My interview with Kevin Koskella of www.freedomlovin.com.
A conversation on travels, borders, security and other issues that should matter for those who question themselves about the state of the world today.
Ending up with my endeavor to go to every country in the world and then burn my passports to end #GlobalApartheid and #BirthplaceRacism.
Thank you for listening.
What does travelling the world mean today? What is it to be a woman travelling the world? How comes world travellers do not question themselves about borders and freedom of movement? How does so called security makes our lives less secure and our perspectives as human beings more close to that of a herd of sheep?
These are only a few of the issues I touch upon during this recent interview with Ric Gazarian which I share in the hope that more people can join my endeavor to end "Global Apartheid" and "Birthplace Racism".
Thank you for listening.
So what? Booking.com is hosting fraudulent, or perhaps even worse, -or is it better? It depends on how you look at it I suppose- illegal businesses on its website. Who cares? People will be using Booking.com no matter what as it is convenient. They are used to such things in our world, they keep on using the services of sites which have become habitual. As long as it does not affect them much, they are nonchalant. They do not even notice petty thefts as they do not check their credit card statements, they live in ignorant bliss. (Oh how I wish I could do that too!) If fishy things are brought up to their awareness, they just shrug their shoulders and move on. Welcome to the real world, the world we live in.
I've been using Booking for years for my travels. Perhaps because I'm good at choosing, reading the comments and between the lines, or because most places care about their reputation on Booking, the places I booked generally turned out to be good; so I've been quite happy with the service. However, my last trip to Algeria has turned all my opinions about this giant company around. It's been yet another Customer Service trouble and even though they've compensated me partially, it's just another unethical business, only after profit. Whatever customer service they provide is only to keep you as their customer so you can make money for them, i.e. so that they can keep on milking you. But let me tell you what happened, so you decide for yourself:
I booked a place that was non-refundable. I have no problem with that. After choosing I do not bother to go back and try to change anyway.
The trip was some time ahead. Fine. Then I got my credit card statement. I check my card statements. There was a strange transaction that I had not done. I asked my husband if he bought anything online that I did not know of; he negated. So thinking about what it could be, I figured out the only possibility was this Algerian Hotel, Hotel Samir. Actually, the transaction did not come from neither Hotel Samir nor from Algeria, the merchant name that processed the 78 Euros was El Comparador from Spain. Still, Hotel Samir was the only suspect for me. As it was non-refundable, they had the right to charge my card; plus, the amount was more or less the same. Booking.com quotes you the price in your currency and it was said to be 75 Euros. Yet, this is for reference only. It is clearly stated out on the site:
“Currency & Exchange Rate Info
You'll pay Hotel Samir in DZD according to the exchange rate on the day of payment.
The amount displayed in EUR is just an estimate based on today's exchange rate for DZD.”
So first, I wrote to the hotel. No answer. I wrote to them a second time. Still no answer. Upon which I decided to get Booking.com involved. So I wrote to them too.
They replied saying:
“Hotel Samir takes care of all payments, so if there has been a charge you weren’t expecting, contact them to find out what’s happening.”
I said I contacted the hotel but didn't get an answer.
They confirmed my statement. After all, they can see the messaging between us. “It looks like Hotel Samir wasn't able to reply to your message in time.”
Duh, I told you.
“Would you like to call them instead?”
No, I don't. I call and what do I do? I'm not sure they speak any English. What is Booking.com for if not to help customers in such situations? They are the mediators. That's why we book through them. If the hotel doesn't answer a customer on an important subject, Booking makes them answer.
Instead of pressing the hotel, Booking asked me the details of the suspected charge. It's understandable, I could be just making a problem out of nothing. But that was what I wanted confirmed. To check if Hotel Samir charged me 78 Euros. Anyway... I sent Booking a screenshot of the suspected charge, the date and the merchant name. They weren't satisfied, they wanted to see my bank statement with the logo and all. Of course, that is work. They say it will be used strictly for that and “we respect your privacy” but I sure am not giving unknown people access to my address and expenditures. So I needed to block out all the rest. Booking wrote back saying they'd be contacting the hotel and letting me know.
This was more than a week before my trip. I did not get any answer in three days. So I wrote Booking a second time too, asking them to let me know before my trip. Still no answer from them either. I was getting stressed with this issue, I didn't want to go to a hotel with a shady business. My plane was landing in Algeria late at night and I did not want to deal with finding another place after I got there. I wanted this sorted out in advance so that I knew what I was going to do. Anyway... In the end, I gave it up; it's really hard to nag someone to answer you by email or even the phone, if they don't want to they'll just ignore you or brush you off, give you the runaround. It's so exhausting. Thinking the hotel must be fine, I said “I'll sort it out when I get there. In person.”
So I got there. And I found out that it was in fact them, they had charged me the 78 Euros. I told them they had no right to charge me that amount, I had only authorized 10,200 DZD. I asked them to refund the Euros so that I'd pay them the DZD amount I agreed to pay, in cash. They said “No no no.” They claimed they had a right, that they did this with all other customers. As they did not have the means to process credit cards they worked with a Spanish agency who did it on their behalf and then wired the money to Algeria. Of course there was a cost for this. The hotel said that I paid the agency, I paid the money transfer, I paid Booking and that was the price.
Well yeah (!) ?? Really? And where did I agree to all these costs?? I mean it's the basics of commerce: The merchant quotes a price, if it's in person the customer may bargain, they strike a deal, agree on the price and the merchant charges the customer. Online, there is no bargaining process. The merchants put their prices out there, the customer searches and compares, chooses the one s/he approves and checks it out. What am I missing here?
