Meaningful Travel or Boredom Vacation
Between leaving my birthplace and growing up in Atlanta, I had a five-year residence in Tanzania. From Canadian birth to my green years in Dar-es-Salaam, I lived on a trajectory that continues today. Between studying abroad and my international roots, it looked natural to travel from place to place.
I had little say over my early childhood moves, but I can trace some purpose behind the effort in these recent ones. Japan was both the fruition of a lifelong ambition and a stepping stone. I had always imagined living abroad. America under Trump was (and continues to be) damaging to the global image of this country. I felt my time in Japan served a professional and personal purpose. I presented a perspective that was both American and unique at the same time. Being based in Tokyo opened my eyes to healthy urban and car-free living. I also learned from the experiences and interactions with a global community of expats. Of course, Tokyo was also a great place to explore other parts of Asia.
While initially, I traveled with joy, during this pandemic, it feels a bit self-indulgent and exhausting. The purpose and style of travel have a lot to do with it. If I am traveling just to tick off a list, it seems a bit slimy. I would love to go prancing around Paris, but is there a purpose to it? I once traveled to Morocco, where I ate only fancy hotel omelets because I was scared to try the street food. How about the all-inclusive resorts of Mexico? I am not sure that Cancun resorts even qualify as the real Mexico. Even that moment when you roll off the tourist conveyor belt and buy a cold $1 Corona, this little introduction to Mexico seems like an impoverishment of the country and culture.
I suspect people travel for many reasons. Some, involuntarily, others with ambition. Many for an escapist vacation, and some for adrenaline fueling adventure. Casual travel lately is getting a bad name. Wasteful jet fuel consumption and Instagram-location-whoring aside, can there be any reasonable justification for voluntary trips nowadays?
In special situations, travel provides an opportunity to expand our humanity. This, for me, is really the most compelling reason to travel. If you take your 5th trip to Oman and jump between luxury hotels and canapés, I wonder what you bring home. While the Four Seasons can introduce a local herb to your cocktail, heart-expanding travel includes smelling leather hides treated with human attention. This kind of experience can differentiate between objectifying a culture versus connecting with others.
I can see a lot of what happens in travel nowadays as an extended spending spree. Instead of partying with fancy cocktails in a big American city, you can drink in a foreign capital with the same socio-economic class. Travel, now, seems like an indulgent extension of consumerist capitalism. Is there a limit to living for the `gram? How do you balance the potential for deep, meaningful travel with blind indulgence?
I look forward to any other travelers willing to share their insights.