This post is poorly timed. I am yet again watching the softly falling snow cloak the few remaining leaves on the poplar trees with a suffocating determination. It’s another grim day in an autumn that could politely be described as ‘armageddon.’* The animal rendering plant across the railroad tracks is belching its usual ‘intriguing’ aroma that for whatever reason always smells worse when it’s cold. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I hear voices coming from the abandoned lot next door, which is never a good sign, unless you enjoy having your fence torched by hordes of delinquent children.** Then again, maybe it’s just the feral cats that are fed by my “foliage distributing” (wink, wink) neighbour…
Frankly, today travel sounds like it is everything. I’m not saying I would swap my non-vital organs for a plane ticket right now, but I would at least consider it. It doesn’t even have to be a plane to a tropical beach or anything. I would accept a flight to the abandoned lot (what is it with me and living next to abandoned lots?!) filled with weeds and rotting dog carcasses (and animal carcasses?!?) next to my apartment building in Bangkok. That’s how I’m feeling today.
Which brings me to the point where I awkwardly attempt to segue into a serious topic. And that topic is my generation’s*** obsession with travel.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed many, many articles floating around the internet about why you should travel, why you should fall in love with women who travel (see this icky example), and how to get a job that allows you to travel constantly. I’ve talked to young friends who are trying to figure out how they can travel, and older friends who regret that they didn’t travel before having kids, or who are vaguely ashamed that they aren’t more ‘cultured.’ I’ve traveled a bit, and I loved it. I’d recommend it if you get the chance. But it’s not everything. I think my generation has elevated travel to the level of a virtue and/or necessity. It’s not.
Here are four of my beefs with travel obsession:
- Travelling can be escapist. It’s a healthy thing to get out of your comfort zone, and learn how people in other places live. Travel also can shine a light on the unhealthy bits of your home culture. But it’s easy for travel to become about getting away – getting away from boredom, from family ties, from commitment, from the boring nitty-gritty details of life. It’s not a bad thing to take a break from the grind of the everyday, but when travel becomes an obsession, consistent commitment to places and people can be the casualty. And so often, it’s consistent commitments that grow our characters and our lives.
- Travelling can be selfish. It can easily turn into a quest to collect experiences, which may be more admirable than collecting, say, cars, but it’s still all about me. How much can I see, how much can I do, how can I prove that my experience was more unique than someone else’s experience? Also, how do I find myself? All that experience-collecting can take an enormous amount of time, money, and focus. It’s not necessarily bad, but it isn’t necessarily noble.
- Travelling can be inauthentic. With a limited time frame, it’s likely that you won’t get out of the tourist ghettos. After awhile, the tourist ghetto in Bangkok blurs into the tourist ghetto in Delhi blurs in the tourist ghetto in Rome blurs into the tourist ghetto in Amsterdam… There’s some local flavour, but basically, you buy the same trinkets. You see the same backpackers wearing the same baggy pants sitting in the same internet cafes. It’s possible to be in a country and never really get a sense of it. That’s not to say it isn’t worth going. It’s just saying that sampling different countries can give you a false sense of knowledge.
- Travelling can be elitist. It takes time and money, sometimes in substantial amounts. Setting it up as one of the defining goals of a generation is exclusionary.
I wrote this list for myself as much as anyone. In my early twenties, I did think that travelling was pretty much everything. I’m grateful that I had the travel opportunities that I did. But as I’ve moved on to a new phase in life, I’ve changed my opinion a bit. Partly because of the way I’m living now. My life is currently the opposite of travel-centric (my last big trip was to Winnipeg). It’s all about commitment, and routine, and structure, and consistent effort. It’s about investing in the same kids and the same church and the same friends. I wear a watch and use a weekly planner. And honestly? It’s not always fun. But I’ve seen as much growth in my life as I did while I was travelling.
The other thing that’s swayed my opinion is observing the meaningful lives of many of my millennial friends. The friends who serve the homeless in Forest Lawn week in and week out. The friends who have started their own businesses and farms. The friends who pastor outreach churches. The friends raising large families. Some of these friends have traveled, others haven’t. But irrespective of travel, they are all living unique and beautiful lives.
Travel isn’t everything. It’s an opportunity, and a gift. But if you don’t get the chance to go, you’re not failing as a millennial.
*Although arguably not as brutal as the 1998 Ben Affleck film of the same name
***card-carrying millennial here. Woot!