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idle gaze 054: the plight of the vibe tourist
a summer of Europecore syndrome.
After last summer’s false start, travel is back in full swing. After three years of pandemic restrictions, American travelers have been flocking to Europe in record numbers, despite extortionate airfares, limited accommodations, sweltering heat and crowded sites.
And as the swarm of largely middle-class tourists embark in large numbers to Paris, Sicily, Venice, Mykonos and beyond; a shaky turbulence appears in the wake of their travels. An unending stream of TikToks, Tweets and articles complaining about disastrous trips and horrible experiences, from the food in France, to the crowds in Italy and travel chaos in Greece.
A few examples:
A traveler says that Paris “smells like piss, cheese, and armpit” and that its food “looks grimy as hell”.
There was a minor outrage on Twitter because of a couple TikToks making jokes about the lack of free water at restaurants in Europe.
A woman argues that any influencer who posted pretty photos of the Amalfi Coast “deserves jail time” because they neglected to mention the logistics of actually getting there. “This is literal manual labor not vacation”, she complains in a now viral TikTok.
There seems to be a trend among backpacker to post carousels of their Europe-based misfortunes, from creepy hostel neighbours to rude hospitality staff.
The common response has been to chalk this up to stereotypes of the American traveler as lazy and small-minded. But in reality, it’s a reflection of a deeper attitudinal shift in how we see and want to experience world.
Specifically, I’m referring to the rise of “vibes” and aesthetic-centric trends, from Europecore to Italian old money, which is fundamentally impacting the global travel zeitgeist, shifting the focus from chasing locations, to instead desiring effortlessly dreamy sensory experiences.
Much has been written about the rise of vibes across culture over the past few years. Vibes is a term used to describe the growing desire to experience and capture the “feeling” of a certain moment. It’s what Kyle Chayka succinctly sums up as an ‘abstract quality of image sound and movement’:
In the social-media era…“vibe” has come to mean something more like a moment of audiovisual eloquence, a “sympathetic resonance” between a person and her environment.
The rise of vibes as a desired value in the experiences we seek and the places we go, means we are now in constant pursuit of visual poetry. Whether it’s the way the sun hits a wall at golden hour or a blurry memory of a neon-drenched downtown stroll, or the gentle swaying of white linen blowing in the wind, it’s not so much about where you are or what you’re doing, but the way it feels.
This has also fundamentally reshaped the expectations of the young, middle-class tourist. There’s now an increased desire for itineraries to provide opportunities to come in contact with a certain emotional texture.
Enjoying aperitifs at the trattorias of Rome and dining at the pizzerias of Sicily is not just about the cuisine, or service, but must now also feel like a scene from a movie, an opportunity to unlock a meaningful chapter in your personal narrative. In TikTok terminology, the ideal holiday is a week of building core memories, where the vibe tourist feels like the main character. The kind of effortlessly dreamlike story-weaving quality that professional travel content creators are able to so vividly capture.
This is the essence of the North America-centric ‘Europecore’ trend that exploded this summer. This is not so much about the reality of Europe, but about a romanticized view of a ‘European’ way of life. A few examples that Laura Pitcher at Nylon lists out as peak Europecore:
A ceramic espresso cup on a plastic table, a Natalia Ginzburg novel resting on a volcanic black pebble beach, a flowing ruffle skirt blowing against the backdrop of a fresh flower market, rubbing shoulders with the locals over an afternoon aperitif.
With this in mind, the modern tourist cares less about recognisable backdrops, iconic landmarks or famous beachfronts. What’s more important is stitching together a collage of micro moments, like editing a mood film. Serendipitous nights at a local watering hole, a spontaneous ride on a vespa with a local stranger, an accidental discovery of a hidden treasure down a dark alleyway. The sort of stuff you can weave into a 9:16 video and add a vintage Italian pop track to.
This is the age of the ‘vibe tourist’: travellers in search of holidays that feel like dreamy audiovisual haikus, rather than dense, linear spreadsheets of bucket list to do’s.
For example, tourists have been flocking in record numbers to Sicily and the Amalfi coast this summer, but not so much in search of the coastal towns itself, but in search of a sensory story. With the cultural impact of the second season of The White Lotus and rediscovered love for the The Talented Mr. Ripley, both set in picturesque Italian destinations, visitors descend to slot themselves into a handful of specific narratives: ones that provide the comfort of luxury resort relaxation, seasoned with the buzzy vibrations of mischief and scandal.
