The “Get F*cked Up Lifestyle” of a traveler: more harm than good?

Written by on January 8, 2014 in Responsible Tourism - 49 Comments

I’m no angel. Hell, I don’t even come close. I’ve done my fair share of partying all over the world. But, today I saw the new Matador book that was released “101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die” and it made me think about the stereotypes of backpackers and travelers.

I’ve written for Matador. I have friends who have been editors there. I love the site and most of the articles, but the idea behind this book struck a chord with me.

“101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die is the only travel guide that could possibly help adventure seekers and world-trekking party-goers take their experience to a whole new high (or low). So, raise a glass, hop a flight, and join 101 Places’ professional party-crashers as they breach security, ride ill-recommended ferries, and hike miles into the wilderness all in search of the best parties in the world.”

Encouraging breaching security? Putting lives in jeopardy? Hiking into the wilderness to a party (which makes me think of all of the environmental damage something like that does)?

What kind of message is being sent to travelers? What kind of message is being sent to locals who often welcome visitors with open arms?

As I have grown and traveled, I have seen a lot of things. Beautiful things. Gorgeous places. And then, there is the dirty, sleazy side of travel.

Drunken fights. Sloppy hookups. Pissed pants. Vomit-covered shirts. ODs. Obnoxious, arrogant behavior that is disrespectful to the places being visited.

Living in Chiang Mai, I am witness to grotesque displays of partying. Partying that would humiliate the people guilty … if they could remember it. I’ve seen bottle breaks, abuse, falling-over-drunk people who think nothing of it. Let me say this: it gives the entire lot of backpackers a horrific stereotype. It furthers the idea that we are only interested in getting wasted. That we all are irresponsible. And, that really bothers me.

During my long-term travels, I cannot count how many times I was ashamed to be associated with other people who had no idea what was considerate, no idea what was appropriate. People who were all-out dicks.

I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on its innards, and I am sure the writing is spectacular, but the title alone suggests to me that the sole idea of traveling to far off places isn’t to see but to be so drunk, so drugged, that the days are spent laying in bed with an all-mighty hangover.

Like I stated, I’m no angel. I’ve done St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. I’ve explored the nightlife in Budapest. I’ve hung in the coffee shops in Amsterdam. But, my goal in visiting these places wasn’t to get crunked, it was because I wanted to experience the cities. Sure, some of that comes with a party … but not all of it. I don’t encourage people to go and explore the world with the goal of partying their asses off.

Yes, I encourage living. Yes, I encourage experiencing. But, I don’t cheer people on to drop that tab of acid at a Full Moon Party or drink the “exotic” cocktails on Koh Phi Phi (where, coincidentally, two girls were getting f*cked up and later died because of it). I don’t condone being so intoxicated you wake up on a street somewhere, stripped of your belongings, because, hey, if you are that hammered, there is always a chance of that.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not slamming Matador — but it makes me wonder: does a book like this perpetuate the idea that backpackers are irresponsible travelers? Partiers who take in a city based on shots and nightlife instead of visiting a place for all of the other things it has to offer? Does it do more harm than good to suggest that the way to see a place is through beer goggles?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please, weigh in below.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In 2010 she quit her job in PR to go on a solo backpacking adventure and tackle her 30-Life-Crisis. After seven months abroad, journeying throughout Europe and Africa, she returned to America and relocated to Las Vegas. Following a year-long stint back in PR, she once again quit her job to follow her dreams; this time her journey took her to the elephants and Elephant Nature Park where she is involved with raising awareness about responsible elephant tourism. Recently, Diana was named a finalist in the Destinology Travel Bloggy Awards for travel writing. She has been a regular contributor to Viator and recently served as the Las Vegas contributor for OneTravel.com and CheapOair.com. Her work has appeared in print and online, including The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Vegas Seven, World Nomads and more.

49 Comments on "The “Get F*cked Up Lifestyle” of a traveler: more harm than good?"

  1. Jeremy January 8, 2014 at 3:59 am · Reply

    Nailed it.

