tractor-trailer for cows. After that, United, Alaska, JetBlue, Hawaiian, and American all followed. It must be lucrative! Here’s how basic economy will make you feel like you’re a cockroach of Kafkaesque proportions: you can’t check-in online if you’re not checking a bag (which you’d have to pay for). And they don’t let you take a carry-on bag, either. Just “one small personal item.” And because of that, they make you check-in at the airport where an airline employee polices your bag to ensure that it’s not a normal carry-on bag. You can’t pick your seat and so they almost always give you a middle seat. They make you board last so that there are no available overhead bins and that “small personal item” you took on the plane with you has to straddle your legs or sit on your lap or get stuffed under the seat in front of you, thus inhibiting your legroom.
On a recent round-trip flight from Newark to Santa Ana, CA, I complained to any United Airlines employee within earshot about this. The common response was: “Just pay more money and you won’t have to worry about it.” For the passenger, the point is clear: make the flying experience so miserable, you’ll pony up more cash for what was a normal economy seat on your next flight.
The Death of Frequent Flyer Programs
In 2014 Delta announced a change to its frequent flyer program: loyal passengers would no longer get one point per one mile flown. From then on, the money you spent on your ticket would determine how many miles you accrued. Buy a cheap ticket and you would earn far fewer miles/points than you actually flew. Soon after United announced a similar scheme.
And then in October 2019, United took it a step further, announcing they were cutting out the miles flown completely. Now loyalty is solely based on the money you throw at them. These days to show your loyalty to an airline (and get benefits from that loyalty) you now have to be part of the one percent. Or on your way there. And if you’ve got that much money, who cares?
There seems to be two types of travelers in the world right now: those who travel with a selfie stick and those who hate people who travel with a selfie stick. I’m (mostly) in the latter category. I don’t have intense acrimony to self-stick-wielding tourists, but I don’t like this trend. I don’t really consider selfie sticks—pardon the pun—an extension of our narcissistic times, as some do. But rather, they are division to keep us alienated and separated from other humans.
Case in point: my sister defended her selfie stick, a favorite travel companion of hers, by saying: “When I have my selfie stick, I don’t have to talk to anyone or ask someone to take my photo.” True. But what the world really needs right now is for us to reach across borders and talk to each other. Even if the conversation is on Kardashian levels of superficiality.
In 2014, Google noticed there was one particular word that had a huge surge in searches that year: “Influencer.” It really spiked two years later. And in 2017, the Oxford English Dictionary added “influencer” to its lexicon. Travel influencers were official. A 2017 British study found that the most popular reason millennials choose a destination these days is for its potential “Instagramability.” Two-fifths, or 40 percent, said the importance was on getting that all-important self-affirmation via “likes” than soaking up the local culture or learning something about the world.
The word “influencer” itself probably came into popular usage for one reason. If a writer or actor or musician—someone whose fame is because of an obvious talent—has hundreds of thousands of followers, we can make some sense of it. But around the middle of the last decade, people started racking up the followers, particularly on Instagram—people who didn’t have an explicit talent for anything in particular (unless you count their prowess in picking an attractive filter for their photos). And so, what do you call this talent-less class of people with hordes of followers? Um…influencers? Sure.
Perhaps as a response to this vapid form of travel, in the next decade we’ll see a reversal of this. Travelers will want to go deep into a place to learn everything they can about that culture, and come away a transformed person. Well, probably not. If we can go from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, the ultimate vapid influencer, who are we kidding?
Not only is “staycation” a terrible marriage of two different words, but the idea of it is the travel equivalent of a crime. Sure, not everyone can afford to jet off to another part of the world but for those who have enough income to do so, please don’t stay home. I once went hitchhiking with film director John Waters—as one does!—and while we were in stranger’s car in Baltimore, he turned around to me and said, “I think it’s dangerous to stay home. Never going out and seeing the world and meeting new and interesting people? Now that’s dangerous.”
“Travel like a local”
Travel magazines like to promote this idea, often scrawling it across their covers. There’s long been an annoying traveler vs. tourist debate and this “travel like a local” idea is related. Travelers are cool; tourists are stupid. It also shows how out of touch some travel magazines actually are. What exactly does it mean to “travel like a local”? Locals don’t travel when they’re home, so “traveling like a local” makes zero sense. How about this: just be yourself. Behave yourself. Be curious. Talk to people. Ask questions. Eat the local cuisine. Don’t be afraid to be seen as a tourist (because you will be seen as one anyway, whether you like it or not). And then something magical might happen: you’ll have a great trip and it won’t have been ruined by this impossible fairy tale of “traveling like a local” that travel magazines like to promote.