Tourists Invited To Strip Down In South Korea

nude beach
Memphis CVB, Flickr

While South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, might be a big tourist draw card with plenty of Gangnam Style flair to attract visitors, other parts of the country have had to get more creative when it comes to promoting tourism.

Gangwon Province in the country’s northeast figures nudity might be just the ticket to increasing visitor numbers. It’s planning to open South Korea’s first nude beach in the hopes that tourists will set their sights beyond the capital and venture up north for a bit of skinny dipping.The beach primarily will be aimed at foreigners and may even be open to just overseas visitors initially, as many locals balk at the idea of stripping down at the beach. “Koreans actually love nude beaches when they’re traveling abroad, but the problem with having one within Korea is the fact that Korean society is so interconnected. They won’t be able to comfortably go to a nude beach due to the thought that people they know will find out about it quite easily,” a local reporter told CNN.

Korean tourism officials say they hope to eventually create all sorts of different beaches aimed at families, couples and even pets. They plan to have the first nude beach up and running by 2017.

“Gringo Trails”: What Are Travelers Doing To The Places They Visit?

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.” –- Agent Smith, “The Matrix

Agent Smith could have been talking about the “morning after” footage in “Gringo Trails,” a new documentary by Pegi Vail and Melvin Estrella. The camera wanders down Thailand’s Haad Rin Beach after the Full Moon Party. The beach is littered with trash — water bottles, clothing, plastic bags -– and crashing partiers. Garbage sloshes up on the sand in the gentle surf. This beautiful stretch of sand, once completely unknown to travelers, is now punctuated with rubbish. The film illustrates some hard truths about mass travel, but I found it especially painful to watch this segment. It was embarrassing to the see the awful disregard for this once beautiful place. And it was sad, a weighty head-shaking sadness that left me questioning the results of my own backpacker traveling days. Was I this unaware? Did I spread the virus?
“Gringo Trails” looks at the impact backpackers have on places like Haad Rin. How were these places “discovered,” and how did they change as a result? What effect does the influx of tourists — the kind who insist they are not tourists — have on the environment and on the people? Are these travelers even aware that they leave their fingerprints all over the economy, the culture and the ecosystem of the places they visit?

Vail and Estrella aren’t issuing a blanket indictment of backpacker travel — Vail was a backpacker herself in the early 1980s. Her message is more educational. “When this type of travel started, we were completely unaware of the implications. But now, 20, 30 years later, we know. We know what happens, and we can share this information so it doesn’t happen in other places.”

The movie opens with the story of Yossi Ginsberg, an Israeli backpacker who was lost in the jungle near the village of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. In 1985, Ginsberg wrote a book about his misadventures and how he was rescued. Rurrenabaque had been a small hub for adventure travelers, but Ginsberg’s book launched an influx of Israelis seeking their own version of that adventure.

The travelers in “Gringo Trails” seem to think of Ginsberg’s story as an amusement park ride, as something they should be able to access. An Israeli girl says, “Everybody wants to experience the life of the jungle . . . to have a little touch like in the book.” “I’m Indiana Jones,” says a Swedish backpacker from the seat of a crowded motor canoe. Ginsberg was lost. His life was in danger; he was lucky to be saved. And now travelers — inspired by his story — can pretend they are having a facsimile of his experience. With meals and camping and guides included.

The movie takes us to a number of different destinations, showing the change that backpackers bring when they open new regions to increasingly organized tourism. We see the archetypal travelers we’ve met in our own adventures: the traveler vs. tourist snobs, the beach hippies, the partiers. There are stories from Pico Iyer, Rolf Potts, Holly Morris and Prince Sangay Wangchuk about the tension between travelers’ values and the native values of the places we visit. Vail and Estrella take us around the world and show us, in archival footage shot over many years, exactly what we’ve done to the planet by being everywhere on it.

“The idea of adventure, to be in the jungle and surviving is an idea that spans a lot of different cultures, but most people don’t take it to the extreme,” says Vail. “They like the idea that they’re having this adventure, that they’re somehow surviving in the jungle . . . but I don’t think they think it through. They don’t really want to have that experience. People conflate the images. . . . it’s the completion of all these stories in the media that affect what our destination perspectives are and what we’re looking for.”

There’s a painful tension between the desire to have a great adventure — to share that adventure — and to protect a place as it is when we find it. In “Gringo Trails,” Costas Christ, editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler magazine and an early advocate of ecotourism, tells the story of “finding” Haad Rin in 1979. He admonished some fellow travelers, Germans, “Whatever you do, don’t tell people about this place.” In 2013, an estimated 30,000 people attended the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach. Christ’s Germans may not have told, but the story got out.