You do not quote a price in one currency and charge your customer a higher amount in another currency, adding on all kinds of extras s/he did not approve. If you do that, it is generally called cheating. Or it is at least resorting to cheap tricks and it's bad business.
While writing to Booking.com informing them of the situation I came across a comment on their website on Hotel Samir:
"They charge you more then they should and they think it is their right. Their logic is, if you do not pay before you come there, you don't pay the reservation price, but the hotel price, which is higher. They can speak only few words in english. I had to call booking.com and they send me my money back after my stay. Do not expect the receptionists will want to help you..." Ondrej from Czech Republic in April 2018.
So there had been another customer who had been in the same situation and apparently Booking.com had refunded him. I pointed this out to them along with Hotel Samir's explanation about my charge. The answer from Booking:
“We have spoken with the hotel however they did not accept your claim as valid. We have checked your bank statement again and we can see that the merchant name that charged you does not match the one of the hotel (the merchant name is written in Spanish language) and furthermore your bank statement does not specify the currency of the account or of the charge. For these reasons we want to kindly ask if you can please provide a different proof of charge? We look forward to your reply.”
At that point I was really pissed off at Booking! Enough! What kind of an answer is this?? I have provided them the proof of charge and There is only one proof of charge! What other proof of charge can I provide? Besides, I've told them that the hotel accepts that they charged me 78 Euros. The thing they don't accept is that they have no right to charge me that amount and Booking should be able to judge that I am in the right.
“Instead of trying to understand the matter and asking the hotel for proof you ask me another proof. The hotel doesn't accept my claim, you accept their word. I file a claim, you ask proof from me, proof with bank logo, double proof, but you don't ask the hotel for any proof!”
I was really upset. I had written to them, I knew they don't accept my claim but they accept I've been charged 78 Euros and they say I've paid an agency. Apparently that agency is Spanish. I have no other charges in DZD in my bank statement. There is no other proof. That's the proof!
“We have spoken with the hotel however they did not accept your claim as valid.”
Ah! What a surprise! As if I did not know that already! How many wrongdoers admit their wrongdoing without a higher authority?
“We have checked your bank statement again and we can see that the merchant name that charged you does not match the one of the hotel (the merchant name is written in Spanish language)”
Duh! I already stated that to you. And that is the main problem.
I re-emphasized Ondrej's comment and asked them to solve the issue right away so that I could pay the hotel in local currency.
Oh, there is another point to note here: There is a black-market in Algiers and there is a huge discrepancy between the official exchange rate and the street rate. So if I had paid the hotel when I got there, I wouldn't have paid more as the hotel claims. Sure, the walk-in hotel price is higher; but as I'd have paid cash which I exchanged at a much better rate I'd have paid 40 % less.
When I talked to the hotel, they confirmed it was a Spanish agency. They even confirmed that the Euro exchange rate is 210 DZD. That would make my charge 48.57 Euros. (10200/210=48.57) So they have actually charged me 60 % more (78/48.57= 1.60) 60 percent more, 60 %!
Even so, that is not the point. My bank would have converted the DZD charge to Euros for me to pay and that would have been more or less a similar amount, 70 something Euros. The point is... They cannot charge me an amount I have not agreed to in a currency I did not agree to. Simple as that.
Ok, I know this is Africa. I mean it is patronizing and belittling to even say this, but I am very well aware how things work in the world. Their work ethics might be different here in Algiers but I'm sure the Spanish agency Comparador knows, or should know that you don't do this, you never charge a customer secret amounts. I tried to explain this to the hotel. I said “You are doing wrong, I will get this money back. So, you give me the Euros back and I pay you the Dinar.” They did not care, insisted they were in the right; the man even showed me all the customers who paid using Booking.com. Ok, as they wish; I tried my best. Obviously, I couldn't explain them, Booking would. The man said “No no, Booking is very good with me, we do good business together.” Okay then, what more can I do?
What makes the situation worse is the fact that Hotel Samir has been working like this with Booking for a long time and apparently only one person before me has filed a complaint. I assume that people either
a) don't notice,
b) don't care, or
c) don't bother to file complaints and go through the process.
Which I agree is a very time consuming process and is certainly not worth the amount of money involved. However, if people, when people go on with this mentality, frauds take over and they make huge amounts of money with the little extra they get from a large number.
I asked Booking to refund me the money and also asked what action they'd be taking with El Comparador. I wrote: “To be honest, I have not read your terms and conditions but I use Booking with full faith and trust that you protect your customers from any kind of fraud or wrong charge. We wish to keep on using your services in the same full trust as a family.
Thank you for your time and care.”
The automatic reply said: "I just sent that to Customer Service, someone there will get back to you within 24 hours."
More than 72 hours passed and I didn't hear a reply.
Wrote again: “I'd appreciate a response please.”
When they finally answered, they gave me the classic bs (sorry for the expression but it really is, the language these big companies use.)
“I am sorry to hear about your experience at Hotel Samir. I appreciate you taking the time to tell us about this situation.”
Then they put a drop of honey in your mouth:
“As a token of our dedication to customer satisfaction, I'd like to offer you compensation by refunding you 30 EUR. Please confirm your acceptance of this offer by replying to this email, and we'll arrange the refund as soon as possible.”
Ending it with the standard bs:
“Again, we’re very sorry your stay at Hotel Samir didn't meet your expectations and apologize for any inconvenience. We value the feedback you provided because it will help both us and Hotel Samir improve the quality of the services we offer.
We look forward to hearing from you.”
