I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.
So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?
These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.
And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.
What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?
Lots more on this topic to come.
Why do you travel?