I’m a little bit obsessed with the travel obsession. Granted, not everyone has it, but by and large, more people are travelling more. In Australia short-term overseas holidays grew at an ‘unprecedented rate’ before June 2010 (when the measurement was taken), from a rate of 12% ten years earlier to a rate of 31% per capita (1). Most of these trips are holiday related.
The ABS likes to talk about cheap fuel, relative ease of travel, strength of the Aussie dollar and other factors but this is about how. This is how affluent westerners have been able to travel to pretty much wherever they so desire, increasingly so, over the last few decades. Why do they do so?
Boredom? Disconnection? Curiosity? Discontentment? Self advancement? Self development? Self awareness? Subconscious desire to conquer? Provoke jealousy? Status symbol? Unidentified subconscious desires?
A funny thing happens when you travel. You leave your place of connection to family, friends, community and the earth to go and see, for a brief time, other people’s communities, the things other people have made, the mountains that other people hunt on, hike up and contend with in their daily lives. I’ve long wondered: do I want to be the one looking at other people’s lands and creations or do I want to be the one building and growing the things which other people will (eventually) want to come to see?
If I plant the seed of a giant sequoia today it won’t be much to look at until, perhaps, after I have died. But if I didn’t plant it it wouldn’t be there at all. If I wasn’t here on my own soil I wouldn’t plant it or water it into existence.
If I can’t travel I’d much rather grow a garden. I’d rather be part of the society which builds the pyramids, incredibly engineered rice fields, streets like Copenhagen’s, buildings like Gaudi’s, or preserves the natural wonders of their own lands instead of burning up fossil fuels to go and see other people’s patches of paradise. I would much, much rather the world were made up of people in communities doing the same instead of traveling into eachother’s worlds to ‘be inspired’, ‘get excited’, ‘take a break’ or just for the sake of saying: “I’ve traveled”. Is there anything more meaningless than fruitless activity, drummed up to enable a bit of boasting?
Does overseas travel actually makes people happy?
Does overseas travel make the planet happy?
What is it that people are setting out to find overseas?
What (if anything) have we lost due to travel?
I’d like to compare ‘Connection to Country’ (an Australian Indigenous term, but applicable to anyone who is a human being) with disconnection through travel – and is that even a thing? Have we lost our ability to connect intimately to the soil on which we walk because we are distracted by the possibility of not having to live where we are?
There are a lot of questions around travel that are not even being asked. I couldn’t find one peer-reviewed article addressing whether travel is making overseas holiday goers happier, smarter, more content, more aware of global issues or any other measure. There’s a gap there.
Nevertheless we continue to use excuses like this to get us on successive aeroplanes: It’ll “broaden your horizons”, “give you a global outlook”, “change your life”, “grow you up”. All of these are unsupported claims and the skeptical researcher in all of us should remain…skeptical.
This is a topic which requires a heck of a lot more questioning and digging into. The lack of research is slightly telling in its absence, but gee I am curious. In the meantime all I have are questions.