This is their sandwich technique to lure you in and trap you. Honey sandwich. Obviously you are angry. Who knows, you might be walking away. We need to keep you here!
In the meanwhile, I checked Booking.com. Hotel Samir was still advertised on the site, which implies that they are doing this just to get rid of a nuisance and not out of any business ethics. I was pissed off at their insolence. I answered:
“I really believe you should be issuing a complete refund because this shouldn't have happened at all in the first place, especially after Ondrej drew your attention to the issue. Once you were referred to this issue, you should not have allowed it to go on. It shouldn't have happened to me. Ondrej has written you back in April, seven months ago. It shouldn't be happening to anybody else again. As Booking, I believe it's your responsibility to keep your site as an honest place. Is it not?
Apart from customer satisfaction, I'd have hoped that Booking would have done this out of a 'good business' rule.
I understand it's business for Booking, it's business for the Spanish agency El Comparador, it's business for Hotel Samir. And most customers do not seem to notice or mind anyway. But this cannot be a reason for you to accommodate this kind of “murky” business.
Paying and forgetting would have been much easier and less costly for my time (even with a full refund you won't be compensating the time I spent on this issue); however, that would be rewarding wrong behavior and I do not like to do that. Thank you for publishing my comment without censorship, I appreciate it. However, I really believe you should be sanctioning Hotel Samir and/or putting them on hold until they fix their payment method or put it written clearly. I really would like to know your stand on this issue as Booking.”
I was very disillusioned with Booking Customer Service. I noticed this charge long before my trip, I contacted them. Nothing. I went to Algiers. Wrote to them with more information. Still nothing. I wrote to them so many times, each time detailing it more and guiding them to investigate the matter. I got no reply.
“We will not be able to process a full refund as you indeed stayed at the property. However we are willing to refund you 30.00 € for being charged in the wrong currency.”
Anyway, they refunded me the 30 Euros. But I realized I was still not fine with this issue. Because it wasn't about the money in the first place.
“Please tell me why it is acceptable to you that Hotel Samir charges your customers a higher amount in a different currency than is advertised on your site and why this is fine with you, why you allow them to do this using your website?”
On the phone, an agent had told me “Someone who knows the local customs will be talking to Hotel Samir, if there are more customer complaints the property will certainly be taken off the site, that not all properties stay on Booking.” However, this was NOT enough.
It had been ten days since Booking.com had the knowledge for certain that Hotel Samir was overcharging the guests, what's more, illegally! I knew they couldn't charge me in a different currency than DZD but had not thought of it being illegal until the agent pronounced it out loud. So Booking.com was, and still is, literally aiding and abetting an illegal transaction on their website! Knowingly! It seriously is UNACCEPTABLE!
I wrote this to them and told them what they should be doing as, obviously, they did not know:
“What you should be doing RIGHT NOW; WITHOUT LOSING EVEN A SECOND, is calling the hotel, asking for PROOF of charge from them. As they cannot give you any proof of charge in DZD, you should suspend their account on your site IMMEDIATELY!
And this should have happened before I wrote to you. Tell me, please, I beg you, tell me in writing, what is it that takes you so long? Why are you not taking an action against this illegal transaction??”
I got no answer. You know, no answers make me even more furious and I have a need to go on more:
“Hotel Samir has been welcoming Booking.com guests since Feb 24, 2018. There are 41 guest reviews. I know there have been many more customers as they showed me the file with bookings
from Booking at the hotel. It says on your site 'In High Demand' for the hotel. All these people are being robbed! And you are letting the hotel go along with this cheating.
And I'm still expecting you to inform me of Ondrej's case. What has happened and what action have you taken? Because, apparently, you have just paid him back too, like you did with me and done nothing further to prevent this from happening again. I accepted your offer, but that is not hush money. Yes, you have a reputation to lose. And this is a scandal if you ask me. Ondrej wrote to you 7 months ago. 7 months! Nothing has been done!
Ah, you say “if there are more customer complaints...” There won't be more customer complaints. Not too many at least. Because most people are sheeple. Tell me how many people have booked Hotel Samir through your site and I'll tell you the percentage of your sheeple customers! 100x divided by x+2 %. That's how many. You do not act right because customers complain, at least a good company does not, a prestigious company like Booking does not. Yes, your reputation has gone under the carpet for me. I am still in waiting for an update from you on the issue to restore it back.
Look... I'm not claiming Hotel Samir is a cheat, but this has nothing to do with local customs either. They certainly do not know, yet I am sure the Spanish agency El Comparador doing this transaction for them should know the internationally acceptable credit card charge rules. If not, they shouldn't do international business; simple. I will be asking a chargeback from my card. This should have an effect on their business. And I certainly believe you have a responsibility towards your customers to provide honest and transparent service. I am looking forward to see you live up to your big name.”
I am so bothered with having to do the customer service of these big companies **THY link, for things that I shouldn't have had to spend my time on. I told them too:
“In the meanwhile, please consider paying in an advisor fee for me.
As I battle with these big companies, I battle with myself too. I say to myself: “I really must have been someone very unfair, done something very bad in a previous life. It seriously is not possible that I keep banging on this same type of issues constantly.”
Then I reason: “Or of course it's because I pay attention to detail and there are a lot of people out there who are trying to steal money from your pocket furtively. And I notice. Carlo does not notice, so he is fine.”
