In Defense of Travel
Taking part in a candle flower ceremony in Varanasi, India
An 'interesting' (loosely defined) article popped up in my newsfeed recently from Suck The Fun Out Of Everything... er, I mean New Yorker Magazine titled "The Case Against Travel". Written by an Associate Professor of Philosophy named Agnes Callard, she argues that travel 'turns us into the worst versions of ourselves while convincing us we're at our best'.
She must be a hoot at dinner parties.
The primary evidence in her case? She went to a falconry museum in Abu Dhabi and didn't come home and immediately take up falconry. Oh, and exhibit 'B' is that Immanuel Kant and Socrates didn't travel. Maybe they just didn't want to have to change planes in Atlanta.
The rest is a lot of navel-gazing self-important philosophy major claptrap, but it all comes down to the idea that travel, in and of itself, is shallow and demonstrative. And while I admit that taking a picture of oneself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (guilty!) isn't exactly a graduate-level course in Late Period Renaissance Existentialism, I will also argue that it doesn't hurt anybody.
So, let me, a simple journalism major, present the case for the defense:
1) It's a Break from the Real World: Dammit, most of us work 48-50 weeks out of the year, and maybe, just maybe, we'd like to get far enough away from all it to forget about it for the other 2-4 weeks. Is there anything wrong with that? Whether someone hikes the Inca Trail, camps out on the Mongolian Steppe, or plunks their ass on a beach in Cozumel, it's a physical and psychological break. And that, in short, helps keep us sane. I joke that part of the reason I go overseas on all my vacations is that I get to leave my work phone and emails at home. (Secret: I'm only half-joking about that).
2) It Doesn't Have to Be Life-Changing to Be Meaningful: I've visited vineyards, and have yet to plant any grapes in my garden. I've visited Auschwitz, and have not yet considered starting a genocide of my own. That doesn't mean I haven't learned more from those visits than I could from a book. Knowing the processes that go into that evening glass of wine, grasping the dark history and eventual outcomes of the right-wing rants about George Soros and Jewish space lasers, or just marveling at how Roman engineering built coliseums and aqueducts that still stand today has helped inform my view of this world, and, in my humble opinion, expanded my horizons in a good way.
3) Up Close and Personal Worldviews: I've had a friendly argument about free speech with a Cuban tour guide, tried to explain the American Electoral College to a Moroccan airport worker, and heard the Columbian view of the drug wars from a fellow traveler on a tour of India. While I didn't agree with all of their perspectives (especially the Cuban), it does help me see the world through the eyes of 'real people' who have grown up and lived in very different situations than I have. While some of those encounters are now several years old, they still come to mind when reading about or discussing those subjects.
4) Breaking out of Comfort Zones: I'll tell you what, nothing can be more disconcerting than standing in Prague's massive bus station, not knowing enough Czech to hold a conversation, and having no idea which part of the station your bus is leaving from in 15 minutes. Or, getting lost in the maze of the Fez market. But then, you figure it out, perhaps with a little help from a benevolent local. And you feel a little rush of accomplishment, along with a sense that most people, no matter their gender, race, religion or nationality, are willing and able to help a complete stranger.
5) Historical Perspectives: I live in an area where history runs deep, where the first attempt at an English settlement in the New World ended in mystery 400+ years ago. That's a long time ago by American standards, but when you visit the ruins of Troy in Turkey, see the Acropolis in Athens, or the Nazca Lines in Peru, you're able to put all of that in perspective. Even more recent events like the dropping of the atom bomb or the Balkan Wars become 'more real' with a visit to Hiroshima or Bosnia.
6) It's a Small World, After All: With all due respect to Disney, the world is not Epcot. It's beautiful and ugly and elegant and impoverished and spicy and bland and fascinating and sad all at once (how's THAT for philosophy?), and there's no better way to see that than to literally see it. From cremations taking place on the shore of the Ganges to the chaos and circus-like atmosphere of the market square in Marrakech, this world is an amazing place. There's nothing wrong with wanting to experience it first hand.
7) We Enjoy It: Yes, there are issues associated with tourism, such as overcrowding in places like Venice or Air B&Bs creating housing shortages or the carbon emissions associated with air and car travel, and I'm 100% in favor of developing more responsible, sustainable ways of traveling. And admittedly, I tend to look down a little on what I call 'passive traveling' (cruises and resort stays), but in the end, if it's something we enjoy, something that gives people a little bit of relaxation and joy in their lives for a few short weeks, it's a net positive.
The defense rests.