    I reached a point, during my 10 weeks traveling in Southeast Asia, where I was ashamed to call myself a backpacker. I stayed in guesthouses on my own because I simply could not allow myself to be associated with the type of general buffoonery that goes on, and creates a TERRIBLE name for travelers.

    Don’t get me wrong. I party. I party plenttttttty. And sometimes, sure, I act like an idiot. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell. But there is a crowd, surely the audience this book is intended for, whose purpose is to get totally wasted, man, every single night. And they act like dicks, spend money frivolously (in third-world countries, no matter) and treat the locals like dirt.

    And in response, we get abused, laughed at and taken advantage of by those very same locals, SIMPLY because they stereotype all of us as idiot foreigners who don’t care and don’t have a clue. In some places, there’s nothing you can even do to escape it.

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:19 am · Reply

      Thank you, Jeremy. I think living in SE Asia really has opened my eyes to the type of irresponsible, ignorant behavior in which travelers partake. To promote this really bothers me since there are some of us working hard to change the reputation of backpackers and travelers, and encourage a more considerate approach.

  2. Rick January 8, 2014 at 5:55 am · Reply

    I agree with this 100%. I’ve done my share of getting wasted but it’s never been the aim of my trip as much as a consequence: ending the day in a good mood, meeting other happy people in the hostel…we all know what happens :)
    This “book” is a response to a worrying trend of travelling to get smashed, a constant stag/hen party but the role of an important website like Matador is also to inspire people, given their reach and authority. Definitely a bad and money-driven move by them, a black stain on their so far immaculate portfolio.

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:18 am · Reply

      It is a horribly worrying trend. As I often write about being a responsible traveler, and making decisions that you know can positively, versus negatively impact a place, my heart sunk when I saw the ad for this. Of course, it is enticing. And, some of the places I am sure are great suggestions in terms of celebrations, but to simply encourage getting fucked up as a premise for a book means they are marketing to a generation of people who don’t give a shit … or people they don’t give a shit … and that scares me.

  3. Caroline Eubanks January 8, 2014 at 7:27 am · Reply

    I can see both sides of it. On one hand, I think it’s a waste of a trip if you can’t remember it and all you do is spend the days hungover talking about the night before. But on the other hand, who am I to tell someone the “right” or “wrong” way to travel? If you want to waste the money you’ve saved up for months all on booze, go right ahead. Just stay out of my hostel dorm room when I’m trying to sleep!

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:15 am · Reply

      True that!!

  4. Nitpicker January 8, 2014 at 7:59 am · Reply

    Hey

    Slight nitpick, but:

    “the idea behind this book struck a chord with me.”

    Struck a chord is a positive expression. <3

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:15 am · Reply

      Well, thank you for that! Guess I’ve been using it wrong my entire life! :)

  5. Amanda @amandaelsewhere January 8, 2014 at 10:32 am · Reply

    I guess, there’s a difference between say going to Brazil for Carnival as part of a cultural experience, and going to Brazil for Carnival to cross it off your list of places to be fucked up. I, too, hesitate to say that there is a right and wrong way to travel, but there certainly is an obnoxious way of travel and it looks like Matador has found a way to tap into that market (read= $$$). Perhaps a better way of wording the publication would be “101 of the word’s best parties” or “101 of the world’s best celebrations” but then again, those titles don’t have the viral factor (again, read=$$$) of the asterisked curse word (real cool) to describe the experience of inebriation (real, real cool). Getting fucked up only matters to the very young and the very immature anyway.

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:14 am · Reply

      I absolutely agree! There is not a right or wrong way to travel in terms of what you personally want to experience, but I think encouraging getting f*cked up in 101 places is just ignorant on the part of a leading travel resource. Shouldn’t they be encouraging ways to be responsible tourists and help make the world a better place rather than just get blitzed? I agree – the title really is what annoys me the most. And, true. The young and immature are the ones who will likely be buying this book for high school and college graduation presents. Just wish they would have come out with 101 Places to See Before They Are Gone Because of Tourists, or 101 Ways to Become a More Responsible Traveler. Perhaps we should do those!

