Overwhelmed by Travel Culture

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.

 

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It’s Okay To Be Sad About The London Terror Attacks

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 from couchsurfing than a hotel with all the security that that entails? Of course. Does that mean that no one should ever stay with someone from Couchsurfing? Of course not. But can we really make a better, safer travel community without addressing actual issue? I would argue that we cannot . 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.