Though controversial, I don’t believe I’m mistaken when I say that it requires a certain level of patience to communicate with a person who’s just come back from travel.
I refer to that ancient era before social media; the one where the victim would have to physically transport themselves to the residence of the fortunate few who could afford a yearly international vacation and suffer through said family’s latest voyage (proudly presented by Microsoft PowerPoint) and pretend to listen to hours of their recounting everything that happened in said foreign land, ranging from the bus that was ten minutes late to the croissant that gave everyone stomach gas (and God help you when they start fighting over whose version of events was more accurate).
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Why do we hate people who talk incessantly about their travels? Granted, others attempting to educate you through their own recreational experiences is trying at best but the real answer involves a healthy amount of jealousy. Being stuck the same old locality and often confined to a single room or building for most of your working day while bombarded by the photos and videos of friends, enemies, and acquaintances visiting so-called exotic locations and traversing the vast globe without a care in the world can bring a grimace to the face of even the most good-natured people. Pick away at this logic even more and it comes down to a single, nearly indisputable fact: people who travel usually have more time and money than those who can’t.
With entering the Internet age of social media, globalization and #wanderlust, we have an insidious problem: the world wants us to think that travel is a necessity.
Of course it’s necessary, you scoff, Traveling and seeing new places means is an experience everyone should have.
It’s common to see travel blogs or instagram accounts devoted to chronicling the adventures of people who are able to make the life-changing journeys to countries that many others are only able to dream about. These bloggers wax lyrical about how travel has changed their life: visiting other countries expands a person’s horizons and encourages a progressive outlook; talking to people from diverse cultures reminds one of a shared humanity; witnessing the zenith of human achievement fosters self-confidence; losing one’s self in the beauty of nature makes us care for the Earth; escaping the limits of a dull daily routine adds zest to life. Not to mention the nearly infinite selection of irresistible food, drinks and shopping to be enjoyed across our abundant, ever-thrilling planet. Their conclusion is the same: for these reasons (and many more) everyone must travel.
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Unfortunately, that’s where the problem arises. A world where everyone partakes in the joy of travel and tourism is an ideal one, but the reality is that countless people find themselves unable to explore the world due to reasons such as poverty, a lack of time, specialized diets, medical complications, disabilities, psychological conditions, being LGBT+, consuming careers, and family restrictions or commitments.
Budget options exist and are rapidly growing to meet the demands of a generation that wants to travel more than ever, but what is the point of an incredibly cheap room at an AirBnB in the center of a dream city or unbelievably low food and amusement costs when the average person is unable to fund the cost of a visa application, let alone book plane tickets or find the time to skip work (therein losing even more money)? What about LGBT+ travelers who lose their rights to safety and freedom when they visit a new place that isn’t as welcoming as their home? Or tourists in wheelchairs who know for certain that a country cannot accommodate their needs? In many other countries, immigration restrictions or complicated passport policies make it difficult if not impossible to just pack a bag and take a vacation at the next available opportunity. Many bloggers address these issues, but offer half-hearted or less-than-ideal solutions that just showcase their clear lack of understanding of most people’s constraints (Example: Hitchhiking? Illegal in many countries and usually for a good reason. Join a travel organization? Impossible for anyone who depends on a steady livelihood or attends university. Save up for future travel? Unthinkable to people paying off huge loans. Take a gap year? Not if you’re the sole breadwinner of the family.)
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When so many barriers exist, it’s not just narrow-minded but completely irresponsible of travel bloggers to insist that the only way to cultivate cultural appreciation, bravery, open-mindedness, compassion, intellectual growth and self-improvement is through international travel experiences that are extremely challenging to come by for even the average person with a stable income. Needless to say, the ‘if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen’ mantra isn’t at all helpful, and is arrogant to even suggest that an inability to travel stems from an individual’s failure to work harder.
Nowadays, the prestige of carefree tourism and blooming social networks of people who ‘travel’ has become just another way to exclude those who are unable to afford the same experience, much like discriminating against people unable to afford their own car or home. Of course, this kind of classism has been loudly decried in recent times, which is why many advocates present travel as a gateway to virtue rather than a symbol of luxury, in an effort to downplay their privilege.
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A note: while it’s perfectly acceptable to take pride in one’s travel experiences, or cherish a vacation that came by as a result of relentless labor and countless personal sacrifice, it’s nothing short of vulgar to declare that those who do not do the exact same are somehow morally deficient or living a superficial lifestyle.
On top of that, the ‘more travel equals a better person’ theory isn’t even true. It’s an advertising strategy that slowly trickled down until it became common belief. After all, ‘more is better’ is the best way to sell an otherwise stressful looking tour package comprising of entire countries or even continents packed into a week or two. In pushing quantity over quality and emphasizing on a larger number of countries rather than slow and meaningful exploration of a single region or culture, corporate agencies with international tie-ups benefit from the profits while travelers barely scratch the surface of the places they are visiting…but come home with bragging rights.
Even so, you might protest, doesn’t travel automatically come with a guarantee to improve you as a human being in a way no other experience can? Of course not. It’s very possible (and all too common) to travel the world and then come home in the same state of complete ignorance one was at when the plane first took off. These travelers may change countries but never their brands and their most meaningful cultural experience with a local might end up being a casual nod to the server who delivers a meal or a word of thanks to an otherwise frozen doorman at the entrance of their hotel.
In the meantime, a dreamy soul sits in their room: cutting out maps, paging through pamphlets, saving pictures, researching landmarks, learning a new language, looking up ticket prices, counting their savings… all in the hopes of one day making that ambitious far-off trip a reality.
Who is the real traveler?
Even in an age like ours where cities have come closer and aspirations can leap higher, it’s important to recognize that things that seem accessible at first sight may not really be so.
Travel very much remains a commodity that favors the ones who can afford it, as opposed to those who truly deserve it.
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