  6. Dalene January 8, 2014 at 11:24 am · Reply

    I had zero respect for Matador (long story), and this just made it worse. So now I have negative respect.

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:10 am · Reply

      For me, it isn’t about respect, it is about cashing in on the trend of being asshole travelers. Sadly, I feel like this is what Matador is doing, and because of this, it is now sending the message to travelers just starting out or who dream of traveling that this behavior is totally acceptable. Thank goodness not everyone has this goal. And, side note, I am sorry about your negative respect. That’s a hell of a lot. :)

  7. Laura January 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm · Reply

    I kind of wonder what’s the point? If you just want to get messed up you can generally do that pretty well at home. I certainly like to remember my travels and feel healthy (not hungover!). I agree with the “to each their own” philosophy but messed up people are often disrespectful, causing a bad reputation of travelers among locals, and it’s dangerous!

    • Diana January 9, 2014 at 6:06 am · Reply

      Yes, I don’t want to sound like I think there is only one way to travel. But, I think the danger comes from encouraging people to be disrespectful and just partying their way through places without giving a thought to the consequences of such antics.

  8. Tamara January 9, 2014 at 12:18 pm · Reply

    I’m so glad you posted on this topic. I’d seen this book advertised, and thought at the time how sad it was. Now, we like to have a good time, and have certainly made a few poor choices in the past, but have thankfully learned from them. Without having read the book, I can’t comment on its contents either, but even the choice of title is irritating. Even if, let’s say, the authors mean it tongue in cheek and have a more positive message we’re as yet unaware of, it’s disappointing to try and cash in on the idea that travel should have anything to do with being drunk, high and out of control. In our travels we too have seen drunken spectacles that are truly disrespectful to both the places we visit and those in the general area. Some may say live and let live, but in many cases there is a true danger to those involved. If they’re trying to reach the young, immature demographic, they’ll succeed, but clearly a large, influential group is being alienated by just chasing the $$. It seems Matador could be doing something much more positive with their reach and name.

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 2:13 am · Reply

      I 1 million percent agree.

  9. Andrea January 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm · Reply

    I totally agree with you. We did a year-long RTW trip and even though we didn’t get drunk every day, we drank way more than we would normally. And while I wouldn’t say we were sloppy about it, knowing how bad alcohol is for your health, I regret that part of the travel. It’s just too easy to fall in to the “I’m on vacation, let’s have one” mentality day after day. So I definitely think it’s a bad idea to encourage binge drinking. Not only is it very harmful for your health, it can land you in a world of hurt. Bad things can happen (anywhere in the world, not just overseas) when your judgment is impaired by inebriation. And unfortunately may young travellers are immature and don’t know how to handle themselves when they’ve had too much. It could put them in dangerous situations. I haven’t read the book either but it sounds like a bad idea to me.

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 2:12 am · Reply

      I’ve seen so much crap living in Chiang Mai. But, it isn’t just how they act, it is the impact of their actions on a culture, on the environment, and the lack of caring (or even awareness) that actions have reactions.

  10. Lunaguava January 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm · Reply

    I’ve been seeing that how-to-be-an-inconsiderate-nincompoop-around-the-world manual doing the rounds on Twitter for a few months now, and with every sighting Matador has gone further and further into the abyss of my contempt. Not that they care, obviously, since they’re obviously catering to the same readership of Spring Break Weekly. I’m also no stranger to wild nights and booze-fueled shenanigans, but the point is that it’s not the same thing getting wasted in Amsterdam (or Budapest, or NYC, or Dublin, or Barcelona, etc) and descending upon a developing country like drunken locusts, not giving a second thought to the destruction lying in their wake (Vang Vieng, anyone?). It just reeks of new colonialism, where hedonistic conquistadors arrive in an impoverished faraway land, exploit it until it’s hardly recognizable anymore and finally drag themselves to the comforts of home, oblivious to the true price of their irresponsible self-centeredness. That Matador is encouraging this type of behavior speaks volumes of their ethics and ultimately their worth. [end of rant] Great post, thank you! Safe travels!

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 2:10 am · Reply

      Amen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!!