No answer from Booking.com, here goes another mail from me:
“I am still waiting to hear about your stand on the issue of Hotel Samir charging their customers and what you have done, if anything, on this issue. I do not wish to take this to social media to smear your name as I've been using Booking with confidence all these years. But I want others to be spared the trouble I had to go through and I do not wish illegal, non-transparent transactions to be rewarded; so if you do not take any action, I just wish to spread the word. A prestigious site like Booking allowing such illegal business is unacceptable. I seriously do not understand how you allow it even after my insistent mails. Please, I would like a written explanation.”
Two days later, I again receive the standard bs:
“Thank you for choosing Booking.com.
We are writing to you regarding your reservation 1278724230 at Hotel Samir, check-in date 2018-11-24, and check-out date 2018-11-26.
This issue has been reported already and is being investigated.
Thank you for accepting the refund covering the error made by the property and commercial gesture from Booking.com for the inconvenience. The refund should be on your account as soon as possible. No further compensation will be added and we consider your claim settled.
Once again please accpet our sincere apologise.
Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions.
Every time these companies deny their part and try to brush-off the issue I get more fuelled:
“In case you do not get it, and which obviously you did not, I am NOT making a further claim; that was a tongue-in-cheek remark to state that as I feel you are not doing your job and I have to spend time to make you do it, you should actually be compensating me for it. Not that I don't believe you should pay me as an advisor, but I am not stupid enough to think you actually would!
Let me be clear on this: The refund does NOT cover the error made by the property. The property is NOT making an error, they are systematically and consistently overcharging their/YOUR customers and performing an illegal transaction with every single customer booking through your site. The damages this has caused me is far beyond what you can cover with 30 Euros. And it is not a “commercial gesture from Booking.com for the inconvenience”, it is a convenient commercial gesture from Booking on behalf of Booking. As you have made and plan to make profit out of us as a customer, it pays you to give back a bit to satisfy customers. It is solely a smart business move, not got anything to do with customer satisfaction or your caring about business ethics.
The refund is already in my account, but I do NOT consider my claim settled until I see Hotel Samir REMOVED from your site or until you provide me proof that they have updated their working process and are doing the charging in DZD now. I would have loved to state that I hold the right to sue you demanding further compensation for the damages caused by your company's negligence on an illegal transaction; however, being an ordinary individual, that would only make me laughable. And I hate this feeling of powerlessness as an individual over such companies like you. I wish I had the social media to take this out to, who knows, maybe some person will pick it up when I post it.
I know this case has been reported! “It's under investigation” is NOT good enough. When I check and see that you are still hosting Hotel Samir on your site it upsets me so much. So much! Please answer my questions:
1) What has been done after Ondrej alerted you to the issue back in April? Sorry, I actually know the answer to that question. You just paid him and brushed it away. So the actual question is, why did you not investigate the issue and take precautions that this doesn't happen to your other customers?
2) What has been done for the investigation in the two weeks that I have made the case beyond any doubt? Did you ask for PROOF of charge in DZD from the hotel? As they obviously cannot provide it, why are you still hosting them?? Why are you still hosting a business that does illegal transactions through your website? What are you waiting for to take precaution that this does not happen to any other customer? As you obviously are not taking any precaution, this just shows you are an unethical business not really caring about your customers or any business principle. Please explain me how I am wrong.
3) When someone is doing an illegal business, stealing, yes sorry but it is stealing as they are overcharging their, that is YOUR customers, you immediately put a stop to the business so as to prevent them from stealing more. Then, ONLY THEN, do you investigate further, you make sure they abide by the rules FIRST and then let them back into the business. Am I wrong? What am I missing here?”
At this point, I changed my mind. Until recently, even a couple of days ago, I was thinking I must have done something very wrong in a previous life, that's why I keep coming across such people. But no. Seriously NO. That is not the explanation. I've got a better one. The default of people and institutions is “Fuck others as long as you can,” “Grab what you can while you can.” And I have an issue with that. First of all, I see these things. I notice. And I don't like it. It's not me coming across these people all the time. 80-90 % of people and institutions are like this; naturally, I see the same rate of crooked people in my interactions. And as I do not like it and care about justice and the “right thing” it bugs me.
Institutions and people do not do the right thing but go after their own interests if there is no threat from a higher power or a threat to their reputation and financial interest due to public outcry.
Eight more days passed. Booking.com did not answer. I wrote again. I know... I am irredeemable. But one day I'll be changing. I've had enough of this suffering and it is getting unbearable.
“I see Hotel Samir is still being hosted by your website. I still haven't got an answer to why you are allowing your customers to be ripped off or why you are allowing illegal transactions to be done through your website. I haven't got PROOF of Hotel Samir having updated their transaction method in DZD either.
Also please, I'd like to know how many people have booked Hotel Samir each month since it has been hosted by Booking.
Waiting for your reply”
The bs answer came the next day:
“Dear Zeynep Gulin De Vincentiis,
Thank you for choosing Booking.com.
We are writing to you regarding your reservation 1278724230 at Hotel Samir, check-in date 2018-11-24, and check-out date 2018-11-26.
Thank you for your feedback and concerns. We are not able to provide answers to any of those questions, as this is sensitive company information.
Aaah, what an opportunity for me to shoot back!
“Can you please be specific and tell me which questions can you not answer as it is sensitive company information?
You referring to how many guests have booked Hotel Samir after my stay or since Ondrej notified you their overcharge or the total guest number? There's something called transparency. I don't know if you've ever heard of it.
Or are you referring to providing an answer to what actions you have taken with Hotel Samir after my notification? That would be called accountability. Have you heard of that?
Or are you referring to why you are still allowing Hotel Samir, a business that is executing illegal transactions to be hosted on your site? There is something called business ethics and principles. Ring any bells?? You must have heard those somewhere; no?
