A question that isn’t asked all that much, but I believe it should be. I also believe that it is a question that delves deeper into a persons self than the generic questions of ‘where are you from?’, ‘how long have you been travelling?’, ‘what countries have you been to?’
All of these start-up questions pander to a persons facade of themselves, the same one that has a Facebook account and regularly posts on Instagram. Ask someone why they travel and you can see them recoil a bit at the unexpected nature of the question. In a way it is profoundly personal, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortably so.
I couldn’t care less how long people have been travelling for, it’s just pleasantries really.
We are told to question everything, to analyse things in our life and analyse what others say, yet this one question seems to have slipped through the net.
Before writing this post I read other blog posts take on the subject of why travel, most of the results from a google search flashed up with why people should travel. Yet the ones I found that did answer my question were a bit too romantic with reasons such as
– to break out of your comfort zone
– to escape
– to live life to the full
– to experience new things
It’s all too nice.
I am hugely sceptic that everyone is this open, this apart from the commercial, corporate system of social media, advertising and the fashionable to really experience travelling in the ways suggested. Yet I am not so wholly pessimistic and bitter that I believe these lists to be false. In fact, I do believe they hold a massive element of truth for a lot of people and to read a beautifully written account of the lovely reasons why we travel go to: http://www.teenink.com/college_guide/college_articles/article/363995/Why-do-we-travel-/
I just want to tell the other side of the story, the not so sugar and spice side.
The side that links back to exploration and empire.
Exploration of unknown lands was not entirely based on curiosity. Economic gain in the form of exploiting the skills, materials and limited development of arms of the locals. The acquisition of more land to increase the size of our ego as well as expanse of our power. Sovereignty ruled. Nations conquered nations.
Explorers themselves gave the impression of bravery, courage and the ability to rise above the odds, coming home with stories to tell and with souvenirs to show. Accounts of explorers deaths were usually portrayed back home as heroic in the hands of barbaric and inhumane natives, while the truth lies more in the disrespectful nature in which explorers paraded.
The nation back home held exhibitions to display the goods brought back from the foreign lands, for people to appreciate and learn about the cultures we are so wonderfully harnessing for our best interests.
I am not saying that travellers today die in heroic circumstances but perhaps the pictures sent back over Facebook are not as culturally respectful as portrayed. The long necked tribes of Northern Thailand are a prime example of this. Caught between being unaccepted as Thai nationality but unable to return to their home land of Burma, these tribes are stuck in limbo for the sole purpose of tourism. Why should they be granted rights when tourist trips to see them bring in so much money. Cameras are out and the tour leaves after the each person has enough pictures. A human zoo. Yet from back at home, these pictures look exotic and culturally significant.
Pictures are taken and displayed so that friends and family back at home go ‘wow, that’s beautiful’ or ‘you are so lucky to be there’. It’s an ego boost. Just as exploration was back in the day, backpacking can be seen as a chance to up your likes on Facebook and increase your followers on Instagram.
Swathes of backpackers descend upon the streets lined with western style bars, western style restaurants and shops selling traveller clothes. Just as the Pith Helmet was the ultimate item for intrepid explorers, the traveller pants and Teva sandals have become THE attire.
Respect for the locals and their respect for us is not as friendly as it would possibly like to be. Locals take travellers for dupes, who don’t know the real price of a tuk tuk for three kilometres and can afford to pay a few dollars extra any way, while tourists try and haggle prices that even locals don’t pay in anger that they are constantly being overcharged. Too many years of exploitation by western countries has left many scars.
So let us not become disillusioned to the nature of travelling. It is not a selfless or spiritual enterprise, it is fundamentally and wholly self orientated and fuelled by social media.
The buzz when that photo gets another like.