Travelling doesn’t make you interesting
I know what you think, « Who does she think she is with her obnoxious title? ». You will understand.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article by Henry Wismayer on Vice: « When Tourism Turns into Narcissism ». Ironically, (which he acknowledged) written by a journalist who wins his bread by telling those narcissists where they should go on vacation for their next holiday. I advise you to read the article but here is an extract to get you in the mood :
« The received wisdom is that travel makes us more interesting, that it is an essential ingredient of a life well-lived. But somewhere amid the collision of widening global curiosity, runaway self-absorption, and ever-more insidious technology lurks an unavoidable sense that travel is losing its capacity to make us wonder. By shrinking the world, the web has stifled our capacity for independent discovery.(…) With the arrival of Google Glass, shameless self-obsessives everywhere will soon be able to access travel information by conversing with a pair of spectacles. “OK, Glass,” we’ll say, “please go ahead and expunge any last shred of motivation I might have to rely on the kindness of strangers and hand me everything on a screen beamed directly into my jaundiced fucking eyeballs. »
This analysis that you can qualify pessimist or realistic, in accordance with the degree of faith you have left in humanity, comes from a feeling that we have all experiences at least once towards a “traveller”: deep irritation.
When you think about the travellers what’s the first image that pops in your head? For me it’s the adventurer: a 3 day old beard (hairs under the armpit is ok too, I’m not sexist), an I-look-cool-but-I-am-not-trying attitude and incredible stories. I really enjoy coming across backpackers on the road, a destination on a cupboard and their eyes full of hope. Maybe you see a tourist in flip flops taking a selfie. To the author, the typical representation of travellers nowadays, is a couple of Canadians he met when he was on the road himself:
« Years ago, I bumped into a Canadian couple in Patagonia whose every step had been pursued by serendipity. “It was pretty awesome,” the man shrugged in a monotone drawl.
And that was it-the sum total of their response to the world’s wonder summarized in one drab pronouncement. Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about this pair of bons vivants again. They’ve become my personal symbol for an increasingly common phenomenon: the tedious, uninspired world traveler.(…) Anyone who’s spent a bit of time in the world’s hostel dormitories should be familiar with the stereotype. He sits there on the bottom bunk-tanned, emaciated limbs protruding from a Bintang vest and a pair of baggy dragon-print pants-and inevitably gets to bragging about where his journeys have taken him.(…) We have become a generation of traveling consumers, convinced that the image of a misty dawn over Machu Picchu just wouldn’t be the same without our faces in the foreground. »
When I read that, I have two things to say:
1. There is no need to leave home. On Facebook, we can find a lot of annoying people. It’s jealousy in part. I despise these people, not because they are despicable but because they are in amazing places, enjoying new experiences and I’m at home watching a rerun of the Big Bang Theory.
2. We are not all professional storytellers. It’s not a given to be able to describe an unusual event using words other than: “it was awesome”. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t feel like what you just witnessed is out of this world. Hell, it’s not because you studied journalism that you can necessarily do it either (yes I’m talking about me). Sometimes words are missing and all that you can say is : “It was pretty awesome”
I sincerely believe that travelling is and stays a treasure no matter how you do it. I think that it’s important to remember that mass tourism, often criticised has still allowed many people to afford travelling. If some places are popular for tourists, it’s also quite simply because those places are nice. I totally agree a traveller shouldn’t be put on a pedestal because today: EVERYBODY travels. Whether it’s to the nearby coast or to New Zealand (you do you bro). To me, you never come back empty handed. Henry Wismayer disagrees.
« Yet the axiom that all “travel” (as opposed to “tourism”) is by definition enriching and transformative persists. Except it’s not. Not always.
Perhaps my Canadian friends’ yarns about their time in Argentina electrified Ontario, transforming their previously leaden dinner-party presence into something more akin to Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. More likely, they bored friends and family to the brink of violence with Gringo Trail anecdotes that had been heard countless times before-of delicious steak, cheap cocaine, and the hilarious severity of their diarrhea. »
Appreciate the unknown and savour the unexpected
To me, the idea is applicable to everybody, traveller or not. It’s not necessary to go to the other side of the globe to have amazing experiences. It’s more about luck and life’s circumstances than where you are. You have to create those opportunities and take a leap of faith. They are people who cannot enjoy anything and don’t know how lucky they are. They are jaded. Period.
I envy those who can feel at home the way I feel abroad. Really. It’s difficult to describe the way I feel when I’m able to start a new adventure: I am hasty, ecstatic, nervous, I’m afraid, I’m breathless, I am amazed. I’m alive but x20 000. I never delay anything because when will I come back? I notice things that I don’t see in the day to day life like the smile of a stranger or an artwork in the street. We are easily consumed by emotions positive or negative. That’s why it can become like a drug addiction. Travelling I found magic, I like being naïve, drifting, without any preconceived ideas. Not everything is perfect. There are ups and downs, sacrifices sometimes.
Travelling for me, is like a test so I know where I stand especially in hard times. I have what they call the Wanderlust Syndrome. I spent the last year fleeing as far and as long as possible. Today I feel like home is on the road more than between four walls.
My conclusion is that there are a few reasons to start a journey and as many ways to travel than there are travellers.
« It’s as though we’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s not the fact of your experiences but how you perceive them that really matters. »
Whatever type of traveller you are, I think you need to travel for yourself. I think we have to question our consumerist habits when we travel, and that we shouldn’t travel it to impress others on Instagram or Facebook. On that I totally agree with Henry Wismayer. However if you seriously thought about it and you prefer to hang out at the pool and get a tan, and you don’t see the need to meet the locals or discover their culture, you do whatever you like. There is no harm.
There is no travelling science and no way of travelling is better than the other. Come on Henry don’t be a narcissist. However just know this:
« If your traveling is a box-ticking exercise, if you predicate even one iota of self-worth on how many countries you’ve visited, if you think in “ten best” listicles, take it from me-traveling isn’t making you interesting. It’s just confirming your position as one of the crowd. »