By now you must have read at least twenty thousand quotes and a couple hundred articles on why you are not really living if you haven’t traveled. The biggest reason why travel is compulsory because, well, travel is the best teacher.
It is while traveling that you learn about life, what you really want and who you really are. You learn so much about new cultures, new people and develop so many skills on the road. Travel has the ability to transform you into a new mature person who can do no wrong.
Is this true?
To all you travelers and traveling aspirants out there, let me say something politely. All of this is BULLSHIT.
It has been over a year since I quit my career in public relations to travel the world and to pursue‘The 12 Project’. I had committed to make observations and share the reality of travel. So here are reasons why the entire ‘travel is the best teacher’ thing is a bit misplaced and extremely exaggerated.
Travel makes you more informed, apparently:
One of the biggest argument in favour of travel is that it makes you better informed. And hey, which girl doesn’t like dating a well-informed dude, right? But the question is what exactly are travelers more informed about?
Hordes of backpackers take flights from home countries and land in exotic locales every day. Are these people really more informed about the countries they visit?
No, I DON’T think so.
About 1.8 million tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2015(according to http://www.sltda.lk/statistics). The island is fast becoming a darling both with budget seekers and five star luxury cravers. Thanks to its magnificent beauty and relatively cheap standard of living. But are food, sights and experiences all that there are to a country?
Many backpackers are hardly aware that the country was in the throes of a civil war until as recent as 2009. Others know that ‘there was some problem here’, but that is about it. Very few are aware of the ethnic divide in the country between the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamils.
Sri Lanka definitely does not need to be reminded of the war. But as people of this world we at least need to appreciate or acknowledge issues & problems and hopes & dreams of the people we visit.
This is just one example. Most travelers don’t give a damn about political, economic or historical scenarios of countries they visit. Unless, of course, they decide to not visit at all due to media reports of bombings, civil wars, epidemics or protests.
And even then all they know is the headline.
So, should we conclude that being informed means knowing the cheapest pub in town or some local props with which you click pictures? Wasn’t travel meant to take you to places where learning about the place was the only way to survive?
But let’s just forget all that while we sip some chilled Singha beer on the touristy Khao San Road in the Thai capital, shall we? And put up a facebook status ‘Exploring Bangkok. Wohoooo!’.
But duh, doesn’t travel make you a better person?
The other great assumed gift of travel is personal development. Or that’s what travel bloggers say and we believe it. Going from a nervous introvert to a great extrovert and to becoming one of those no-materialism-for-me-type-of-people, yes travel does it all.
Just like every day life, you can meet pricks even while you travel. People carry their own fears, insecurities and weaknesses while they travel too. And no, almost none of them magically transform into zen like creatures once they step into Angkor Wat.
And the assumption that travel makes people less material is utterly nonsensical. It is easy to meet some of the most ego-centric people while traveling. Don’t believe me? Spend some time in a hostel and you will know. If observant enough, over a few beers you can watch travelers compete with each other. It is generally about who has been to more interesting places and has done crazier things.
‘You know this one time I went to valley of the Moon in Bolivia and it was so cool.’
‘Yaa man. But I think nothing beats trekking in the amazons of Ecuador.’
The worst is when people get into the race of trying to be the ‘best traveler’ on the table because they either spend the least or because have visited more exotic places. Sometimes even because they have banged more local women.
Recently, I was unfortunate enough to travel with a group. This group also consisted of a girl who was a control freak of the worst kind. She wanted everyone to follow her plans. But she would never let others do what they wanted because she was scared as hell to be alone.
All of this is pretty much in contrast to the projected idea of travel right? The simple truth is, its always about people and not the place.
You will find nice people in your office and meet irritating morons even when you travel. Period.
And the worst, the art of reflection is dead.
A long, long time ago travel meant time to reflect. The time when pressures of daily life were taken away and you could build new ideas and improve your life. And of course the beautiful setting always helped.
But not anymore. For a consumption and connection oriented generation, reflection is all but a dead art.
Days are packed with free walking tours or guided treks and evenings are meant to be spent partying till you pass out. What reflection? Come again?
One of the simplest joys while traveling was to just look, admire and absorb. But that was then and this is now. What good are you unless you click a thousand selfies on a 10 day vacation?
To stand and admire? What the heck? There are other beautiful places waiting to be clicked. With you in them.
So you can then transmit them to your 2000 facebook friends who will enviously hit ‘like’ on your ‘Paris vacay’ album. While doing so they will also quietly sigh ‘FML’.
Isn’t that what travel is all about? The new status symbol. A must-have.
No wonder then that most trips seem more hectic than a crazy monday morning in office. And then when you get back home, you need a vacation to rejuvenate from your vacation.
Still think travel is the best teacher? Well, I do not.
What it is, is a great learning opportunity. Much like a university, a job, a book or a community that you are a part of. But how much you learn depends totally on guess who?
If we treat travel just like another thing to be acquired, like a new car, a new house, a new job or even a new expensive dress then you are not exactly getting out of it behaving like Mother Teresa. It is about time more people chased their deeper desires and stopped traveling for the sake of instagram likes or to win a bragging contest. It is about time more people asked themselves ‘what and how do I want to learn on this trip?’. About time that more of us became odd travelers focused on learning.
Because you know a teacher now matter how competent, is as good as his or her student. And travel, my friends, is no different.