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Monday, January 24, 2022

Of bucket lists, ticket stubs: The false philosophy of latest travel trends

Travel is not the only and rather seldom the means to broaden one’s horizons or change a person for the better. It is not some neatly packaged version of your personal Eat-Pray-Love.

Written by Swati Saxena | New Delhi |
Updated: August 22, 2016 9:17:27 pm
Image: Shutterstock Image: Thinkstock Images

Every generation has its drug. For our generation it is travel. This is no ordinary travel. It doesn’t just entail journey from one place to another. It is supposed to be ‘the thing to do’ in the spirit of ‘you only live once’. There are nihilistic bucket lists of places to see before we die. There are blogs and websites to provide traveller with budget and itineraries. There are articles and listicles of places to go for a low budget traveller, for a woman traveller, for families with kids, for groups of friends. There are places which are untouched and places which are unexplored. There are all sorts of options for a romantic holiday, for a relaxing vacation, an adventurous trail, a walk through history, bookish tours, movie tours, for eco-friendly green tours – one just has to name it and there it is – the perfect holiday, just for you, tailored to suit your unique personality and life, just waiting there, for you to come and explore, to be forever immortalised in your memory and your social media.

When I was young most of the vacations were spent with grandparents and cousins. However, these are not those kinds of holidays. These are the ones with blogs and websites dedicated to them. These are replete with examples of people who have quit their jobs to pursue their life calling of world travel. They encourage you to do the same; the annual holiday that you save for and that you get leave for just doesn’t cut it. It is not travel unless it entails pastel maps on your wall or your desktop that you can put pins on. It is not travel unless your cappuccino pics on your instagram and the picture of your toes in sand look something out of a magazine catalogue. Most importantly, it is not travel unless there is that element of spontaneity in it.

So you! Sitting in the cubicle, working on a spreadsheet, saving up carefully for a holiday and exploring the budget options and the discounts months in advance, you just don’t get it. You! Browsing through those Indian travel websites to get flights plus hotel cheap options, you don’t get it either. And you, spending those days in the comfort of your homes or in the lazy afternoons with your extended relatives, how can you, when there are all those exotic destinations beckoning you through every medium available? And how can you even go for a holiday without a DSLR! That’s sacrilege! You have not really travelled unless you have a picture of you holding a heavy camera and facing a mirror.

This conception of travel has successfully packaged and marketed the idea of travel in many ways: as a means of soul searching, as a way of finding oneself, as an aesthetic endeavour to appreciate the beauty of the world, and as a learning experience of the world’s diversity in its cultures, cuisines, people and topography. It has elevated itself as an experience, as an exploration, and as an education, and in this process avoided the uncomfortable truth of what such exotic travel essentially is: a capitalist endeavour and bourgeoisie privilege, a commodity more or less available to those who can pay for it. If one’s spiritual awakening has to come through temples of Bali, then so be it, this idea of travel will never bring up the cost of expensive tickets to Indonesia and the need to negotiate a leave. This idea of travel ignores the idea of day jobs as a necessity for travel (and life in general) and instead sees them as an impediment. It favours those who have expendable money and the luxury of free time to be able to pack and leave, keeping in the spirit of spontaneity.

The pop psychology of out of context travel quotes liberally spread over social media, and the unironic descriptions on Tinder and Twitter profiles of being ‘bitten by a travel bug’ or ‘touched by wanderlust’ or worse ‘being a traveller in the journey of life’ or similar tripe is reduced to excessive sharing of photos on social media and writing travel blogs, if one fancies oneself to be literary type. Don’t get me wrong- most of these photos are wonderful, giving others a vicarious tour from the convenience of their phones and some of the travel blogs are genuinely funny and informative. Yet these are seldom reflexive of the financial aspect of this enterprise and the privilege one is afforded to be able to do so.

However, the greatest tragedy of such packaging is that it seldom addresses its purported objectives: of embracing the plurality and diversity of world cultures and of gaining a deeper understanding of varied facets of human existence. Travel is not the only and rather seldom the means to broaden one’s horizons or change a person for the better. It is not some neatly packaged version of your personal Eat-Pray-Love.

As is often the case, people can travel far in terms of miles but not in terms of attitudes. It is possible to pose in front of the mosques and the minarets of Istanbul, a city which is the melting pot of cultures and religions, but continue to display contempt towards minorities back home. It is possible to repeatedly walk the café lined streets of Paris, even celebrate it as the city of love, yet remain a total misogynist, with little thought to the values of a city, the foundational base of feminist philosophy, mentoring icons like Simon de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray. It is possible to take a selfie with ruins of Athens, the birthplace of democracy, legal systems and preliminary albeit rudimentary ideas of citizen participation, and yet unironically support sectarian regimes in one’s own country.

Travel is not a prerequisite of transcendence in one’s life which needs a permissive mind and not just restless feet. Travel is a great privilege both in terms of material and physical ability. Being reflexive of the same can do much to salvage it from becoming a mere exercise of mundane capitalism. The proof of travel lies not in outward display on social media but in more fundamental transformations within.

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