Travel is not a moral issue: breaking down our ideas of knowledge, value, and ability
Scroll through your Instagram feed over summer break and you’re sure to be inundated with pictures of friends traipsing around the globe snapping photos in exotic locations –– the more obscure, the more lauded.
The transformative nature of travel as a pathway toward self-improvement and social acclamation is pervasive in our “Eat, Pray, Love” generation.
While the quest for identity through exploration is not unique to our time, it seems that travel has been increasingly moralized and essentialized. The development of social media has only exacerbated the notion of travel as a practice that is imperative to a fulfilling and meaningful existence.
I think it’s important to dissect that belief.
I am an international studies major with a focus in foreign policy and believe that exposure to groups outside of our own traditional identity structure can offer incredible and deeply important benefits for individuals, societies, and global communities.
Travel can help to inform one’s knowledge of the world in visceral and emotional ways that have long standing impacts on behavior and actions. It may help to expand identities to create a greater sense of responsibility and connection to a global community and ecosystem, and it might expose one to other ways of life that deconstruct one’s beliefs around success, meaning, ability, privilege, history, community, and more.
Travel can play an amazing role in building a generation of globally minded citizens. There are different kinds of travel, with some being more tourism oriented and some being more problematic, but particularly as it pertains to authentic and/or educational ventures, I am strongly pro-travel.
That being said, the narrative we have around the essentialness of travel in the search for individual development is problematic.
For the last six years I have had a chronic illness that prevented me from any sort of extensive travel. Watching others accumulate travel experiences evoked feelings of inadequacy and even guilt in my inability to engage in this socially admired form of self improvement.
This is more than “FOMO”: the way we assign a moral judgement to travel couldn’t play any role in inspiring me to take action –– nor could it in those who do not have the financial ability.
I have fairly extensive knowledge of issues in foreign affairs, foreign policy, and foreign cultures, primarily through my own independent curiosity and research; however, my efforts to be a thoughtful and engaged global citizen always felt undercut by my disease, which didn’t allow me to travel through my teenage years. I felt that I needed to travel to be “worldly” or to have a meaningful life.
This is simply not true. Identity is not constituted by the number of countries one visits before turning 30, nor is their knowledge, capability, or value. Being able to travel is a privilege and a relatively new one at that.
We need to be careful about attaching moral judgement to any practice of accumulation that is often inequitable.
That is not to dissuade anyone to make travel a goal to work toward if they are able and see it as something genuinely personally enriching and enjoyable. Some people may be able to do just that.The important part is not to compare their experiences to that of someone else who has had an earlier start, whether due to privileges or priorities.
We need to reframe the choice, ability, and accumulation of travel as not a moral issue but instead a personal and often circumstantial one.
Even in the absence of travel, there are so many ways to fill your life with knowledge, compassion, adventure, service, and cultural sensitivity, regardless of your ability to jet around the globe.
A devoted volunteer can easily be on par with the most globetrotter. The number of countries one has been to says nothing of their actual level of social and empathic awareness.
All that one needs to be a valuable and impactful global citizen is an intention to educate yourself and to serve and respect others. This commitment speaks much more highly to your character and virtues than any Instagram picture on some foreign beach.
So whether the furthest you have been away from home is Shanghai or Snohomish, remember that your life can be as exciting, impressive, and even photogenic, as you make of it.
Reach writer Claire Bacon at email@example.com. Twitter: @ClaireUWDaily