On the Light Side of Life

Although deeply introspective yesterday, a recent fit of socializing has really drawn me out into a more spontaneous mental space and I’ve been reflecting a lot on travel. I still strongly identify with the idea of taking a Gap Year (see my blog post here), as I’m still travel-curious and coming to a point in my life where more flexibility is possible.

However, I can’t really force myself to cheer for people who travel on these wild adventures and reflect on themselves as somehow more accomplished beings because of their journeys (see: Southwick’s article and Goin’s article). “Why not?” you may ask. And to that I would respond, because they are often financially supported by parents, because they aren’t traveling consciously or reflectively, and because they suggest that traveling should largely be done when you’re young, before you settle down and have 1.5 kids and a mortgage.

Financial support from parents is fine, especially if you’re a recent high school graduate like Southwick implies in her article. However, if you’re jetting around the globe on Mommy and/or Daddy’s credit card, I’m sorry – but you aren’t learning anything about supporting yourself or setting your own limits. I find it quite contestable that some people return from a trip paid for by others and brag about everything that they accomplished. According to Frommer’s, you can really set a tight budget and buy a lot of things economically if you’re planning ahead and thinking strategically.

Conscious travel is mostly a theoretical hold up for me, since I’ve been indoctrinated into the academic way of thinking and framing tourism-related issues. I’m sure that there are lots of mind-bending, hands-on, real-life moments of intercultural communication that people experience while traveling. How they deal with and process those experiences is likely a very individual thing. But I’d want to be a conscious traveler, nonetheless; in particular, I’d still want to value the little, surprising things in my immediate home environment, find wonder and pleasure in them, and not disparage them for being ‘boring’ or ‘dull’ just because they’re familiar.

Lastly, and for me most frighteningly, the articles all encourage us to travel when we’re young – with the unstated implication that the travel-train leaves the station at some point in our lives, never to return again. I have always felt a bit of a failure because I’ve not had much travel in my life, compared to other people my age. I was drawn to the topic of tourism in my academic career because of this strong pull, as well as a genuine desire to see and interact with more of the world. I resent that these articles imply that life has definite periods of ‘yes, travel’ and ‘no, don’t travel’. I concede that getting older doesn’t make long train rides or physically draining flights any easier; but surely I can expect to travel well into my so-called dotage?

I think that anyone, no matter what stage of their life, will find a reason not to travel. Others will always be finding a reason to step out the door, flip up the “Closed – Please Call Again” sign, and take a long journey away from the status quo. I want very much to be a part of that latter group that’s always contemplating their next adventure.