The Over-Glamorisation Of The “Travel Cult” And Why I’m Going Home Early

by Grace Carpenter
“To travel is to be alive.
Quit everything and go. #LiveAuthentic”

Travelling is one of those “cool people” things that everyone wants to do and everyone’s obsessed with after they do it. Once someone has travelled, it seems that they hardly talk about anything else. “Oh, this one time on my gap year…” “That reminds me of when I was living in Chile…” It’s simultaneously enviable and desperately irritating.

On one hand, we’re spitefully jealous. On the other, there’s such a social media surge of “This Couple’s Travel Photos Are Everything” and “Ten Million Misleading and Unrealistic Reasons to Blindly Plunge into Some Ridiculous, Adventure Because Your Life Is Empty Without It And You Didn’t Even Know It,” that we not only want to, we think we need to join. We feel like failures for working constantly and not throwing everything away to explore the world.

Travelling is cool, don’t get me wrong. But let me say something slightly less cool but more real: The Millennial “travel cult” is not only annoying, it is also misleading, addictive, and destructive.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of healthy ways to travel. For example, my European friend recently travelled to the US and getting a job out there. She’s travelled to a new country while also expanding her future. She has already got one of the credit cards for no credit history and has settled down nicely. She takes trips to different states in her spare time and is loving it This is a far cry different from the “spend all your money because why not” culture that is currently so popular.

Millennials treat travel with two simultaneous and wildly unhelpful attitudes, both of which undermine each other: casual impulsiveness and deep admiration. People say things like “Don’t worry about money, just go,” but that betrays a basic misunderstanding of how life and money work. People claim that travelling is easy and accessible, and that if one simply disregards one’s responsibilities and galavants about the earth, everything will be fine in the end.

This casual attitude clouds the truth behind travel, which I want to say loud and clear:

Travel is not a basic human right or a life necessity, but a luxury.

On some level, people understand that travel is a luxury. The reason it’s so lusted after is because many people cannot travel, because in reality, travel is not casual. It requires money, work, time, and effort. It is not a casual activity: it is an investment.

Moreover, this dismissive understanding of the money involved in travel warps our understanding of the cost of travel. Many people end up believing that travel is easy and doable “if one only had the courage” – as if it relies more on courage than on money. The deflection from money to courage weighs travel with a kind of moral imperative, as if one should have the courage to travel, because that’s what brave, admirable, and enviable people do. This imperative inspires the equally destructive admiration people have for travel: people are lusting after travel because they cannot do it, yet they think they should be doing it.

As Chelsea Fagan writes so brilliantly, “It’s aspirational pornwhich serves the dual purpose of tantalising the viewer with a life they cannot have, while making them feel like some sort of failure for not being able to have it.

“Travel euphoria” is all over social media. We see photos of sexy couples more beautiful than us exploring the world, of hikers and adventurers with brand-name jackets taking expensive Canon photos in different places, and we are told every day that travel is joy. We are told that “to travel is to be alive.”

And I won’t lie, I was one of those people. I was consumed by the travel cult mentality, thinking that untethering myself from my home and identity was the only way to really live – to test my boundaries, to develop and mature, to grow as an individual and become the person I wanted to be. If I travelled, I wouldn’t be little old me. I would be Interesting. I would be Independent. Most of all, I would be happy.

What I learned is that actual travel is an entirely different story

Photos, souvenirs, and being the “cool” person do not make travel worthwhile. Travel is a whole lot more than a few photos and a pair of Czech earrings. Travel is tough, it’s gruelling and it’s lonely. And, no, travelling isn’t a one-way ticket to happiness and fulfillment.

The outward show is all there. My Instagram account is fuller, my desktop wallpapers are all travel photos, my blog has 1000+ followers. I have an Italian scarf, I know German beer, I have an Austrian jewellery box, I have fun anecdotes and I have a few words of different languages under my belt.

But do these things constitute happiness? No. Frankly, I’ve been miserable. I‘m not saying that it’s not worthwhile, because moving abroad was certainly worthwhile for me (not in the way I was expecting, but in a “I learned a lot of life lessons” kind of way). There are intangible rewards of travel that are absolutely worthwhile: thought, inspiration, self-cultivation and reflection, revelation, perspective.

What I am saying is that travel doesn’t solve problems

It doesn’t erase everything bad and replace it with excitement. Travel itself does not make one more interesting as a human being. Most of all, it certainly doesn’t suddenly, magically make one happy.

So I am no longer buying into the generational rootlessness. It’s time to put down the camera. Time to put down the expectations. It’s time to drop all the wishing, striving, and longing, and simply be alive in my present moment. When I’ve stripped my life of all exterior motives – peeled off the photos, the locations, the thrusting-forward “I’m travelling” – I find that I’m not at peace. I haven’t found harmony alone in this foreign world. This isn’t my version of #livingauthentic because I’m not being authentic: I’m trying to be someone I’m simply not.

Perhaps I can say that I’ve accomplished my goals here. I have learned about life, love, travel, and hope. I’ve learned that travel is nothing to me compared to being with the ones whom I love. I have learned that “living free” isn’t being physically or geographically free, but being free from expectations and the pressure to be someone you just aren’t.

This time, I’m doing what I feel is right – not according to Generation-Y, but according to my own instincts. Because deep down, I know where I want to be, no matter how many people tell me otherwise.

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