I believe you OWE me an explanation why I have had to deal with this trouble when Ondrej had notified you of the overcharging of Hotel Samir seven months before my stay? Why did you not take action against this illegal ripping off of your customers? And why are you still not taking any action against it?
Don't thank me for choosing Booking again. I thank you for your services that I have used until now, but I definitely will not be choosing Booking from now on if you do not compensate for your ineptitude at dealing with a serious customer and business issue. I am waiting for you to show some proactive leadership and make a respectable business move.
Hosting a business doing illegal transactions is not something light, this is not staying here. I do not know who to go up to but I will definitely be posting this ordeal on social media and searching for somebody to take up legal charges against all parties involved.
Please pass this on to a responsible manager who can deal with the issue professionally. In addition to answers to the questions above, I am waiting for your message informing me 'We have done ..... (fill in the blanks here) for the investigation of Hotel Samir and .... (fill in the outcome.)'
The moment I sent the above email, I regretted one part. So I had to write a second note:
“Sorry, I take back the 'Thank you' at the end of my last email. (I do not thank you for your non-answers to me. I do not thank you; on the contrary, I loathe that you make me waste more of my time.) That 'Thank you' was in the hope of getting a proper answer and a respectable move from you, but I shouldn't have given it in advance, I'll be thanking you when you have taken the right action.”
You bet I didn't hear from them again, so I do NOT thank Booking.com. I just checked: Hotel Samir now has 79 reviews. So it's going strong.
I believe nothing has changed, Hotel Samir is still charging customers through El Comparador. There is a review in February 2019 by Bryan from the US saying “Dishonest staff, lied, ZERO customer service, I WOULD RECOMMEND NO ONE TO STAY AT THIS HOTEL.”
As Bryan did not give any details I cannot know for sure but I highly suppose that he had the same experience as me and Ondrej; the “prestigious” giant Booking.com has done nothing about it. Same story goes...
Who will protest Booking.com with me? Who will pass this on?
Important Notice: Even if you do not care about illegal businesses being allowed by Booking.com, please... if you use Booking.com, I strongly advise you to read the reviews from the Review section and not depend on what they show on the main page of the hotels because Booking.com displays only the positive comments there. And unfortunately, most people are so easily fooled into thinking they have the whole picture reading those positive comments, not noticing these tiny trade tricks. Read the negative comments!
Our current democratic systems were instituted as a protest against privileged, inherited social status, like being born into a royal family; but today, our system is no different. People who hold Western passports are like people belonging to the royal family. The rest are the serfs.
Or you may call it a Global caste system! I thought the caste system in India was looked down upon, whereas Henley & Partners publishes the ranks of the caste system every year proudly. Sure, there are some movements in this caste system, but not much. No Afghani will ever shoot up to the first ranks anytime foreseeable in the near future.
The universally accepted visa regime granting people movement based on their nationality, their birthplace is an unacceptable injustice; what makes it worse is that it is invisible to the majority.
We are all born on this world; and we all have an inalienable natural right to go wherever we wish without the need for papers. I hold this truth to be self-evident. Unfortunately, most people do not. Because that's not what we were brought up with. We are like the kittens in Colin Blakemore and G.F. Cooper experiment who are blind to vertical lines and keep on banging on chair's legs because they've been wearing goggles with horizontal lines since their birth and cannot recognize vertical lines.
Or we are all like Red, the character of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption who asks permission to go to the bathroom even after he is free... We need to ask permission to move around the world we were born on, we need to ask permission to work to make a living for our families. We have internalized the restrictions on our movements so much that we cannot even think differently, we can't think of ourselves as a free human being. Like Red in prison, “Forty years I been asking permission to piss. I can't squeeze a drop without say-so.”
It's so deeply entrenched in us that we do not question; let alone questioning, we are so shocked at questioning. The thought does not occur to us. On the other hand, it is so ironical and truly sad that we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in a world where new walls and fences are built every day.
With the advent of new technology, there are new global demands today and our political system, which was designed for a different era cannot catch up to meet those demands. The system is showing its age -well at least to me-, and it is obvious that citizenship and belonging needs to be redefined. This is one of the most important tasks at hand for the new century.
To end on a provocative note... We have developed technology to overcome our fear of nature and we've come a long way at it; however, what we need to work on is overcome our fear of one another, another human. -Or should I say another homo sapiens as we so narcissistically call ourselves.- Only and if only then, can we live up to our names and be called Homo Sapiens.
Some people see burning passports as an aggressive act. That's rather ironical as a passport is just a piece of paper and its very existence has led to deaths of hundreds of thousands of people who were not lucky enough to hold the correct passport.
I'm a non-violent person who just cannot tolerate this injustice and feels the need to do something about it. That's it.
“Passports and visas are the racism of our times,” it says on my homepage. Erick Prince, who wants to be the first African American to go to every country in the world scoffed at my statement saying “As if racism doesn't exist anymore! Lol”
Sure, there definitely is racism diffused in every layer of life everywhere; hey, I even got my share of racism here in Italy. Of course not because of my color but because it is obvious that I am not originally Italian. When I say racism I use it not as discrimination based only on your skin color but in a broader sense, as prejudice and discrimination because of your not belonging to a certain group.
I said “Sure, there definitely is racism diffused in every layer of life everywhere” but that racism is covert and/or it's on an individual level. There certainly is no outright racism today, at least in the constitutional level. Blacks have exactly the same rights as whites in America and South Africa, and anywhere else in the world I suppose. (Please correct me and give contrary examples if I am wrong.) Whereas Birthplace Racism is definitely a racism on a global level, strictly administered by every country in the world! It is institutionalized through visa regimes and accepted as the “nothing wrong with it” status-quo by almost everyone.
