I may be too old to be a cool traveler. While waiting for a flight, I was chatting with a retired diplomat who had been in Brisbane for a school reunion. During his career, he had served in diplomatic missions all over the world, including as a Fijian representative at the UN in New York (one of his sons is at Canesius College in Buffalo) and as part of UN development efforts in Korea. He explained that his ideas surrounding travel switched soon after he was in the position of visiting several dozen countries in only a few weeks, and living on airplanes. You really did get used to it quickly, he said, when you threw out the romantic notions of making travel difficult.
I–like you, dear reader–made fun of people on tour busses. (And silly tourists like that pictured above, who snuggle with koalas–this one is named Axel.) I remember being in Indonesia as one of those monster tour busses passed us on the road. We were in a little van, and the driver was trying to fix a gasoline leak in the engine, using his lighter so that it was easier to see. We were uncoddled, authentic travelers, albeit with a little extra air conditioning here and there. They were insulated from the living existence of the country.
And so, yes, I had somewhere in the corner of my mind Therouxian ideal of paddling up to the natives and talking about cannibal soup. Clearly, there is that authenticity, but the locals like hamburgers too. And the truth is, as I get older (ahem), comfort is increasingly a big part of my travel puzzle. I’m sure that keeps me from seeing some really cool stuff, but it also keeps me sane enough to keep traveling. And I still get to snuggle with koalas and sea snakes now and again.