I belong to many travel groups on social media that, like anything, are sometimes inspirational, sometimes helpful and sometimes annoying. And often posts will appear by people who quit their job to travel the world and now hate it, or have gone on a long backpacking trip and want to go home or who are just otherwise burned out. Before I go any further I want to say that I don’t mean that we should give up on anything that becomes difficult or that things that are hard aren’t worth doing. Getting an education is hard but worth doing, work is hard but necessary even relationships can be work but we don’t give up on them. Even travel can fall into that category. When I first moved abroad I found the first few weeks very difficult but I wouldn’t be where I am in life or the person I am now without that trip and the subsequent ones. But when I see articles talking about how to deal with travel burn out I want to scream into the void. Because travel was and remains a luxury item. Even if you’re eating beans and rice (or a weird onion soup I tried to make one time when I was broke) you have the luxury of taking time off of work, the ability to afford travel to another country and the assurance that you can go home and resume your life. This isn’t a moral judgement. I’ve spent most of my twenties travelling and have enjoyed it greatly. But travelling is a product and I’m a consumer.Travel can be a valuable experience but it has no inherent goodness. You don’t become a better person just by travelling. Sure it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons if that’s what you want to happen and are already open minded but it doesn’t magically turn a bigoted person into a understanding and compassionate one. The adage that seems to be a sort of Millenial chant that we are and should be “buying experiences and not things” is used to explain why we should travel. But what is an experience and what is a thing? A flight is certainly a thing you’ve bought, as is a hotel or hostel and music festivals and luggage and clothes and miniature beauty products and so on. Inherent in this way of thinking is a judgement and one that is just plain wrong.
When I started travelling I liked and related to every post or story about choosing “freedom” instead of a house, car, family etc. I am still the same person, I’m not ready to settle down, I still don’t own or desire to own a car or house but now these same posts make me bristle. They make me bristle because I am not more free than the people who do have those things but a different kind of free (if any of us are free at all but this isn’t a philosophy blog so we’ll leave it at that) . Sure I could pack my suitcase this minute and go somewhere but financial stability, serious friendships (whatever anyone says, long term travel will strain or break friendships) those are another kind of freedom. And, even if they weren’t there’s another problem. The language around Millenials is that we are “choosing” to free ourselves from the burdens of a stable life, the “American dream” if you will that was sold to our parents. But if we are constantly bombarded with messages that say we should travel, we should spend all this money on experiences and even go into debt to pursue them, that then we will be truly free, we are just being told a different lie. And it’s insidious because the message is, if you don’t travel you are closed minded, you aren’t motivated enough, you just need to work harder and save more money and stop drinking that coffee on the way to work. The message is that you should travel even to places that are hostile towards you and yes, there are places that are more dangerous than others. And you know what that is? Convincing people to go into debt and to endanger their lives in the pursuit of something that is not a necessity? That’s consumerism my friends.
I don’t write this to poo-poo travel or those who travel. I write it because I am feeling exhausted. I’m exhausted by article after article criticising people who don’t travel. Exhausted by “don’t date a girl who travels” or “travelling solo is best” and other posts that seem to think getting into a relationship or even making friends-God forbid- will ruin all your fun. I’m really tired of the particular safety concerns women, trans men and women, people of colour and others, face being brushed over with “oh well travelling alone is still the best way what can you do”. I’m tired of the idea that we should pursue travel at all costs, even when it’s damaging the communities we are travelling to. When we’d rather stay in an Airbnb that is pricing people in Barcelona (and other cities) out of their homes than pay for a hotel. When people do volunteer projects that could actively harm the people it purports to help and we say “oh well they have good intentions”. I write this because I love to travel and hope to keep doing so. But I want to do it in such a way that people who don’t want to can say “no, this isn’t for me. That we can have actual, honest conversations about travel that don’t get derailed by “but travelling is good we can never criticise it”. More importantly I want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm others, that’s sustainable and accessible to all.