  11. Federico January 12, 2014 at 9:20 pm · Reply

    I fully agree- with you. This reminds me of my visit to Na Thrang in Vietnam, a city that, in my opinion, has nothing to it except good food. Yet on the overnight bus going South people said that Na Thrang rocked and it had been one of the highlights of their trip. What had I missed?

    “The party boat! You’d get sh*t faced for next to nothing in the fu%^$ ocean!”

    OK, so Na Thrang is a great city because of that. For a ling time I have notice that I don’t relate to this group of travelers. There are those who just travel to party and learn/see little, and the rest.

    Doesn’t mean it’s not fun, just not my cup of tea.

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 2:02 am · Reply

      I don’t relate to this group of travelers. It concerns me though, that a new generation of travelers are being “brought up” with the idea that they can do whatever they want, wherever they want. It isn’t just the title of Matador’s book that got me, there are a lot of other writers out there who encourage just being a complete ass and not concerned with the impact they have on the local communities, etc. Partying is partying, and I understand that. I’d just love it if major brands could encourage a healthy mix of being wasted and being responsible.

  12. Alex January 12, 2014 at 10:06 pm · Reply

    Funny, I have a kind of similarly themed post coming up next week based some surprising reactions I got in my reader survey about the amount of drinking/partying I portray on my blog.

    I feel torn.

    On one hand, I have seen the devastation that taking the “partying lifestyle” too far can create. Disrespect and hostility between different cultures, and bad decisions that can’t be taken back. I’m getting a bit deep here, but I lost my cousin when we were both just kids — eighteen — to an overdose. So I get it, I really do, when people are turned off by the celebration of what I’d call “the culture getting of f*cked up.”

    On the other hand, there are certain destinations that I love or festivals I’ve been to that were 90% about partying — dancing, drinking, and other hedonistic, good-time activities. Those memories are special to me and no one can tell me my my crazy Sunjam rave in Honduras or my debaucherous sister’s weekend in Vegas were less real or significant than any of my other travels. If you go to Montanita, Ecuador, you’ll party like a rockstar — surrounded by good-time-loving Ecuadorians. If you hit up Atlantic City for a weekend, you’ll rock your face off, and boost an ailing economy recovering from a natural disaster.

    I believe that done respectfully and (relatively) responsibly, there’s no reason a big blowout weekend can’t be a part of a person’s diverse travel experiences.

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 1:58 am · Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Alex! I agree, there are certain festivals and events that are about partying — and I don’t see a problem with that. It just starts to concern me when a large and reputable company like Matador begins to push out the notion that behaving as I mentioned in my post is OK. The marketing materials/text they are using implies that it is ok to exercise zero judgement in the name of partying. I am totally not against a big blowout weekend or anything like that — it does make for a diverse travel experience.

  13. Giselle and Cody January 13, 2014 at 1:58 am · Reply

    We suppose the book is targeted to the “let’s get fucked up” crowd, and although there is nothing wrong with wanting to party while travelling and meet new people, it does give the backpacker crowd a bad reputation. There also seems to be an imbalance with a lot of people. There is something to be said for people who need to be “fucked up all the time”. A lot of people prefer extreme inebriation over reality. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t affect people and the environment around them, but it does.

    • Diana January 13, 2014 at 2:07 am · Reply

      Exactly. :)

  14. Alyssa January 13, 2014 at 6:45 am · Reply

    I think you make a fair point in this post – it is ethically questionable to promote drinking and partying so much that you can’t remember. The title is most likely meant to be funny and inflammatory, however the book is more about the experiences in different places. Also, some of the “ingestibles” (as they’re called) refer to food. A couple of the places you can party in are actually dry – where drugs and alcohol are illegal or difficult to find.

    Great post!

    * Although I am a staff writer at Matador, these opinions are my own :)

    • Diana January 14, 2014 at 3:29 am · Reply

      Thank you, Alyssa. I appreciate the comment. I am sure the title is meant to appeal to marketing gods and those who soak that up, and people who purchase it may not expect it to be what you say. It just concerns me that the title would seem to encourage promoting getting wasted.Hopefully people who purchase the book take time to learn more beyond just the party scene where they visit. :)

  15. Anna January 13, 2014 at 8:02 am · Reply

    This is the number one reason I won’t be visiting Thailand. Like I’ve said before, there are plenty of dumb Americans to watch here in New York.