Hey, Birthplace Racism is so indoctrinated, so deeply ingrained that even the discriminated against do not see the injustice and birthplace racism behind the visa regimes. Pongtharin, a Thai traveler going to every country says “It is what it is” when asked about his frustration of not being able to go to some places without a visa where Western nationalities can.
As people who have to apply for many visas and witness the randomness (You are not given X visa in country Y but you can get that X visa easily in country Z) and imbecility (”Oh you have to provide hotel reservations and air tickets” says the embassy, “Okay, I'll just go and make fake reservations then” says the traveller) of it firsthand, I would have expected more people from the extreme travel community to see Birthplace Racism but apparently not. I suppose my “misfortune” is to be among the first people to see this Global Apartheid. I have no doubt the future generations will be seeing it the way I do.
On a final note, Erick calls himself the "minority nomad". Who is the minority nomad? He is a minority because he is black?
Let me tell you, true minority in the travel community is anyone not on a European or US passport. Pongtharin is a minority, I am/was a minority as a Turkish. Women are a minority too. Sure, Erick is a minority too, but he -just like Jessica Nabongo, a black American-Ugandan woman,- holds a valuable passport. A passport that has high prestige. There are minorities; also, there are too many non-existent nationalities in the travel community. You don't get a Syrian or an Afghani or any African country citizen in any avid traveller lists. (Oh, actually there might be a South African woman out there, I remember reading about her. But exceptions do not break the rule. The most, she'd be a minority nomad too; it wouldn't change the fact none other African country or a “third-world” country has a world traveller.) In fact, you don't really find them travelling, travelling for leisure that is. There is a reason why. They simply cannot. They have only 25-30 countries they can go to without a visa. It would be truly impossible for them to go to every country unless they were extremely wealthy or powerful. Even an Afghani minister gets only a 72 hour Schengen visa! (Yeah, I know, there is the reverse side of the coin as well where European/Western officials are given 72 hour visas to some countries. Still... That doesn't break the rule either.)
Please... Please... Please start seeing the world as a whole. At least I'd expect that much from world travellers. Please, the world does not revolve only around people with “Western” nationalities. We need hope for the world as a WHOLE! We need to end this universally accepted and worse, invisible Birthplace Racism. Make it visible. Start by spreading the articles I write for example. Thank you. Thank you all on behalf of the invisible majority.
When I saw these photos, I found myself asking “Doesn't this girl have parents?”
Then I asked more questions to myself: Am I just too conservative, too old-fashioned? Am I being over-critical? What harm does it do me? If it doesn't do any harm, why should I bother? Bother her or be bothered myself? Am I too judgemental? She is just having fun. She is young and quite attractive, it is normal.
Or is it? Is this the world we want to live in? Are these the things we'd like to promote?
"Oh, you are old and you simply do not get it. And yes, you are old-fashioned."
"Ok, I accept the 'accusation', I want to keep my old-fashioned ways, thank you."
I really find it difficult to grasp that her parents do not give a word of advice to this girl. I mean it's fine with me if they are fine with their daughter going for fame with half-naked photos in Baobab Avenue or holding seashells to her vagina, or exposing her legs and ass all over Instagram. I have a daughter, so I shouldn't talk big, I don't know what I'd be doing if my daughter turned out to be such a woman. I mean I know of course, I certainly wouldn't approve. However, I also know that I would let her be herself. I have had enough of my mother trying to leash me. On the other hand, I know that I'd probably hug a stone in my bosom and cut my ties with her if she didn't heed my words and our interaction became a zone of constant conflict. There is no reason why people with very different values and no respect for each other should keep a bond. It's sad but it happens.
I am cautious to judge Lexie with the yardstick of my years, she is too young to know much about the world or life. But her parents are supposed to know better, I'd suppose. That's why I find it difficult to understand how and why Lexie's parents support her. I wish there was an interview with them. Because it's not only their saying or not saying anything to such photos, I believe - I mean I may be wrong of course, but I believe there is strong reason to think that they are financing Lexie for this goal. Perhaps they plan/expect it to pay back; after all, they have a travel agency and their daughter is going to hold a Guinness Record.
No, sorry, I do not believe it when Lexie claims she works three jobs to pay for her travels. Call me a cynic, but I don't. How much can one be making out of picking up tourists from airports and guiding? Plus, in between all the rush of travel plans and traveling to every country. I believe her parents are financing her travels, for the most part if not in full. That she pays for her travels is total bullshit even if she might not be spending too much. I realize this is my personal issue. I have an issue because I have not been able to monetize all my efforts. I have not been able to make a cent. I know, it's mostly because I do not want to sell out my soul and become a peg in this cogwheel of travel industry. I cannot stand it.
Yet, I want to make money, I want to have a place in this world, I want to have feedback on my posts on social media. Well, actually I'm not sure if I really want that last one. I cannot deal with people. The less in my life, the better it is. Still... I need some recognition.
Okay, I was glad to come across these posts to see I'm not the only one. When I saw these photos I thought to myself: “Who on earth and why would anyone give photos in a bikini in the Avenue of the Baobabs?” I mean it is one thing she publishes bikini photos by the sea, by the pool or in a waterfall, but this is really something! You don't go to the Avenue of the Baobabs in swim attire. Sorry but Lexie is not traveling the world, she is just promoting herself as a model around the world
Perhaps what bothers me about Lexie is her motto on the main-page of her website.
