Traveling is overrated

November 2018

I don’t believe the hype of traveling. Specifically, I don’t believe in its healing, inspiring, eye-opening and other magical powers. And here is why.

As a preamble, let’s ask ourselves, “what is traveling?” The understanding of the word seems to have changed in the last several decades, and in this shift of the meaning lies the fundamental flaw of stating that traveling has the power to transform people. The definition of “traveling,” to me, is close to “adventure.” It is an extended period of time spent in a company of other people or alone, exploring places, cultures, and climates. Traveling is exhausting, destructive to the normal way of one’s life, and as a result has a transformative effect on one’s character. It takes time, effort, and, usually, a lot of money.

Firstly, I don’t think what we do nowadays can even be called traveling. Traveling is what characters in Jules Verne’s novels do. Frodo traveled. Columbus traveled. We do not travel – we take trips, we tour, and we do it algorithmically, often with complete knowledge of what happens next.

Traveling is extremely comfortable for the modern-day adventurer. We board planes and get to anywhere in the world within 24 hours. Then we check in to an at-least-three-stars hotel, take a shower, and go for a walk. After an extensive Trip Advisor reviews research, we settle down for a Mediterranean café for lunch. On the way back, we get a cup of cappuccino from a local Starbucks. Then we open the note called “Best places to visit in X” and methodically visit those places one after another, while not forgetting to upload the best pictures on Instagram to promote self-awesomeness. And a few days later, we are back in our hometown.

Familiarity of ideas, cuisines, languages, brought about by globalisation, cannot help but diminish the magical power of traveling. Everything had been seen and experienced by us – virtually – over the Internet. Very few things in the world are genuinely new to us.

Secondly, are people really that different? Do we really prosper, spiritually or otherwise, from learning about other cultures?

I believe that people from other places are not fundamentally different, and we cannot learn anything critically novel from being exposed to their cultures. People everywhere are not the same, but the differences are not that significant, certainly not to the point of being able to expand the worldview of the traveller.

The argument of learning tolerance to people from unfamiliar cultures, being mindful of their traditions – is hollow. If one is not already thoughtful of the differences in other cultures and traditions, then traveling does not enrich that person, it merely neutralises his ignorance. There is still a lot to learn from here, and traveling will not help. There is very little in the “world outside” that you cannot find in your own hometown.

Thirdly, traveling is, for the most part, a privilege. It’s expensive. I cannot call liberating and enriching that which is a privilege.

Arguably, people that would benefit the most from traveling around the world, usually cannot afford it. But even then, people do not learn about themselves, instead they learn about themselves as part of the world. Anything they encounter that is better than what they knew before would inspire them to grow, develop, and yearn for more. Hopefully, they would have opportunities and resources to fulfil their opened up limits.

If you are able to travel at least once a year, you are probably well off. You most likely had above par education, read many a book, and have similarly educated friends. I am not buying the “traveling is introspective” narrative in Instagram posts about your amazing getaway. And if you are like me, the high from both the ‘likes’ and the travel will pass sooner than the plane back lands.

Granted, a hardcore, budget solo-traveller, raiding other people’s couches for sleep, walking entire countries by foot, all the while eating as an ascetic monk – is probably the real modern-day traveller. However, I have my reservations about the joyfulness of such life style. Indeed, uncomfortable traveling is tiresome.

Finally, if you think that what I have written and argued about here equates to mere “traveling is useless” argument – I will reinstate. I think that traveling is overrated. It does not heal the soul or enrich the mind. Traveling is but a break in our daily lives – a change in the ordinary, a disturbance to the routine – and should be treated as such.