First, let me reintroduce you to the idea of travellious (or read more about it on our about page.) When we're traveling we usually forgo the usual tourist experience in favor of wandering around grocery stores, going to less visited art museums, or just spending an afternoon in a cafe. When I got off the plane in Aruba, I quickly realized that those standards weren't going to hold up. Instead, I decided to question my own travel biases and throw myself head first into what an island had to offer. I was completely shocked by my feelings when I got back on a plane a few days later. I actually had a GREAT time doing things that a normal tourist does. I also realized that I needed to break down my elitist definition of travel. In fact, I realized that having a definition of travel at all does nothing for you, except allowing you to miss out on valuable life experiences. I also discovered a few travellious tips for the next time you visit Aruba (or any tropical island.)
Set your expectations.
An island vacation is known for its gorgeous landscape, cushy amenities and the drastic difference between the resorts and where the locals actually live. I could fault Aruba for this, but you know it comes with the territory. Anywhere there's valuable real estate (i.e. water) you see this stratification of society. As such, when you're staying in resort-land it's hard to find a local going about their day to day routine (other than the ones working at said resort,) let alone live like one. You're also going to have to pay for things that you might not have to on another type of trip. The guided jeep tour (like the one I took from De Palm Tours) is probably a good idea, unless you want to spend your trip arguing who's fault it was that the Jeep you rented is suddenly flipped on it's head. Having to depend on tourism folks doesn't mean you've given up, it means you're smart. And by all means, chat them up. They live there, they won't steer you wrong and with some prodding they'll tell it like it is.
Try something new.
It's easy to go into auto-pilot mode when you're at the beach. And if you need to, by all means do so. An afternoon by the pool or floating in the ocean is never badly spent. But, I highly recommend pushing yourself out of your element and trying something new on vacation (where the embarassment factor is low.) Beach tennis lessons at Moomba Beach Bar was a fun and all ages alternative to lounging. With tennis-like raquets and a less dense ball, you bat the ball back and forth across a lowered net. You can take it as serious or as lighthearted as you like and it's not beach tennis if you don't take a nose dive in the sand (I may have had first hand experience at this.)
I did, but I still got burned. I always get burned. Wear sunscreen. Smile at the concerned staff when they tell you that you're burned. Tell them you wore sunscreen and explain that as an incredibly pale, white person who lives now lives in Seattle, that you get burned despite reapplying. Don't forget, wear sunscreen.
Take cultural experiences as they come.
Listen to your tour guide chat about how the island's inhabitants are changing. "There are more Americans than Dutch here, these days." See the cars drive by with their World Cup team flag and marvel at how every continent is represented here. Watch the goats hop over a fence as you pass by to head to the Natural Pool. Wonder how many car shops does one island actually need. See how tourists have left their mark at the Wishing Rock or at the self-proclaimed "tourist trap" Charlie's Bar. Wonder where every non-native hotel staff, sports instructor and doorman came from and how they ended up in Aruba. Laugh at the local language the way only a foreigner can. (dushi means sweetheart in the local language, Papiamento. You only need to look so far as a tshirt shop to see that tourists have an affinity with this word.) Drink the local brew, Balashi, after a long day in the hot sun.
Find a deal or invest in a package.
The biggest problem I had with resort travel, was the huge price tag that goes along with it. But, I quickly discerned that if you think about all the costs upfront and are realistic about your wants and desires, you can easily budget your expenses prior to arriving. I also discovered that there are plenty of deals to be found in Aruba, depending on your interests, dining choices and dates of travel. The Aruba Marriott, for example, has lots of options for travel club discounts, ample package deals, and extra nights thrown in, it's easy to find something that wont break the bank. The bottom line, however, is deciding what's most important to your needs and choose accordingly. You know you're probably going to want to eat a relaxing evening meal on the beach, have one too many ice cold adult beverages and maybe even try out a sport or two. That's when all-inclusive starts to make a tiny bit of sense. (Yes, I'm shocked too that I'm even thinking about this. But those meals add up.) An option at the Aruba Marriott that I could wrap my head around, was be the Tradewinds Club, a controlled access floor only allows children over 12 (sweet), unlimited wifi (of course), and access to a private beach with complementary refreshments (hello!). It also houses a private guest lounge with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and cocktail hour. That's my kind of dining when I'm at the beach, rarely do I want to sit still for a long meal or dine at normal hours. To give you an example of the cost difference, an Ocean View room for two for July 23 - 30, 2010 would cost $ 239/night and upgraded to the Tradewinds floor $367/night (or $128 more.) Now for the budget traveler that's still a high price tag, but this isn't just a place to lay your head. The beach, the pool, and a host of guest activities are right at your doorstep.
Aren't the people staying with you in the resort "real?" The staff, the taxi drivers, the beach tennis instructors, they're all real people too. Sometimes the quest for finding the "true" [insert island name here] experience, leads to an even more inauthentic one. Maybe the mass tourism that has overtaken many of these islands isn't ideal. The locals still rally against it and a concerned eye watches over each new development, take the Ritz Carlton, for example. Ideally, when tourism first started to take root, more thoughtful developers would have came in and found a way for tourists to stay amongst the locals, learn their customs, and their way of life. But, it didn't play out like that and these resorts are a reality and are as much a part of Aruba's identity as the rest of its history. This bird in the photo above is the perfect example. He drives the waitstaff crazy by stealing sugar packets off of the tables and pecking them open to get a snack. Not exactly pristine wildlife conditions, but he's adapted to reality and he's still gorgeous.