    I’m going to be a lousy feminist for a moment and say that, besides irresponsible tourism, it’s extremely dangerous to perpetuate this type if travel to single women, or even small groups of women traveling together. I’ve done a lot if stupid things while on the road and sometimes look back and can’t believe that I ended up okay. I’d love to sugarcoat the world and tell stories of holding hands and friendship across the globe, but creeps live in every and any corner of it, and to suggest a female enebriates herself beyond clarity seems irresponsible to me.

    That being said, I know a few folks behind this book and am thrilled for their print byline. It isn’t their fault that we live in a world where thinspo and bikinibridge exist and where men cut off the heads of women in porn because “women are better that way.” This is just another drop in the bucket.

    • Diana January 14, 2014 at 3:08 am · Reply

      That’s too bad — Thailand isn’t all bad. I live here and while I see a lot of debauchery, the country is absolutely amazing and the people here are warm and kind. It is the backpacker-get-f*cked-up generation that ruins it for others who would really like it. Oddly, I have met the one travel population I had met the least of is Americans. Thailand is packed with Europeans, Aussies and the like, but Americans not so much.

      Nothing is wrong with being a feminist! We all do stupid things while traveling — lord knows I have! You are right — getting that wasted where you can get into trouble as a woman is quite dangerous in a foreign country. There are some places where it is far worse than others. I know in Turkey, you can bet I never would have gotten so hammered I couldn’t take care of myself.

      Like you, I know people who contributed to this book, and I am so happy for them. And, you are right, it isn’t their fault we live in a world where this sells like it does. Some of my favorite writers/bloggers penned stories and I know their travels aren’t all about getting wasted and perpetuating an image of irresponsible travel to the world. It’s just too bad the people who may read it don’t see it that way, but see it (I fear) as permission to behave badly.

  16. Ayngelina January 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm · Reply

    I was really disappointed to see Matador promote this a while back. It seems that they are just cashing in on sensationalism and while yes we have all partied around the world I do think we need to encourage people to get past the partying and actually learn from travel.

    If your goal is just to get fucked up, stay home and save your money.

    • Diana January 14, 2014 at 3:05 am · Reply

      Exactly. I’d love it if people could have a healthy mix of both!

  17. Mindy & Ligeia January 14, 2014 at 9:05 am · Reply

    Always trying to find the silver lining with life’s unfortunate happenings, at least this book will let us know where NOT to go when traveling. Of course, that would entail us purchasing the book, and that’s certainly NEVER going to happen!

    • Diana January 20, 2014 at 9:40 pm · Reply

      Ha ha!! Truth. Although based on the video ad they did, there are some places on the list I truly do want to visit. I just don’t want to “get f*cked up” there.

  18. Giselle and Cody January 14, 2014 at 11:00 pm · Reply

    Great write-up Diana. This sort of travelling annoys us as we try to escape it wherever we go.
    It is however what a lot of people think of backpackers. When you head down to the beaches and islands of Thailand we have found the people to not be as friendly and to really not have much patience. We beleive this is because maybe they are fed up with the party lifestyle and the lack of respect it brings to their area. People can get fucked up all they want but it’s the lack of respect that really ruins it for others.

    While on Khao San Road we witnessed a tourist get beat up by four Thai guys at 5 am. The tourist was drunk and yelling andended up knocking over beer bottles and having them smash everywhere. The owner came out and asked him toleave and he told her to “Fuck off” as he flipped the table he was sitting at. Four of her staff came out and beat him up. It was areally horrible sit to see and seemed very surreal because as this was going on a line of monks walked by collecting their alms for the morning.