In “Gringo Trails,” Vail travels around the world to show how travelers are affected by the romance of packaged travel stories in the media as well as through word of mouth. Adventure becomes a commodity. “It’s good value,” says Lina Brocchieri about her excursion to untouristed and exotic Timbuktu. She’s presumably speaking of the cocktail party caché she gains in mentioning her travels to this place so weighted with the extraordinary. But the reality of her experience is sobering and enlightening. Her presence makes no sense to the locals, and she begins to wonder why she is there.

“Romanticization is writ large . . . versus the reality of how people are living, the poverty,” says Vail, speaking of our preconceived notions as travelers. “I was hoping the film would have people think before they go.”

The film offers up some suggestions but no easy solutions to the change we invoke by merely being present in these faraway places. Ecotourism. Government regulation. A discussion of Bhutan’s visa program shows how the country has chosen to restrict travel to protect its cultural heritage. Ultimately, though, the responsibility lies with us as travelers. Our “high-value” experiences cost us money, but what’s the expense to the places we choose to visit? How do we reconcile our romantic images of the world with the truth of what our presence in those places means?

Adventure travelers and backpackers are often the front line. We crack these places open to the rest of the world. At our worst, we are looking for easy social mores, cheap booze, accessible drugs and a line on our résumés. How strange that we should fall into the role of de facto ambassadors for these places. But at our best, that’s what we are — ambassadors. “Gringo Trails” leaves the traveler shouldering the weight of that responsibility. How are we going to interpret the stories we hear, and what stories are we going to tell?

“I like seeing the changes,” says Vail, “in how people apply what they have learned. You can do something. Instead of just traveling through and gaining experiential capital, we can give back. It’s middle-class, upper-middle-class, travelers, if they say they’re on a budget or not. So there’s disparity between classes and cultures. Now, I think a lot of people are coming back are doing something.”

“It’s a fine line between the joy and the incredible experience of travel with the reality of local lives. I hope we can enjoy the film, think about why we love to travel and also, think responsibility. The hope is that it’s opening a conversation. This is a tremendously important topic. And it’s urgent, given that we’re all over the place in the world.”

“Gringo Trails” premieres on October 19, at 8:30 p.m. in the American Museum of Natural History during the Margaret Mead Film Festival. There’s a screening at North America’s largest environment film festival, the Planet In Focus Environmental Film Festival in Toronto November 21-24. Additional screening dates will be available on the Gringo Trails website.

Helsinki Airport Opens Free Lounge With Real Beds

helsinki airport relaxation lounge
Photo: Juho Suoperä

If you’ve ever tried to sleep on one of those hard airport terminal chairs as announcements blare over the PA system and passengers jostle into you with their luggage, you know how hard it is to get any decent rest while waiting for your flight.

Skift reports Helsinki Airport is giving travelers a reprieve by opening a relaxation lounge where travelers can sleep, rest or work in peace. The lounge has pod style chairs and even real beds, so passengers can choose the relaxation option that best suits them. The walls and ceilings are designed with acoustic technology to ensure a quiet environment, and the décor is meant to reflect the calming Finnish landscape, with ice and northern light motifs incorporated into the design.The relaxation area is open to passengers 24 hours a day, and here’s the best part -– it’s absolutely free. While we’ve seen a number of airport terminals incorporate mini hotel suites and pod sleeping areas in recent times, most charge by the hour for the privilege. Thankfully, in Helsinki that’s not the case. There’s no need to be a member of an airline loyalty program or fork over any exorbitant fees to get some shut-eye here.

Don’t Pee In Pools And Other Guidelines For Chinese Tourists

chinese tourists
Bob Gaffney, Flickr

Picking your nose in public and stealing life jackets might be acceptable behavior in China, but it’ll be frowned upon elsewhere in the world. That’s the advice being doled out to Chinese tourists heading abroad.

The country’s National Tourism Administration put together a 64-page booklet called The Guidebook For Civilized Tourism to teach its citizens the dos and don’ts of respectable travel.

Earlier this year, China’s Vice Premier lamented the fact that rowdy behavior by Chinese tourists was tarnishing the country’s image abroad. The new etiquette guide hopes to curb some of the unruly behavior, such as travelers who pee in public swimming pools or leave footprints on toilet seats when using public restrooms.Some of the other insight offered in the guidebook includes instructions for travelers to avoid picking their teeth with their fingers, to keep the length of their nose hair in check, and to refrain from stealing life jackets from airplanes so that they’ll be available to other travelers in the event of an emergency.

However, while some of the tips reflect common sense and general courteousness, others are harder to pin down the origins of. An example? Chinese tourists are told that when traveling in Spain, they should always wear earrings while out in public. If they don’t, well apparently, it’s as good as being naked.

10 Ways To Be A Terrible Airbnb Host

I recently wrote 10 Ways To Be A Terrible Airbnb Guest for Gadling. For all of the Airbnb hosts out there who found themselves nodding in agreement with the atrocities committed by some guests, well, it goes both ways. Making sure you avoid being a terrible guest is just as important as making sure you avoid being a terrible host.

And so I present to you 10 ways to be a terrible Airbnb host (avoid doing the following to be a good host).

