Travel is undoubtedly an amazing thing to do; a great way to meet new people, see new places and learn more about the world we share. However, it is also a privilege and not a right that should simply be taken for granted. So often, when we talk about travel it is with an air of elitism and self-entitlement. I frequently hear people discussing their travels with an area of superiority, as if they are somehow better educated or more knowledgeable because their parents fund trips around the world.
Travel is certainly a great educator, and I do not mean to downplay the importance of engaging with other cultures, learning foreign languages or listening to people’s stories. However, there are also serious problems with the ‘Wanderlust’ culture we have created.
Firstly, travel involves transport and flights in particular are contributing to the destruction of our environment. When I hear people proudly boasting that they’ve taken over ten flights in the year, I have to bite my tongue to stop myself from asking how the ice caps are doing. Some flights of course are necessary; international students need to be able to get to uni, but flying more than half a dozen times a year is insane. It’s completely unsustainable, and shows the way we value the world we claim we want to see. There is something inherently hypocritical about claiming to love the world and wanting to see it, whilst at the same time destroying it.
Secondly, travel costs money- there’s only an extent to which this can be done on a budget. Earning your own money to travel is fantastic and it’s certainly a great step away from being totally reliant on your parents, but it’s also not the whole issue. Many people around the world will never be able to afford, or save up, to travel in the way that so many of us take for granted. Being able to travel doesn’t make you a better person, more moral, more educated, more self- aware about other cultures- it makes you privileged. That privilege can certainly help you become better educated and self-aware, but that in turn enhances your privilege. As with so many things, it’s a closed loop where privilege enhances privilege and many are excluded from such opportunities.
Thirdly, whilst travel may be a wonderful way to get to know the world, it certainly isn’t always. Staying in a hotel, hitting the tourist spots and talking loudly in English is not really engaging with another culture. I sometimes think that more could be learned about a place, curled up in an armchair with an autobiography about someone’s experience of a place, than by flying there for a week. There are other ways to get to know the world, and I often think we undervalue something as simple as reading books about foreign countries, or talking to people about what their experiences have been.
Finally, the ability to move around the world with any degree of ease depends largely on what passport you have and your ability to access visas. This is notoriously racist, and something far too many people close a blind eye to in their quest to fulfil their wanderlust.
I do not deny that travel is fun, that is can be educational and that it should be enjoyed by people the world over. I simply don’t think that being privileged enough to travel makes you an inherently better person, and that the opportunities it creates should be used for good, rather than simply harming the environment.
~ Jo ~