Travel is a wonderful thing. A brave adventure can change your life forever, turn you around to new ways of thinking and give you plenty of pictures to post on Facebook. But there’s a darker side to it, a greed and obsessive capitalism of experience that we must all beat together.
I guess I’ve already harped on about this in an earlier post about “Ego-Tripping”, but one of the main reasons I see for travel, and one of the main reasons people get a bit jealous, is that we have the fantastic ability to share our adventures through things like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. By turning our individual journeys into just a series of digital images (something I’m obviously guilty of!) we are slowly draining them of their uniqueness.
My Facebook, the social network of a privileged, young, white male is absolutely saturated with pictures, selfies, check-ins, to the point where you don’t have the time to go through everyone’s amazing stories and congratulate them.
Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing that, in fact, I encourage it! The sharing of photos, stories and experiences helps us all grow and learn, even if we’re not travelling ourselves. But relying solely on photos to describe, remember and take-in an overseas experience does grow a bit wearisome after a while. I have a gargantuan folder of pics from Prague, for example, but because I was so busy trying to get that perfect shot (the one that would receive the most likes), I feel like my general experience suffered a bit. Not much, but a bit.
But here we go again in the positive/negative loop that grinds away in my brain while I try to move forward in understanding. Photos, check-ins and other social media “proofs” can also be used to positively enhance one’s own self-esteem or esteem in the eyes of others. By carefully selecting the best, showing your travel means something to you personally or to the world, you can make a series of photos into something really beautiful. It doesn’t just have to be a collection of memories, it can be ultimate proof that you’re a go-getter, an explorer and a citizen of Spaceship Earth.
The main problems come, like in the world of macro-economics, Wallstreet Bigshots and mining magnates, is that the accumulation of this social capital can become a bit of an obsession. Again, I admit I’m a victim of this myself, but by living to prove yourself to other people, by travelling in the way you think most people will be impressed by, you are limiting yourself. You’re turning your special opportunity into a slideshow that people will flick through idly once in a while and say “ooh, that’s neat” and then never look at again.
I decided a while ago that I don’t want that to happen. I want to experience everything for myself, one my own terms. If that means solo-travel sometimes, then cool, I’m all for that. I don’t want to turn into someone who is defined by the places they’ve drunk alcohol in (like someone I met at a hostel last week), but someone who can critically reflect and share the best of my experiences with my friends, maybe encouraging them on their own adventures on the way. A lofty goal, and one I’m still trying to reach (the lure of collecting Facebook likes is too strong), but I like to think this sort of thing, this whole sort of travel-thought-blogging, goes a bit of a way in getting there.
One final interesting point to make on this subject is the idea of “cheating” while travelling. I’ve been told, quite rudely I reckon, that by going on exchange in a group of me and two other dudes from my home university I’m somehow cheating. Crazy, huh? What makes travelling (independently, I might add) alongside two other people you know any less important or special than going it alone? Sure, solo-travel definitely has its merits and challenges that I absolutely relish, but having a couple of familiar faces around in no-way diminishes the uniqueness of one’s own travel. If that were the case, having friends at all should diminish the uniqueness of one’s whole life, which isn’t even slightly true.
And anyway, the world is too small for that. One of my dear amigas here has already run into four or five people she knew back home just on the street, and I myself have gravitated fortuitously to at least three other Adelaidians apart from my gang. And with social media, you are NEVER away from friends and family. Perhaps in the time of the Silk Road and Viking longships travelling would have meant going it completely alone, but now-a-days we never have to be alone if we don’t want to.
It’s comforting in a way. Just don’t let home call you too strongly while your on exchange. Frequent chats with family and friends are great, but can also infect you with a good dose of home-sickness very easily.
Okay, das ist alles! Tomorrow I’ll be heading off to my first proper Bavarian castle and I’m super excited! Hopefully, sometime this weekend, I’ll have some more photos and stories uploaded for you guys to like and share and make me feel special. Bis bald!