Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a new breed of tourist pop up in various urban epicenters. Aside from those ‘regular’ tourists of sightseeing and pit-stops and happy snaps, there exists a parallel brand of tourist – preferring to think of themselves instead as ‘travellers’ inspired by the likes of Kerouac and the beat generation – who, instead of experiencing new cultures and ogling wondrous sights, seek out reincarnations of their own hipster subculture in successive cities around the world. These are what I like to call ‘Hipster Tourists’ and you can find them in East London, in Williamsburg and the East Village in New York, in Buenos Aires in Argentina, in Kreuzburg and Neuköln in Berlin, and so on and so forth.
What is interesting about being a Hipster Tourist is that it is not a permanent badge of identity; not often will you find one who exclusively seeks out hip and trendy cafés, underground squat bars, pop-up shows and shops, and the like, but instead this will be part of their ‘travel repertoire’, one of many ‘traveller’ masks donned at opportune times and places or when duty calls.
This is certainly the case of yours truly, as I have a long and chequered history of hipster travel. I have been spotted sunning myself at Brooklyn Flea Market in Williamsburg, at Badeschiff urban beach in Kreuzberg, in cobbled courtyards in San Telmo, and in London Fields in Hackney, the hipster hangout ridiculed ad infinitum in pop culture manifestations like the “Being a Dickhead’s Cool” song and the “Hackney Hipster Hate” blog, among others. I have been to pop-up tea parties, nudist masked balls, and disco dens. Even in my home cities of Melbourne and Geneva, I can be found at hipster hangouts, trendy new restaurants, pop-up outdoor cinemas and little known squat bars. Content to go with the flow and follow the hot word on the street, I figure that pretentious-bordering-on-theatrical word of mouth is better than no word at all, and so I buy in to the hype surrounding “ah-ma-zing” new hipster hangouts, withering as fast as they sprouted up, just like the flowers of daisy chains found perched on many-a nubile, park-dwelling hipsterette’s temple.
By this token – because I am open to Hipster Travel despite not being entirely cool enough to blend in and opt for the ‘immersion’ experience as I am wont to do with other cultural travel experiences – on my most recent weekend stint in London, I found myself hanging around the East London scene; eating at Broadway market, shimmying up a disco boogie at Dalston Superstore, looking through records at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane. And it wasn’t as ‘low brow’ as it might sound to some. In fact, depending on the occasion, Hipster Travel hands down beats jostling with whale-skinned men in socks and sandals, decked out with bumbags and coteries of offspring, for a quick glimpse of 10 Downing Street or a ride on the London Eye.
Despite this personal indifference to Hipster Travel, my recent experiences have got me thinking about what I make of travel where the purpose is essentially a reification, reexperience or reenactment of one’s home culture or of the globalised ‘hipster’ brand. What I personally find most offensive, or at least problematic, about Hipster Travel is its lack of originality, and the feeling that travel – what should be a path into the unknown – becomes a carbon copy or celluloid from a catalog of experiences already hashed out in one’s own backyard. Hipsters have been given a hard time in the news media and in general coffee house banter of late, and I don’t want to add to the fray, but I feel that there is something inherently wrong with Hipster Travel if indeed your purpose is to travel, rather than just to teleport or copy/paste your home existence to successive cities throughout the world (the monolingual anglophone hipsters in Berlin, Buenos Aires or other non-english speaking hipster hubs are the worst).
As a small and insignificant part of a travel portfolio, or as a means to explore how bona fide local hipsters interact and behave, getting in amongst and blending in with the local fixy-ridin’ and spectacle-totin’ crowds is not necessarily a bad thing. But as a pasttime in and of itself, particularly one modeled entirely on the experiences of others – whether your hipster friends, alternative travel writers, or the likes of Kerouac and his posse – Hipster Travel tends to pull the wool over one’s eyes and blind us to the not-so-white-bred-cookie-cutter inhabitants of the cities we visit.