It’s Okay To Be Sad

This week’s terror attacks in London were scary and sad. Four people died, leaving behind family members and friends and colleagues who now have a massive hole in their lives. For the rest of us it’s frightening to think that cities like London or Paris, European capitals with large police presences, cities many of us  have visited, could be dangerous. Now I’m not necessarily extolling large police presences or saying that as Western nations we are somehow blameless victims of the current political climate. Furthermore there are people being radicalised on all sides and that’s scary too. But this isn’t a post about that. If you spend a lot of time on social media, as I do, you know the cycle. First shock and outrage and then criticism for not being as outraged about the other injustices in the world and then pleas that we remember that most people are good. In the travel community it goes like this: everytime there’s a terrorist attack, or a backpacker is murdered or dies accidentally or some other tragedy occurs the travel community has barely uttered words of condolences to the family before they start extolling the virtues of backpacking and couchsurfing, of the beauty of whatever country the attack/accident took place in, of the virtues of travel in general and of course the pleas to everyone to “keep travelling”, “conquer your fears”, “don’t let the bad guys win” and blah blah blah and I’m here to say bullshit to all of that. First of all it’s a bit trite and a bit silly to tell people to not “let the terrorists win” by telling them they can still go on their  beach holiday/ 2 week Eurotrip. Secondly while anger, unity, and bravery are all valid and good emotional responses to such events sadness and fear are also valid and good. We can’t dwell in these emotions forever but experiencing them momentarily doesn’t make us weak or bad.  Thirdly it seems useless to me to pretend that there is no danger anywhere in the world  and we should live as if there wasn’t. Of course bad things can and do happen anywhere but, for example, is it  inherently more dangerous to stay with strangers in an Airbnb or with a couchsurfer than a hotel with all the security that that entails? Of course. Does that mean that no one should ever stay in an Airbnb? Of course not. But can we really make a better, safer travel community without addressing actual issues. Lastly there is a kind of travel we do need to do but it isn’t one that necessarily involve a physical travel. Rather we need to seek out people and cultures that are different from ours, to learn about the struggles that, particularly marginalized people, face. We need to find ways to make the world safer and more equal for everyone.

Personally I don’t believe that travel has an intrinsic value, it can be good or bad, moral or amoral or meaningful or meaningless depending on how and why you do it . I intend to keep travelling myself. But let’s allow ourselves to feel sad and even scared by certain events, we owe that to survivors and victims of violence around the world. Let’s travel whether it’s to work or to a new country with the goal of learning something and meeting people that challenge us to be better, to be more loving, to be more understanding.

On Saturday night my boyfriend and I were exhausted and turned on the TV and were too lazy to find something to watch so we ended up watching Evan Almighty. Now this is as weird for me to write as it is for you to read but I found something useful in that film. Morgan Freeman’s God character tells Evan (Steve Carell) that he can change the world by doing small acts of kindness everyday. As simplified as it sounds I do believe we can change the world by being kind. Of course there is a time for more action and I’m not suggesting that violence can be solved by bringing someone coffee or something like that. But radical kindness, trying to see the other side of a story, a quest for truth and compassion, a dedication to doing good in all areas of our lives, fighting for justice and empowering people, I believe these things can change the world.

We Need To Travel Better-Part 1

we-need-to-travel-better

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.

Tourism in Barcelona-The Economist

Why Airbnb Is Terrible-Cracked

Your Obsession With Travel Sure Feels Classist To Me-Ravishly

Experiences Over Stuff Is A Tired-and Sexist-Idea-Slate

Tourism Concern-Action For Tourism

Do you agree? Disagree?