Look At What I’m Doing (It’s Probably Better Than What You’re Doing)
Spiritual enlightenment in India, buckets on the beach in Thailand, soft tacos from streets stalls in Mexico, partying like a rockstar in Mykonos or volcano boarding in Nicaragua. The frequency with which this stuff circulates on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook demonstrates how accessible world travel has become for the kids of the white middle class.
Decades ago, cheap, lengthy world travel was something only people of a more radical mind-set embarked on. If your mum and dad backpacked in the sixties, they probably also took acid, had dreadlocks and continue to remind you they went to Woodstock (whether or not they actually did). If they didn’t go backpacking, they probably didn’t take acid, and probably don’t claim to have attended Woodstock.
Nowadays, if you don’t set off on at least one backpacking trip during your twenties, people begin to judge; you haven’t lived, you’re a square, you’re boring, and you won’t ever understand the world, or yourself.
Wanderlust is all over the interwebs. This German-derived noun has become a 21st-century cliche, carrying slightly varying definitions of “(n.) a strong desire to roam or travel the world”. Its connotations are of authenticity, uniqueness and passion. The people who use the word will probably also describe themselves at some point as “gypsies”, ignorant of the history of racism that underpin that term.
Now, I’m a strong advocate of world travel. I’ve been known to get pretty pushy with friends as they toss up between full-time work or jumping on the global party bandwagon. “Man, what’s wrong with you? Do it while you can!” And I have never refrained from posting on social media while gallivanting around the world; look where I am, look what I’m doing (it’s probably better than what you’re doing).
But this is exactly my point. With the expansion of social media, travel becomes less about learning and understanding the world, and more about show. The bigger the show becomes, the more it makes me think about the things we don’t see.
The shit parts of travel are the parts that truly change and challenge you as a person. Simultaneously, they should make us realise what a privilege it is to be able to return home to a country with clean water, a stable energy supply, reliable food sources, and a police force who can’t be bought (most of the time).
There’s also the deep isolation you feel when you are alone in a country where you don’t speak the language. Sitting in a supermarket crying because your bus driver said he was going for a lunch break four hours ago and hasn’t returned (he happens to have your entire luggage, including your passport and bankcard). Grumbling because you’ve spent four days straight in a mouldy hostel room without Wi-Fi and the torrential rain won’t let up. Realising, after boasting about your strong stomach for weeks, that you’ve finally got that infamous Indian gastro bug five hours into a mountain trek.
These kinds of experiences make their way into every overseas trip and, more often than not, will leave a greater imprint on your memory than whatever “hot-dogs-or-legs” moment you decided to share on Instagram.
So keep travelling, but stop boasting. Don’t use travel as a way to implicitly pit your exciting life against the boring lives of the people you left in your hometown. Realise that it is only the luck of your relative wealth that allows you to travel. Be thankful for the experiences travel gives you, but mostly, be thankful that you have safe, comfortable hometowns to return to.
Oh – and stop saying “wanderlust”.