Updated on August 4, 2015
Do not praise selfish travelers.
The above screenshot was taken from this article over at Matador Network. The website regularly features travelogues, some international news, and various other travel-related posts. I’ve been following them for a few years now and once in awhile, a post comes up that makes my archaeologist blood boil.
This is one of those articles. In it, the author, Katka Lapelosa, praises Russian photographer Vadim Mahora for breaking into archaeological sites to take self-portraits. Through her tone throughout the post, it’s clear she admires what he’s done and at least somewhat, would want to do the same (or wishes she were “badass” enough to do the same, to use her own language style).
I’ve visited a lot of ancient sites in my time as an archaeologist. Many have fallen into disrepair thanks to the droves of tourists that come clamoring in by the thousands year after year. Case in point: Petra. When I went there in 2006, you could walk right up the steps and peer into the Treasury all you liked. All that blocked people from entering was a low fence. When I went back in 2010, the fence had been moved back to the edge of the steps, you could no longer take a peek inside the building. Last year, the fence had been moved back even further, the Treasury could now only be appreciated from a distance.
Though it’s disappointing to be unable to fully experience these sites by climbing through them, as a traveler who appreciates archaeology and history, you have to accept it. The archaeologists and conservators in charge of these ancient sites have to make judgment calls when the wear and tear from tourists’ visits begins to degrade the structures. Preventing people from accessing them is to preserve the sites for everyone to enjoy, just maybe not as close-up as they’d like.
Glamorizing individuals who don’t have the capacity to appreciate this fact, will only cause more destruction to already fragile sites by people wanting to be as “badass” as the last guy who traipsed across the barriers. Once these sites are gone, they’re gone and no one else will get to enjoy them or experience them firsthand.
Don’t be a selfish traveler.