Some thoughts on Antigua, and travel, and privilege

I’ve been struggling with how to write about my trip to Antigua because, although I loved the cricket match, the helicopter ride, and the few afternoons we spent at the beach, I honestly did not love the island. I struggle even writing that sentence.

There is so much to unpack in my disappointment. First, of course, is just the unbelievable privilege of being disappointed.

There I was, on a sunny Caribbean island known for being a tourist destination, and I was disappointed that the trip was not as fun as Colin and I had imagined, the experience not as accessible as I’d hoped. Who even says such a thing? If that doesn’t scream entitlement, I don’t know what does.

People travel for a variety of reasons, but for me, travel is a way to grow as both an individual and an environmentalist by getting small glimpses into other corners of the world. I know I can’t truly understand a place just by spending a few days or weeks, but travel nonetheless reminds me that the world is both large and small and that I am both important and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. As an environmentalist, I feel called to see landscapes across the globe. As a human, I feel called to observe new cultures. So while I know that travel is a luxury in and of itself, I’ve never been one to demand luxury and entertainment.

I thought long and hard about my disappointment. Was it culture shock? I think not: Antigua is a middle-income country very similar in some ways to places I stayed in Botswana and Madagascar. Was it a failure on my part to set appropriate expectations? That’s harder to rule out, but my usual strategy of reading online reviews did nothing to discount my image of the island as a vibrant oasis. In hindsight, perhaps I should have been able to read between the lines—those reviews were mostly written by resort guests or visitors who came on a cruise ship, so not exactly applicable to Colin and me.

That, I decided, was the crux of my disappointment.

Colin and I tend to be vacation DIYers, both out of preference and necessity. We like to be active, we like to explore on our own schedule, and we like to experience local culture by wandering through. We also can only afford to travel as much as we do if we’re careful with our budget. Those usual DIY strategies did not work so well in Antigua. Antigua, it turns out, is better suited to a very specific type of travel: the all-inclusive resort or cruise.

My laundry list of disappointments: The island’s roads are not designed for walking (no sidewalks or shoulders), and traffic is chaotic. Roads are lined with litter and potholes. Many beaches are on private property for the exclusive use of resort guests, and the public beaches are scattered across the island such that it took us the better part of an hour to drive there. Restaurants are surprisingly expensive, and we were never able to find local cuisine.

My difficulty with Antigua was then, I think, the cognitive dissonance of glossy advertisements for luxury resorts with models strolling barefoot down an empty beach, juxtaposed with the reality of unwalkable neighborhoods and narrow roads lined with litter and potholes and the knowledge that we could not DIY a vacation. The tranquility of Antigua seemed to be available only behind the whitewashed walls of the resorts.

And so, having gone to Antigua expecting an easy and rewarding vacation, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly uncomfortable economic reality, my privilege staring me straight back in the face. Even though I wasn’t staying at a resort, I was still a tourist who was going to return to my safe and comfortable home in a couple weeks. It would have been easy not to say anything about my disappointment, to let this blog be a highlight reel of my year abroad, a travelogue written through rose-colored sunglasses. But that’s not life, is it? Sometimes we go places, and we are disappointed, and we realize how awful that sounds to say, and we’re forced to wrestle with the total unfairness of the opportunities we’ve been given.

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One thought on “Some thoughts on Antigua, and travel, and privilege

  1. So incredibly proud of you–and Colin. Wise beyond your years, and beyond the wisdom of many people also beyond your years as well.

    Like

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