The other day I wrote the following on Facebook:
When we talk about buying a designer handbag or getting a manicure or going out to eat our attitude is that it’s fine if you can afford it but it’s not something vital. However, that’s not the attitude we have taken towards travel in recent years. We’ve convinced ourselves that travelling is somehow so morally superior that we should work ourselves to the ground to afford it, go into debt to afford it and judgmentally tell everyone we know that if they aren’t forgoing their morning Starbucks in order to save up for their next trip then they are somehow morally bankrupt, that they should feel bad for not travelling more and that they will never be open minded or enlightened. Travelling is fine, just like getting a manicure is fine but let’s not forget that both of those things are consumer goods and it’s a success of capitalism that it has convinced us that channelling all of our money into one of those things makes us righteous.
It was the beginning of something I wanted to write more about. People travel more now than ever and a lot of travel talk is surrounded by attitudes that I think are dangerous. When people talk about travel it tends to have an undertone of “travel is always good no matter what”. A friend of mine shared what I wrote and there were two comments that stuck out to me. The first was an anecdotal “but travelling made me and someone I know a better person” and the second (which I will address in a follow up post) was: “well you don’t have to spend a lot to travel. I travelled around Europe for 3 weeks on 600 euros”. There are many criticisms one could make of travel but I am going to address these two here. First the idea that travel is the best (only?) way to be open minded and second the idea that travel isn’t consumerism.
I started talking about this HERE. The justification for thinking you’re better for travelling more is the idea that it’s making you a better, more rounded person and therefore is unequivocally good. But does travelling make you a more open minded person? I am going to tentatively argue “no”. Long before I started travelling I read books and news articles about other countries, I read everything I could find on any topic, I joined internet forums and talked to people I would never have met at home.I wanted to travel, of course, but I was already open minded. I’ve met a lot of open minded people while travelling but while travelling might have made them better they were already good people. Travel only makes you a better, more rounded person if it was already your intention to become that person. I can’t say definitively that no one who was closed minded has never been challenged by going abroad but I don’t think it happens often enough to warrant the guilting of people who choose to or who are forced to stay home. Furthermore there are ethical issues involved with tourism that should not be overlooked in the interest of bettering oneself. We all know that volunteering abroad or visiting animal parks might be doing more harm than good but the sentiments that “at least I learned something” or “there’s just too much research to do” are still around. Good intentions are good but the information about ethical travel is out there and we shouldn’t be lazy in researching it thoroughly. Learning something from others when they might be harmed by that is of no good to anyone and we shouldn’t be settling for it.
Since I am no expert, I’ve included the following links about ethical travel and other travel issues.
Do you agree? Disagree?