July 4, 2015

"This idea that you must travel, as some sort of moral imperative, without worrying about something as trivial as 'money.'"

"... It’s aspirational porn, which serves the dual purpose of tantalizing the viewer with a life they cannot have, while making them feel like some sort of failure for not being able to have it."

Writes Chelsea Fagan in "Why 'Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel' Is The Worst Advice Of All Time," which I found via Metafilter, where somebody says:
Have never heard this advice given in my life. How could it be? Travel is something that costs money.
And somebody else says:
You're more lucky than I am, then. It feels like every time I've turned around in the past four or five years I hear someone exhorting other young adults to just drop everything and go backpacking in Europe/wander around Brazil/take a temporary job in France/go see Australia/whatever. Or, of course, study abroad. Lack of money is no object! Plane tickets aren't that expensive, and you can stay in youth hostels cheap! The important thing is to get out there and learn to survive on your own and experience a real, authentic foreign country!

Blerch.
Lots of great comments over there. I liked:
Ha! The attitude described in this article perfectly encapsulates why I left DC.

DC is a huge hub for 20-something returned Peace Corps volunteers, international NGO workers, current or aspiring foreign service members, and plenty of other careers where extensive international travel comes with the territory. I wound up at a lot of parties over my two years there that ended in people one-upping each other with international travel stories, while I stood there feeling defective and awkward with my mediocre, not-life-changing study abroad and zero money to travel at that moment. These were inevitably the same people who'd make blanket statements about how "DC is transient" and "nobody's really from here."

Meanwhile, I was living in a very poor mostly non-white neighborhood with a bad reputation, where many of my neighbors were DC lifers and my housemates and I were new outliers. For those neighbors, travelling just over the state line to Maryland was a big fucking deal, and traveling across more state lines was even harder. International travel might as well have been space flight.

I was intensely proud of that house, and often invited friends over to come hang out in our vegetable garden. But time after time, the same people who'd regale me with their stories of going off the beaten path in Central America or whatever would get evasive with my invitations and say "but I have no reason to be over there..." To this day, I am extraordinarily grateful to the people who did bother to make the trip.

It's not that I think having the money to travel makes you inherently oblivious and unaware of different kinds of power dynamics. It just felt ironic to me, how people could spend so much time seeking out "authenticity" in international destinations and then shy away [from] learning anything about the oldest communities in their own city.

37 comments:

Carol said...

When I was young I used to think constant travel would be nirvana, if I could afford it. Getting your passport stamped over and over by different countries. Oh how terribly impressive. And you learn so much about other countries. Right. Fuck bucket lists. I am no longer impressed - the point of life is not to rack up experiences. That's baggage from the Romantic era, a chimera. Everything I need is right here at home.



Rhythm and Balls said...

Travel is an important spiritual/moral/intellectual horizon-broadener. It's simply an expanded exercise in the delightful art of pulling one's head out from one's ass, a little bit further each time. Of course how much of it you can do is limited by finances, hence the emphasis on ways to do it on the cheap. The second comment ignores the fact that America is one of the youngest societies on earth. In national history terms it's the adolescent on the world stage, and not infrequently behaves like it.

Ken Mitchell said...

My father was in the Air Force; then I joined the Navy. I've been 15/16ths of the way around the world. I was 43 before I'd lived in the same house for more than three years. Then I was a traveling computer teacher, all over the USA. Now, it's a rare day that I cross our COUNTY line. Part of that is the fault of the airlines and the TSA; I love to FLY, but I hate airports and airlines. And what I've mostly learned is that every place in the world looks pretty similar.

You want to "see the world"? There's a game called GeoGuessr; www.geoguessr.com. Start the game and you're somewhere in the world in Google Street View. You'll see; the entire world looks pretty much the same.

David said...

"Ha! The attitude described in this article perfectly encapsulates why I left DC."

The ensuing comment is indeed wonderful. Unfortunately, while he can leave DC, DC will never leave him, unless we have a big switch from current trends. The people who literally repelled him will become grubby bureaucrats whose thoughtless writs will infuse his world no matter where he goes in this country.

Big Mike said...

Travel is an important spiritual/moral/intellectual horizon-broadener. It's simply an expanded exercise in the delightful art of pulling one's head out from one's ass, a little bit further each time.

Matching that comment with the content of your other comments on Althouse, you've never left the block you grew up in.

Michael K said...

I have taken my kids all over the world and they have traveled on their own.

One daughter spent a year in Spain and speaks four languages. She has been to China several times and has friends there. If they want to get a job and live in another country for a while, I think that is great. Traveling on their own with no money is not the way to do it.

My youngest loves France and would like to live there but no jobs have appeared. She majored in French. She's been there with me multiple times.

My oldest son has been over on his own for vacations.

They have to be realistic, though.

Bob Boyd said...

Believe me, there are plenty of people traveling the world with their head up their ass.

If your head is up your ass you don't need a plane ticket. You need to pull the damn thing all the way out and keep it there.

jimbino said...

I think someone said something like:

I traveled overseas seeking meaning in life and returned home to find it.

