Europe | Montenegro

Kotor / Cruise out of Control: Consumerism on Vacation,

Ethics Left at Home

the ugly dynamics of a journey sold as destination

   It was quiet in the early mornings and late at night. When they stayed inside their mega-hive. They came out during the day. Unified in collective intent, the diurnal tourist swarm would buzz through the tiny alleyways to conquer, all drones at once, all hungry for nectar, sucking on the little town for stimulation, sights, souvenirs, and set menus. One day, two days, then they were full. Maybe the next cruise ship would dock in Kotor the same day, or the day after.


"Of course, like with all needless and senseless consumption, the cheap cruise tickets came at a price. I had met those who pay it."

Needless to say that the communal awkwardness of the sandal scandal had a comical element, but mostly it was ugly. I don’t know what felt more appalling – the thing itself or the unawareness of those in it. I guess both. Both were most appalling. The whole shebang was the epitome of vacationer overconsumption. Luxury vacation on low-budget steroids. Of course, like with all needless and senseless consumption, the cheap cruise tickets came at a price. I had met those who pay it. In Indonesia they had told me firsthand of the modern-day slave labor conditions faced by Southeast Asian chambermaids and others working in the underbellies of those behemoths. And the ethical implications of consumerism in vacation mode don’t stop there – the ocean beasts run on the world’s dirtiest fuels, and plenty of it. They dump waste in the oceans. The list goes on. Regulations and controls are lax.

It is all well known. Just not to those 30 million yearly passengers who keep the industry growing. Or maybe they know. It wouldn’t be the first industry we employ in a relentless pursuit of pleasure that wreaks havoc on nature and lives, but in such a fun way that we give it a pass.

"Someone had figured out how to sell the journey as destination. And sell it did."

Long gone are the days when maritime travel was a strenuous and dangerous endeavor only pursued by the fierce, brave and desperate. Early seafarers were explorers, merchants and immigrants. The wooden planks that carried them across the seas were too hard, the wombs of their ships too gloomy for lighthearted vacationers. Given the logistical restrictions and lack of comfort back then, the journey was probably really just the journey and the destination the destination. It was an arrival to a new land and culture and world, immersive and life-changing, full of opportunity.

With the advent of air travel, ship trips became obsolete as a means of long-distance transportation. The air had beaten the sea to a large-scale commercialization of overseas travel. But clever marketing turned that capsized tourism segment around. Someone had figured out how to sell the journey as destination. And sell it did.

"They touch the place, but it doesn’t touch them back."

Today, the same seas that tormented those first adventurous sailors are beyond accessible and entire herds of vacationers board for a week of cheap luxury and undiluted convenience. Pleasure is the soul of these swimming hedonist temples, and entire comfort zones are lugged by their passengers, short-term citizens of these cities on the seas.

The journey has become the destination and when the ships dock, no one comes to stay. They touch the place, but it doesn’t touch them back. Just another pit stop along the sightseeing highway. Waddle out of the cabin, graze on the sights, snap a must-have picture, get back in the cage. It is the very opposite of immersive travel. Easy and greedy.

One might argue that this whole set-up defies the very idea of travel. I argue that. And so I ventured off towards the outskirts of Kotor to see what hid on the other side of the generic old town facade, and to keep up the little bit of exploring one can do in a charted world.