“How can you change the world if you haven't seen it?”
This girl is definitely not seeing the world; she is not even looking at the world, let alone see it.
Because in order to see, you need to look first. And she is just looking at herself. Yeah, I'm not sure if she sees herself much either. Beyond the physical that is...
I am sort of blind. I do not see things around me. I am one of those people who looks but doesn't see. A friend may pass by me, I may even be looking at her, I may not see. So if I pass you by and don't say “Ciao” it's not because I'm ignoring you, it's only because I was noticing other small details in the surroundings. That's my trait. I see conceptual details, I look behind the physical.
I was going to title this piece “Lexie and Parents”, then I decided to change it. Because this annoys me more because it is associated with travel: This girl is not traveling the world, she is just going around the world holding a magnifying mirror in hand and looking at herself. She is just looking at herself, capturing images of herself and admiring herself in different backgrounds. She is by no means the only one, but she is a prime example. And she is soon going to be the youngest person to travel to every country.
I cry for the massacring of the spirit of travel.
I'll be gaining the wrath of “fellow-travellers” as if I already haven't. But as I have already done so, I can go on some more with my criticisms.
They call themselves travel influencers; what they really are instead is... They are a bunch of advertisement agents to get people to spend money on certain hotels, airlines and other travel related agencies, and gadgets.
Yeah, some do it well. They “hide” their advertisement within “best photos of the year” articles or they pretend they are making an interview with a hotel director or a tour operator. They “review” hotels and airlines making us believe it is totally their honest opinion even though we all know they have been sponsored and, even if indirectly, paid to write those pieces.
What real honest opinion would be is if someone is so jazzed by a hotel, airline, tour agency that they write and promote it without being sponsored. Those days are long gone now. Say good-bye. Only very few like me remain. And I am no travel influencer. If I wanted to be an influencer I'd be an un-influencer of this hype of travel which has become an industry. Travel has lost its charm and has become overrated with the traveller profile proliferating the internet today. It's nauseating, or at least unsavoury when travellers overrate themselves.
"With a membership of only approximately 100 people, it’s one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth. In fact, more people have been to outer space than have earned their way into this, the ultimate travel club..." Says Ric Gazarian in the introduction of his "Counting Countries" podcast.
I find it repulsive when you try to elevate your status with the number of countries you've been to. What makes it worse is that the majority of these travellers are none the wiser despite all their travels. It's all ego boost.
Especially for those 193'ers... They go in for a day and out, tick a box... Of course not all but for most of them, it is 80-90 % at the airport and on the plane, 10-20 % taking photos/videos and posting them on social media, 2 % is actually getting to see and do something in the country.
I don't care much and do not criticize the ones doing this for their personal satisfaction, but I sure take issue with people promoting themselves as travel influencers or going for records, because these people have an impact on society at large.
Apart from the travellers themselves, travel is really not fun these days. Travel in the 21st century is more about visas and air travel. Airports are not fun; when you get to your destination being hassled by poor locals trying to sell you trinkets is not fun. Having to adjust to a new surrounding constantly is not fun. But no one really talks about this stuff. Behind those glossy pictures you see all around social media and magazines, there is a stark reality. There is poverty, there is pollution, there is swindling, all kinds of scams and rip-offs, there is conflict, there is basically the dark side of humanity.
These photos are not mine, I wish I had noted who it was from; yet, I could have easily taken these shots myself. They are a perfect reality check, a complete picture of travel and the world, both in the literal sense and allegorically for humanity and media. It takes just taking a step back to see the whole picture. Yet... Almost no one takes that step back for the overview.
Travellers show you only the first half, they are all like “Oh look how wonderful I am travelling. You could be like me too.”
There is a reason for this of course: To sell. How can anybody sell any trip to the latter?
Sell, Sell, Sell...
I'm sorry to say that women travellers are the worse in this industry. They depreciate both women and travel.
Take the below example. I mean I'd understand it if it was some extreme adventure gear or something, some also become tools in promoting basically totally unrelated items to travel, like yoga clothing, watches, sunnies etc.
Emily Luxton is only one of such “travellers”, she is an “award-winning writer and travel blogger”! According to her website claim. Yeah, I have an issue with these people; more than that, I have an issue with the world who promotes and values such people. Where people of my kind have no place in it.
Emily talks about travelling deeper and slower. Good for her, but where are the values behind deep and slow travel that she reflects on her posts?
Emily says “It really irks me” for people saying they've “done” countries. Good, it irks me too. But what about herself? What she does also irks me. Using travel as advertisement. Talking about what one does, without anything of value.
I understand... I understand one needs to make a living. I realized I need to make a living as well. I had accepted not making money all this time. It's not that I am sitting on my ass and not doing anything. It's not that I produce nothing of value in this world. What I write may not be mainstream, yet, it has to have a place and value.
I understand this is the way our world works today to make money. But seriously... This advertisement thing, this relying on promotion, this “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” is demeaning for the people and it is shaping our character and way of interaction in an awfully bad way. Please... Please... Please reward people of value.
In the article “How the Internet Turns Shopping into an Obsession” by Lauren O'Neill, Oct 15 2018, it says:
“Many people, myself included, deal with consumerist impulses. It's one thing to buy a treat when you've been paid, another to spend hundreds of dollars each month on shit due to a combination of boredom, low self-esteem, and materialism, just because it's easy.”
I know many people have consumerist impulses. We are primed to that impulse by our environment, by everything we are surrounded by. Please suppress your consumerist impulses. Please make the internet turn virtue into an obsession. I do not know how you do it, but do it. Stop the promotion and talk about values and wisdom perhaps, talk about special interactions.
