This time last week I was wandering the cobbled streets of Positano, a small village on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Positano rests almost vertically on the steep cliffside, with pastel peach houses stacked on top of each other against zigzag streets where local vendors sell sips of limoncello and colorful ceramics. At the bottom is a pebbly beach where, if it’s warm enough (which it usually is), you can swim in the clear, turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Positano is blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate and proximity to luxury and wealth; is home to one of the most famous and majestic hotels in the world and was the backdrop for Diane Lane’s whirlwind romance in Under the Tuscan sun. Twenty years later, the city has become synonymous with the biggest travel landscapes of influencers, clogging Instagram with photos of beautiful people on boats, staring in awe at the horizon behind them.
It’s also the most unpleasant place I’ve ever been. This has little to do with the city itself, which has been home to resorts and villas for the European elite since the Roman Empire but contains only small vestiges of its ancient past; as our tour guide explained, “there’s no history here, it’s just for relaxing and taking pictures.” Fewer than 4,000 people live in Positano, and tourists outnumber them three to one.
It’s also not the fault of the crowds, although, as seemingly everywhere else in Italy, they are rampant and inescapable and sometimes contribute to a sense of claustrophobia so great that the only way out is to divorce your body and detach yourself until you finally reach the open air . Instead, the most disturbing thing about being in Positano is knowing you’ve been cheated, and realizing that just because you have the means to go somewhere doesn’t mean you’re owed anything more than the experiential equivalent of flying in Basic Economy.
To be in Positano as a middle-class person—someone who can afford to travel and take time off, but not, say, afford to buy real estate in the town where he lives—is to feel like an idiot for believing he could have . it was better, or that being there is really a benefit to the lives of the people who live there.
The fact that there are so many more people traveling internationally now than ever before in history is not necessarily a bad thing; luxuries once afforded only to the ultra-rich have been democratized by low-cost airlines and cheap deals on sites like Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia. For many people, the summer of 2022 was the first time they had traveled internationally since the pre-Covid era, and despite the continued risks of travel and the confusing and contradictory regulations on masks and vaccines, planning an international trip is now almost seamless. experience: Online travel agencies serve their users only the highest rated itineraries, thus ensuring a publicly verified experience. And if you could go to the best possible cities, eat at the best possible restaurants, and take the best possible photos, why wouldn’t you?
Our cultural obsession with having “the best” of everything is a topic that fascinates me endlessly, but traveling is different from, say, spending hours on Wirecutter or prowling Amazon reviews to find the best cat litter. Everyone who can afford to buy the best cat litter probably ends up with the same formula; the same cannot be said for restaurants or hotels, which have limits on the number of people who can be there.
The problem with travel right now in particular isn’t too many people traveling in general, it’s too many people wanting to experience the exact same thing because they all went to the same websites and read the same reviews. The idea has been created that if you don’t go to this specific bar or stay in this neighborhood, all the money and time you spent being here has been wasted and you’ve settled for something that isn’t as perfect as it could have been. has been
However, the opposite is often true: that if you ignore a large part of what the Internet recommends, you are much less likely to end up with the Positano problem. True luxury, as any rich person knows, is the ability to separate yourself from the masses, to avoid being around or even seen by ordinary people. In the age of algorithms, the only way to reproduce any semblance of luxury is to take the less traveled keys.
Vacations aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a to-do list, something to be optimized with meticulously timed bookings months in advance, yet that’s increasingly what travel is: unless you have a slot reserved schedule, the must-see museums in Florence and “you to have to eat here” pasta places in Rome are inaccessible to those who do not want to spend hours in line or so narrow that being there is no longer pleasant. And just like other popular tourist destinations flooded with wealthy tourists who benefit from the undercurrent of underpaid locals who provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the fact that those who live there can’t afford the luxuries. they are selling
Not only did I feel kind of ridiculous for being in Italy considering how many people on my Instagram feed had the exact same thought this summer, I felt ridiculous for not knowing how competitive the whole thing has become, which doesn’t matter no matter how many recommendations you get from friends or strangers on the internet, the same will be received from thousands of other people who are just as unhappy to see you there as you are.
Traveling now feels like walking into a Chanel store and looking at all the beautiful clothes, maybe rubbing them on my shoulder, but never being able to wear them, while the people who have their jobs look down on me. to eliminate the non-ultra rich. I’ve never been to a Chanel store because I know better than to shop somewhere I can’t afford, but I’ve yet to learn this lesson when it comes to travel.
Everything about how the industry works now (website bookings, credit cards, chase points, Instagram) leads us to believe that in reality, can afford to visit a place like Positano, and it will look as glorious as the photos taken from the most expensive resorts. However, being next to luxury is not the same as experiencing it. In fact, it can make us feel deprived of something we never had in the first place, but somehow feel we deserved.
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