1. Lack scheduling/time-management skills. If you want to make a profit off of your living space, you’re going to have to figure out some way to organize your brain. Don’t make guests wait for you if they need to check in, don’t double-book guests in the same window of time and don’t book guests for dates you’ll need to cancel. Use the Airbnb Calendar, Google Calendar, iCal and iPhone Calendar all together if you have to in order to get it right, but whatever you do, don’t inconvenience your guests over your inability to properly plan.2. Expect guests to pay for a dirty space. It’s amazing to read Airbnb reviews and general commentary to see where different hosts land on the cleanliness scale. Maybe working as a travel writer and spending lots of time in lots of hotels gave me an upper hand with my previous hosting, but to put it simply, you should go above and beyond. Maybe you won’t get tons of complaints, but you deserve them if food is rotting in your fridge, the sheets and towels you provide aren’t clean, the bathroom sink is covered in hair and you’ve never taken the time to mop. At the very minimum, you should sweep, mop and clean all surfaces and common areas before accepting payment for renting your space.

3. Not provide food. Providing food for guests doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as having a couple of cereal options and milk around and letting your guests know it’s there for them. To be a terrible host is to not have any food around at all. To be a great host is to have more than enough food around for all meals and to welcome your guests to it.

4. Make your guests feel unwelcome. Your guests know they’re in your personal space and most guests are going to be respectful of that. But it’s still your job to make them feel at home in your space. Don’t alienate your guests through rude or controversial conversation or potentially offensive habits (not everyone wants to see you walking around in your underwear). Take the time to warmly talk to your guests and get to know them. Let your guard down and they’ll let theirs down and everyone will have a better, more meaningful experience for it.

5. Misrepresent your space through photos. A lot of enhancements can be made to photos these days, but the biggest Airbnb photo crimes from hosts have little to do with manipulation in post and a lot more to do with the difference between what was physically photographed and what will be physically present at the time of the rental. If your floor was so clean that you’d eat off of it in your photos, it’d better be that clean when your guests arrive, too. If you feature fresh flowers and fruit in your photos, make sure you have fresh flowers and fruit around for your guests. If you rearrange or update furniture, take new photos and replace the old ones. Your photos should represent your actual rental as accurately as possible.

6. Fail to repair what’s broken. It doesn’t matter why your air conditioner broke or your wireless internet suddenly stopped working. If you’re offering these things to guests, they need to be available for guests, no matter what it takes. Your guests shouldn’t have any unfortunate surprises when they arrive at your rental. If they were planning on doing laundry with your washing machine, your washing machine needs to be working. If something suddenly breaks and you can’t fix it immediately, update your listing and send a kind note to your reserved guests explaining the situation ASAP and in the case of important malfunctions, reimburse part of the payment.

7. Disrespect the personal property of guests. Although guests are in your house, their personal property and space deserves to be respected. Don’t enter their rented room ever without knocking and only if necessary. Never go through their personal belongings. Never allow a pet or child to go through or mess with their personal belongings, either. Respecting personal belongings is always important, but it’s especially important with travelers — their personal possessions are all they have from home with them. If you need something moved, ask politely.

8. Run out of necessary items. There are some items that you should have a backup supply of around the house as an Airbnb host. Don’t ever run out of: toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, soap or shampoo. Make sure you have some of the less obvious things around, too — like salt, pepper, cooking oil and a first aid kit.

9. Fail to provide items your guest may need. Like I’ve already said, the best Airbnb hosts go way above and beyond. Terrible Airbnb hosts never go above and beyond; they never put themselves in the shoes of a guest. Having some extra things around for your guest that aren’t required but can truly enhance the experience of your guest will take you a long way. Consider adding these items to your regular inventory for guests: an umbrella, an iron and ironing board, a fan, a heater, a spare blanket, coffee and a selection of tea, alcohol of some sort, fresh flowers, snacks and bathroom items like cotton swabs, dental floss, a spare toothbrush, etc.

10. Do little to accommodate your guests. Airbnb basically states that hosts just have to have a clean space with clean sheets and towels and something around for breakfast. But if that’s as far as your ability to accommodate your guests extends, you might be a terrible host. Little things go a long way with guests. If they wanted to coldly be treated like just another customer, they probably would have gone to a hotel or a hostel. I’ve let guests in my house who lost their luggage borrow my clothes and I’d like to think that’s what anyone (of similar size) would have done. When another guest was going to the beach for the day, I packed her a beach bag with items she’d surely find useful, but hadn’t brought along for her journey (sunblock, bug spray, a sunhat, a tapestry, a towel, a bottle of water, etc.). No host wants a demanding guest on their hands, but on the flip side, no guest wants an unaccommodating host, either. Write down directions, lend out a charger, and by all means, if your guest seems lonely, consider inviting him or her out if you’re going out. Being well-mannered is not the same as being taken advantage of, so don’t confuse the two.

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