Unfortunately, as these travellers discovered this summer, Europe did not feel very Europecore. Arriving with impractically large roller bags and sweaty designer outfits, they stumbled upon all the unwanted surprises that the travel TikToks had been able to erase from the picture: intense overcrowding, a slew of logistical inconveniences, and the unavoidable stench and chaos of traditional towns in the summer heat, overrun by eager travellers. And for the vibe seeker, a purist at heart, the narratives they pursue must not be contaminated with non-vibey elements like crowded trains, dirty streets or ugly satellite dishes dotted across rooftops.
This is the plight of the vibe tourist; they all want a slice of a certain ambience, but the more they hunt for that romanticised feeling of the destination, the more elusive it becomes. Desperation is its antithesis. It’s a new era of “paris syndrome”.
The plight of the vibe tourist involves a few unfortunate paradoxes.
Firstly, the vibe tourist always wants the holiday to feel like it’s contributing to their personal narrative. But in overcrowded plazas and packed alleyways, the visitor is never the main character (they’re just one of a million extras in everyone else’s storyline.)
And in order to increase their chances of sensory, audiovisual moments, the vibe tourist resorts to pre-planning with as much granularity as possible (in order to secure the most authentic restaurant, find the best possible viewpoint for the sunset, book the most charming, under-crowded hotel). This contributes to what Agnes Callard coins the “locomotive” character that has pervaded modern tourism:
“I went to France.” O.K., but what did you do there? “I went to the Louvre.” O.K., but what did you do there? “I went to see the ‘Mona Lisa.’ ” That is, before quickly moving on: apparently, many people spend just fifteen seconds looking at the “Mona Lisa.” It’s locomotion all the way down.
Not even the traveler in search of vibes rather than tourist traps can escape this locomotive travel experience. They too are guided by spreadsheets of crowdsourced information and top 10 recommendations of “hidden, authentic treasures”, removing the kind of serendipity required to unlock the ‘je ne sais quoi’ moment they’re after.
For example, in a recent “places to visit” issue of the curation newsletter, describes an ideal Berlin trip:
I find solo trips to be a delicate art—there is nothing more freeing than setting aside an entire week to wander around aimlessly, anonymously. But you do have to factor in a few hours a day for some inevitable existential moodiness, which is why Berlin is tonally perfect and also, logistically, very easy to tackle. Go during asparagus season, do a castle day trip, hang out with the expat friends you always promised you'd visit. Decide at 11pm on your second-to-last night that you actually really do want to see what Berghain is like, lol, and hit up a mutual on Whatsapp, who will supply you with a whole new outfit, complete with the requisite combat boots. On your last night, invite new and old friends to dinner, and eat falafel on a bench together. You won't get a tan, but you will consider moving...
This features all the hallmarks of a vibe tourist’s dream trip:
Spontaneous encounters with friends, last minute thrills, seemingly ordinary moments harbouring intense audiovisual quality (“eating falafel on a city bench”), sparks of life-changing self-actualisation (“should I move to Berlin?”). Yet these kind of moments can’t be planned or forced.
And then there’s the final, unfortunate paradox of the vibe tourist: they want to indulge in escapism. But the more they escape, the more everything reminds them of home. The moments and sensations they seek must feel markedly foreign from the vibes available to them at home. Yet, the restaurants, hotels and public spaces of holiday destinations increasingly look identical across the globe. A bistro in Paris is increasingly indistinguishable from a bistro-inspired restaurant in downtown Manhattan or Beijing, all catering to a certain, homogenous Airspace ambience, shaped by the tastes and expectations of the international traveller.
So what must the vibe tourist do to solve this dilemma?
Let serendipity off its leash, and follow it. The vibes are not gone, but the emotional texture they are after will appear in the unlikeliest of places. Keep an eye out for it. But don’t search for it.
Embrace the out of frame inconveniences: because you can’t have the good vibes without the bad: the chaos, stench and logistical stress of travel can be a vibe too, if they allow it.
Break free from the algorithm: the only way for the vibe tourist to truly feel like the main character, they should resist the temptation to be swayed by their For You page. Instead, they must allow a deeper sense of wanderlust to guide them to new, uncharted territories. That’s where the most meaningful core memories are created.