You are supposed to see these people travelling to these wonderful exotic destinations, read how wonderful things they did, have your mouth water with their food photos and try to imitate them. Perhaps then, all your worries in life will fade. You will be a new person. It doesn't work out that way. Becoming takes hard work. Being a full and fulfilled person is lifetime work.
Travel and travel influencers today are overrated. Where are the travellers of once upon a time? The real journalists? I don't want to say there are none, but they certainly are hard to come by.
Just to end on a positive note...
Johnny Harris from Vox is doing a good job with his Borders documentary. But he is no travel influencer. “One World Many Cultures” by Stuart Hirschberg and Terry Hirschberg is a wonderful book, but it's not a bestseller. Let's promote people whose work bring wisdom, add value to us and our world.
PS: I don't have affiliate links, I will not be earning a fee if you click on any link here. So please consider contributing to my project of going to every country to burn my passports to protest global apartheid and birthplace racism. Thank you.
Some simple folks see it that they are fine with 50 % of their income going to support someone in need. Trouble is... only a few percent of their/our tax monies help the poor. I am not fine that even 1 % of my tax money goes to the military, or the pockets of some corrupt politician or any other item that I do not approve of. I do not want to pay even a cent for some things. I do not give my consent. Yet, most, I'd say probably 90 % of my tax monies go to places I do not wish.
So I have a proposal. Which can satisfy both sides... You believe we all should chip in for the community, you want to force people to cough up money, you want to tax people? Ok, fine. (I am against any use of force and am all for voluntaryism but let's say, for the sake of argument, that not enough people are “good” or “unselfish” enough to share or contribute to the well-being of us all, yet we somehow need to make sure we function as a society, so taxing is a necessary evil.)
You may even dictate how much everyone is supposed to pay. But you may NOT dictate where the money they give will go to. You have to give them the means to decide where their money goes.
With today's technology, it's not that difficult. My proposal is partially put into action in Italy. You may give 5 per thousand of your due tax to any NGO of your wish. I don't see any reason for it not to be a 1000 per thousand. The government makes a list of expenditures and how much is needed for what. Then, people go online and pay their taxes distributing it to causes they see worth. It's that simple. If something is not seen as necessary, it won't get enough funding and cannot be put into action. Today's “democracy” is totally fake. The real democracy, in the sense that people get to run the countries is only possible when we can say where our monies go.
Money runs the world. Unfortunately. And it's very important that the one who pays the piper plays the tune. Whereas now, we are paying and they (the governments) are playing the tune. It's totally UNACCEPTABLE.
Erdoğan recently built a “White Palace” with a thousand rooms. Now... There are people who would like to brag about their government/country being so grand, these people are free to pay for such a presidential palace. But I am not fine and do not consent that I give a cent to pay for this lavish expenditure. If there is anybody who wants to pay for controls, for erecting walls/fences, for fancy tech equipment that makes war-mongers get rich, let them. There are people who feel more comfortable and secure that way. Anybody who wants to give money to soldiers, let them give it. Anybody who wants to pay for the security equipment at airports, to put security officers here there and everywhere on a salary, help yourself. But don't oblige me to do the same.
Even then, I fear that I would still be in the minority and the majority would be supporting what the status-quo propagates, they'd go on with the indoctrination as they have the mob; still, it might be just a bit easier for me to accept the situation than now. Now, it's the people with the money, the lobbyists running the world. But the numbers are on the side of ordinary people and we might just have a chance if we are given the smallest amount of power. It's time that we, the people, play the tune if we are the ones paying the piper. It is time to put that saying into reality:
The one who pay the piper, plays the tune.
“So I mean in terms of frustration level or irritation I mean, how do you feel about that? That you know my passport allows me to go to Uruguay on the hydrofoil for the day trip from BA and just because you were born in Thailand you are not getting that same freedom or flexibility.”
Ric Gazarian asks this question to Pongtharin Tanthasindhu, a Thai, on the Counting Countries podcast. (Around 47-49 mins) And Pongtharin answers:
“It is what it is and there's nothing I can do.”
It is what it is???!!!!! It is what it is?!... Is it what it is??!!!
I mean, sure, it is what it is, BUT it shouldn't be what it is. Because what it is is the most ridiculous concept in the world that we all somehow keep on believing!
It shouldn't be what it is. Because it's wrong. It's wrong as in capital letters WRONG! And capital letter wrongs need to be changed. Not accepted as they are.
But how can things be changed if even the people who are discriminated by the system do not feel there is anything wrong.
It despairs me. People's belief in this anachronistic concept of statehood, citizenship etc.
I understand in a way, because I did not see it this way until I travelled to about 110 countries myself on a Turkish passport. We just are raised in this world to believe it is the way things are. But it shouldn't be so.
I hate it that these “shoulds” and “shouldn'ts” eat up my life. But I cannot help it. I suppose that's why I was put on this earth for and that's something I have to and do accept as “It is what it is,” as in “I am what I am.”
But I'm not accepting the unacceptable. And the current political structure of the world is unacceptable.
The economic structure is unacceptable too, but that is another long story.
Pong then says: “There is nothing I can do.”
Sure, there are things that you can do. You can at least start saying that this is UNACCEPTABLE and start banging this being unacceptable in people's heads. At least put a question mark in that place.
At least grab the opportunity to talk about it when somebody brings it up, not brush it away with “It is what it is!”
Oooh, you can tell my frustration and irritation on this matter is danger level high!
I'm the RED ALERT :)