    • Diana January 20, 2014 at 9:39 pm · Reply

      Thank you! You are right, it is mainly what people think about backpackers. And, not all of them are like that. Some of my closest friends I have met through the world of backpacking. It really is the lack of respect and the thought of entitlement that ruins it. As for the fight on Khao San Road, that sounds like it is par for the course. I hear so many horror stories about tourists being ignorant and it resulting in beat downs. Sad.

  19. donnae January 20, 2014 at 12:19 pm · Reply

    Well, you know what I think of the scene I ran into at the Kohs – loathed it. And I only saw what was left of the parties on the ferries.

    My creed is – do no harm. If you want to party, fine, just not where I am. I’ll stay out of your party places and you stay out of my zen places. Do no harm to the locals. Period

    More than once I have uttered thanks to the Goddess that I came late to the travel bug, when I was well over the idea that a good time was defined by how bad I felt the next day. That the young and beautiful allow themselves to become so vulnerable and helpless in places where they would be considered a commodity on the open market makes me shudder. That more don’t go missing is proof positive of an army of Fairy Godmothers working overtime.

    Great article, as usual.

    • Diana January 20, 2014 at 9:37 pm · Reply

      Thank you. I like your creed. :)

  20. Hogga January 20, 2014 at 3:40 pm · Reply

    beer makes things fun. ’nuff said

    • Diana January 20, 2014 at 9:37 pm · Reply

      Haha, it certainly can!

  21. Erica February 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm · Reply

    This issue weighs heavily on my mind. While Shaun and I do our fair share of partying, I still expect some sort of responsibility on our behalf. I think this is why we have avoided party locations. I think I would lose my mind.

    • Diana February 1, 2014 at 11:53 pm · Reply

      Responsibility is so important. I try to completely disassociate myself with the rage and rage and rage until you puke scene.

  22. Amber February 4, 2014 at 3:15 am · Reply

    I often think it is because I am an old and married traveler that I have lost my patience with this kind of traveling, but the sloppy drunk, destroyer of beach environments during full moons, sex in public type travelers ARE destroying the name of independent travelers. When you look at so many of the southeast asia beaches, yeah some of the environmental destruction is caused by locals, but so much of it are the partiers who don’t care whether they toss a beer bottle to break on the rocks, or flick cigarette butts into the water. I am a little surprised at Matador and would be curious to review the contents.

    • Diana February 5, 2014 at 11:28 pm · Reply

      So, so true! And, I am surprised as well. I have heard the contents don’t really echo the title, which is good. But sad that Matador had to resort to that to get the buzz out there in the first place.

  23. Mat Mat March 9, 2014 at 12:14 am · Reply

    Ironically in my last year (2013) in China, Thailand, Cambodia & Malaysia it has been the middle-aged men who have been the worst sloppy ignorant and openly drunken I’ve ever seen! I don’t go out in party towns at 1AM so I guess I miss the kiddies getting ripped?

    • Diana March 12, 2014 at 3:22 am · Reply

      Ha ha, it depends on where you go! In Chiang Mai, I see it at all hours of the night. :)

  24. Juergen July 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm · Reply

    Ooops – I’m a bit late with my comment – must be an age thing ;)

    The first time I crossed paths with the backpacker party theme was in Australia, and whenever I spoke with this particular crowd I was shocked to learn how little they knew about the country they were visiting. Yes, they knew by word of mouth the cheapest “Happy Hours” up and down the east coast and the cheapest hostels. Yet one afternoon I told a semi-sober group how I had just run into a Cassowary…
    -?- A what? -?-
    They looked at me, they looked at me again, and then one girl finally asked what that was. When I described the large (and in my eye beautiful) bird all I got were “iih” squeals, followed by exaggerated hear-say stories about gross spiders and jellyfish.

    Welcome to Australia – shame they don’t have pubs in the sun year-round in England.

    • Diana July 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm · Reply

      It makes me sad that people go visit places, take the time to go and visit places, and yet the only thing they see is the inside of a bar. I get it, I do. I know when I was younger, I definitely partied during my travels. It is hard not to get sucked into that, especially with people the same age also traveling. But, to just do that while traveling just makes me sad. It is like going through the motions and only having drunk stories to share about other travelers and not really learning anything about the places visited or experienced.

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