Not many blogs today are going to discourage any readers from traveling, but, though I believe in the power and importance of cross-cultural experiences and travel, sometimes we need to check our motives. This post is a follow-up to my last, “5 Reasons to Travel” (sorry I didn’t post this a week later like I originally said…first year teacher probz). This is sort of my caveat post because I would like to continue some of the exciting trends and destinations in travel. However, I don’t want to perpetuate the narcissism machine that often plagues my generation, i.e. “Look how great I am because I travel!” So go out and see the world. See the world abroad. See the world in your neighborhood. See the world in your own country’s cultural centers (check out this great Nat Geo article “Five Ways to Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown”). But try to avoid adventure for the wrong reasons. Here are some examples.
As already alluded to, many of today’s social media posts are incredibly me-focused. There are all kinds of psychological studies out there about the use of social media to create a sort of avatar of our perfect selves. Global adventures can easily devolve into hollow attempts to demonstrate just how great and exciting our lives are–sometimes a tool to mask our own insecurities. I’m preaching to myself here. So, keep sharing your adventures; don’t be ashamed. Your friends and family want to celebrate with you (I hope). But travel is not a game. There’s no trophy for most exotic lifestyle. In fact, a lot of travel is much less sexy than you realize. Though I’m incredibly thankful for some of my solo voyages, they have also been some of the most lonely and soul-searching.
Like most things, freedom is a case of moderation. Independence is good. Being a drifter unwilling or unable to maintain long-term community and relationships is not. In fact, it may be a good indicator of deep brokenness rather than a free spirit. This realization I learned more experientially in my own travels. Some of my adventuring was really just an escape from people and personal pain. However, such getaways often left me even lonelier than before. Writing from a Christian perspective (I realize not everyone subscribes to my personal beliefs, but I believe this wisdom is universal), humanity was not made to live in isolation. We were made for relationships. I don’t believe that a lifestyle of wandering (unsustained community) harmonizes with who we are on our most fundamental level.
Living in El Salvador I had some good conversations about the perceptions of locals towards gringo missionaries (this is not me being overly critical but rather raising awareness). Though there was always a respect for the work that many mission groups were doing (building projects, medical trips, youth camps, sports camps, etc.), there was also some frustration towards a savior mentality often manifested in the people of prosperous nations. Here they were trying to save the locals from their poor, tragic lives and often unwilling to appreciate or respect the culture they were entering. This was probably most realized in long-term missionaries unwilling to even try learning the local language. It was perceived as an arrogant presupposition that English is superior, that American culture is superior. Imagine the hubris of entering my culture, my country, and expecting me to speak to you in your language. Of course, the realities of these situations are often more complicated than they seem, but it is a reminder that all aid should be given with humility and respect. Even on a short-term trip, learning 5-10 phrases in the local language communicates appreciation towards the host culture.
4) Complete self-actualization
In response to my previous post’s point about the beauty of self-discovery when traveling, we need to remember that travel will not save us. We grow. We mature. But travel will not completely fix us. Minus the nearly unattainable exceptions of people who have been able to travel as an ongoing lifestyle, most of us have to come back and live in the real world of real jobs and real relationships, and we must learn to live and thrive in that reality. Travel can be an awakening or a recharge, but it will not save you.
5) Getting wasted
The purpose of this final point is not to make a judgment on readers’ drinking habits (what is wise or not or, from a religious perspective, what is moral or not). Rather, this is my soapbox from personal travel experiences. I remember staying in various hostels throughout Europe and meeting travelers who basically spent their whole time partying all night and sleeping all day. While in Rome, I vividly remember thinking about how tragic it was that some of the Americans needed to spend thousands of dollars to fly to the seat of their Western cultural roots just to get stupid drunk every night. The Vatican was just down the road. The Colosseum was just down the road. And they missed it. That’s what I was processing as I got myself up each day to explore the city and pass by their passed out bodies. Come on, guys. We can do better than this.
In closing, let’s remember that traveling is an incredible privilege that MOST people around the world are unable to enjoy. Please stop acting like some people are somehow second-class citizens because they’ve never been overseas (I’m looking at myself on this one sometimes). I am a proponent of prioritizing your finances towards travel and new experiences (money to buy memories and not just bigger stuff). However, adventure looks different for different people, and if you’re from a prosperous nation like the United States, remember that most people around the world could not afford the adventures you have even if they wanted to. This does not mean that you should feel bad for traveling. Get out there. Explore. But do so with understanding and wisdom.
So, let me ask you, are there any other bad motivations for traveling that you’d like to share? Comment below.