That said, all those boring day-to-day experiences in DC become suddenly interesting again when repeated in a foreign language and location. The same can be said about all those boring DC conversations in English.

I showed up alone and with no friends or relatives in Germany in 1971 and ended up living and working there for 5 years. Couchsurfing has made that easier. And there are cheap countries, like Argentina, where you can just show up and find work as I did in 1988. You might not earn much, but you'll learn a type of Spanish and depart a much more interesting person. The most interesting Amerikans you'll ever meet, you'll meet overseas, for sure. It's great that barely monolingual Amerikans stay in DC instead of polluting the world's bars.

Anonymous said...

"I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like.... Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes." -- GK Chesterton, What I Saw in America

Rusty said...

Rhythm and Balls said...
Travel is an important spiritual/moral/intellectual horizon-broadener. It's simply an expanded exercise in the delightful art of pulling one's head out from one's ass, a little bit further each time.


You must travel A LOT.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Matching that comment with the content of your other comments on Althouse, you've never left the block you grew up in.

That's pretty clever, Mike! The cleverest comment by a mindblinded yutz that's ever been made! Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a cookie!

And remember that the total of your Althouse comments remind us that you've never left the special education class you started out in.

Rhythm and Balls said...

You must travel A LOT.

Probably more than you do, I would venture to guess.

john said...

Kansas

Bucket list

LYNNDH said...

I grew up a Navy Brat until I was 12. So we moved every 3 yr or so. Stayed put until I was 21, then took a wonderful cruise to the Med. Just me and 5000 or so guys. It was a big ship. This was in 1970. My wife and I still travel a lot, but this time the ships are going where I want to go.

Phil 3:14 said...

R&B,
You are the proverbial bear who reliably reacts when poked.

Balfegor said...

Flying isn't great but I enjoy travelling overseas for work and pleasure. I do sightsee a bit, and enjoy it, but mostly I just enjoy everyday life in the places I visit. I actually like Tokyo so much more than DC I bought a condo there recently so I could spend more time away. Everything is just so much easier and more convenient than it is here in DC -- it's like coming back to the third world returning to my condo here. Which is also way more expensive to maintain.

Not the ideal day to sound so disloyal to the Fatherland, but what I enjoy about travel isn't the travel as such, but the convenience of living abroad. At least in the places I spend time. If it were Brasilia or Brazzaville or something, I would probably be singing a different tune.

Virgil Hilts said...

Money saving tip -- Make sure your children watch Hostel and Hostel Part II at an impressionable age and they will never beg you to finance a year of them wandering around Europe.

walter said...

"America is one of the youngest societies on earth. In national history terms it's the adolescent on the world stage, and not infrequently behaves like it."

and then there's Greece...

But yes...I love travel and found it helpful for getting out of the norm and all. However, took some of the romantic utopian ideas about Europe down a few pegs..and granted me the dubious opportunity to be just about hounded out of a Hong Kong noodle shop for being the White Devil in the wrong part of town. Yeah..turns out racism isn't an American invention.

But the blind pursuit of college can be similar. OS let's make it free...well..you know.."free". Feel the Bern...

Anonymous said...
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Jeffrey said...

I've been traveling for the last two years. For me, I started to travel, after saving enough money, because time was slipping by far too quickly while working at the same job and living in the same place. And I can tell you that time really has slowed down a lot now that I'm more or less in transit.

If you'd like to look at a few photos that I've snapped along the way, here's my photoblog:

Silvertone.

The photos are from Asia, Europe, North and South America.

dwick said...

SOJO said...
I know someone who was diagnosed with a terminal disease - as was his wife. They decided to throw caution to the wind and do what they really wanted to do - travel. It's 20 years later and they are both still alive. Make of that what you will.


Life is a terminal disease, grasshopper...

Rusty said...

Rhythm and Balls said...
You must travel A LOT.

Probably more than you do, I would venture to guess.



I wouldn't want to even begin to debate it, because everyone on the internet is strong, honest, and deadly.

Zach said...

It's not really immersion if you have a return ticket.

I spent several years living and working in Germany. I have visited other countries, but the difference between living and visting is night and day. When you visit a country, you are paying people to be nice to you. You could go downtown in your own city, pay people to be nice to you, and have basically the same experience.

When you actually live in a place, you have to deal with people that you would just glide past on vacation. People are much more insistent on making you obey the rules. You have to do the everyday drudgery of life and work. It's a much more ambivalent experience.

Zach said...

The difference is how much of yourself you put into it. Have you ever worked on a huge project that takes so much of your life that you can barely stand to think about it at the end? Then you come back later and have fond memories, even of the parts you hated.

Michael Brand said...

It's not just place, but time and place. Lived in Prague right after the fall of the wall and it was awesome living and working among people grappling with a brand new model for society. I saw the first Kmart open and watched armies of locals absorb the realities of the cornucopia suddenly available to their previous grey and drab lives.

If that's the type of experience you're looking for, you don't need a passport right now. Just drive up to small town North Dakota to see communities in flux as a result of the oil boom. Not that any of our elite would be caught dead in flyover country.

Jeffrey said...

Zach,

I agree. I too lived in what was then called West Germany two times back in the 1980s. Visiting and living in a place are very different. Although I say that I've been traveling for the last two years, I should say that I've been a serial resident in several countries. In Asia, I've lived (not visited) in Bangkok, Saigon, and Seoul. I did travel to other places, but those were the cities in which I lived my day-to-day life. In South America, I lived in Buenos Aires.

By the way, if you'd like to read a kind of funny cautionary tale from Bangkok, try this:

Lucky Buddha Day.

A tale in which being naive comes to my rescue.

William said...

I travelled on the cheap when in my twenties. I suppose the novelty and adventure of it compensated or the lack of comfort. It wasn't really a life changing event though. As someone noted above, most of the people you meet are fellow Americans.....I wish I had participated In aspirational porn instead. That would have been really broadening and exciting and a source of many interesting memories.

A to the C said...

I love traveling, but have never had the money to take a trip more than once every few years. So when I was younger I did a couple years in the Navy. Saw much of the world, did lots of crazy shit, and even got paid for it.
To paraphrase an old SNL fake ad -- "It's not just a job, it's $3.62 an hour."

Jeffrey said...

If anyone is interested in the financial aspect of living overseas, I can tell you that I spent $10,000 for one year of living in three different Asian cities, Bangkok, Saigon, and Seoul. I don't know if $10,000 is a little or a lot for you, but that's what I spent (I kept very detailed records of all my expenses).

Jeffrey said...

One more point. For me, living in another country has NEVER been easy. At least initially, it's always difficult, confusing, and disorienting -- not to mention that you sound like a simpleton as you start to pick up the local language.

But you also get to learn a lot about how a particular culture functions and about how cultures work in general. And you get to look back at your own culture from a distance that is almost impossible to get while you're living at home. Some people may find that a valuable experience, others not so much. I'm fine with both positions.

dustbunny said...

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and now live half the year in Spain, I am retired and travel a bit in Europe when I can and return to the U.S. for family and medical. For me traveling in Europe is a goal. I enjoy the Western European culture now so critized
and analyzed as corrupt oppressive, elitist etc. it is glorious to see its remnants, monuments and decay. Visiting Prague or Rome is not like visiting living places as much as finding yourself in cities that are enormous museums with people living in working in them. Once you leave the old city walls, outside the pale, you are in mostly bleak, grim worlds of people without money or connections, where the population of workers that enable the tourist industry to thrive actually live. It is like going backstage of a great opera. I like sitting out front, enjoying the glorious sets and preservation of the past while knowing the backstage is a ramshackle mess. The two parts make a whole. I'm not rich, I have decided what I enjoy and found a way to do it as when I was young and friends were backpacking and staying in hostels, I could never find the money to do so. And yes, former Peace Corps members are often the most boring and predictable people I meet.

Jeffrey said...

dustbunny,

Well, to follow up on your analogy, Greece may become an empty stage set in the next few days. The people behind the scenes won't have any currency to even pay for the gas to get the Northern Europeans and Americans from the airports to the downtown hotels and tourist sites.

On blogs, I follow many Americans living in other countries, some of them retired now like yourself. Here's are a few of my favorite. This first one is written by a guy from Alabama living in Germany:

Schnitzel Republic.

This next blogger isn't retired. He writes about Germany with fantastic American humor:

Observing Hermann.

And this American is down in Oaxaca, Mexico, and he focuses mostly on photos:

Oaxaca - The Year After.

Do you blog? By the way, I was born and raised in a small town in Iowa, maybe not too far from your hometown.

wildswan said...

If you learn the traditions of the place where you live and understand them as values to be lived by then travel is intensely interesting because you see other traditions which other people understand as values. Unless you are just a tourist in which case travel isn't much different than watching TV except you are standing upright and taking the pictures.

Travel as described by Millennials comes across to me as ditching home values in favor of a dream about the lives of others. The actualities the lives and values of others - they don't understand "others" at all. But having traveled to Tibet they feel free to claim they do understand Tibetan values and are living by them as they gulp food and drink and lean across the well-stocked table loudly, rudely contradicting the Christian American parent on the other side. Buddha just smiles.

dustbunny said...

Jeffery,Thanks for the blog links, I will definitely try them. I don't blog, i have a web sight for my paintings but blogging seems exhausting. Yes, Greece is a slow motion disaster perhaps heading my way. I am baffled by the lack,of understanding that Northern Europe has of the very different cultural norms of Southern Europe, for example the Germans think the Spanish should end the 3 or 4 hour siesta. That will never happen. Milton Friedman was nearly right when he predicted the Euro would last about 10 years. The town was in st Croix county, closer to Minnesota than Iowa

CatherineM said...

Wow Rhythm and balls. You sound like a snob. Are you one of those people who don't watch/own a TV because you think it makes you appear sophisticated?

kfb said...

Blerch? I'm going to use that from now on.

Be said...

Travel is an unpleasant reality for some folks who'd rather just put up stakes and rest, but who are useful for other things.

The curse aligned with some apparent gifts is not knowing where one wants to lay their tired bones for good, because they've seen so many home ports.