When people talk about taking a holiday, does it leave you feeling somewhat jealous? Inadequate? That you should be travelling and having amazing experiences in order to live a meaningful life?
Earlier this year I read an article on Wired.com where our obsession to escape into ‘authentic’ experience and travel aesthetic was highlighted through a fake Instagram account featuring Barbie as its protagonist. Wired called it ‘an endless barrage of pensive selfies in exotic locales, arty snapshots of coffee, and just the right filter on everything.’
But why, why, why? Who’s looking at this stuff? And who cares?
Many of us, apparently.
I want me some of that. Oh hang, on. Really? Now I feel silly.
We gobble up ‘breathtaking photos of mountains and beaches,’ and long for ‘a day when we can just get away from it all,’ say Wired. We all want to escape our lives, it would seem.
Like 20% of UK families, according to children’s charity Barnados who say that the poorest families have a disposable weekly income of £39 (US$59/$AU80) where even a trip to the beach is considered a luxury.
Or like one of my blog’s readers who left the following comment on my 5 Benefits of Family Holidays post:
i cant afford holidays because im poor as fuck……
Clear and direct, it jolted me into researching and writing this post.
The privilege of budget travel
Here’s the thing: many of the world’s travel bloggers, myself included, might talk about budget travel and how if you work really hard and cut back on daily luxuries (think coffees, lunches out, drinks with friends) you will be able to see the world. How short term pain (think working long hours, skipping coffees and losing friends because you’re obsessed with saving) will only lead to long-term travel gain if you want it enough.
Ahem. Writing this down feels awkward and embarrassing because I know I have told myself, and probably others, this same script. It is, in part, how I managed to make it happen, but there’s more to it, of course.
The reality is that most the people spouting this rhetoric, myself included, have a set of privileges that need to be acknowledged: A solid education. Access to jobs and career paths. Sound health and mind, for the most part. Supportive social and professional networks who encourage us to be ambitious, search out our dreams and explore our talents.
In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re talking highest-level stuff here. Self-actualisation. To not have to worry about all the basics like shelter and security, we are lucky. Very lucky.
In a recent article for xoJane.com, Keziyah Lewis supports the idea that luck plays a big factor and concludes by saying: ‘Budget travel writers may have worked hard to get where they are, but just like me, they’re also lucky. Ignoring this, and the financial circumstances that prevent people from seeing the world, is simply classist.’
‘Budget travel’ as a term is fairly problematic, in any case. It’s all so relative. The ‘budget travel’ discussed online is predominantly relative to ‘mostly white, middle class travel writers’, according to Lewis.
But let’s get back to the core issue: you can’t afford to holiday this year (or ever). Maybe you’ve never been abroad. Put plain and simply, you can’t afford to travel.
Is there really a choice?
Nomadic Matt, a prolific travel blogger and budget travel advocate writes in his article How To Change The “I’m Too Poor To Travel” Mindset And Say Yes To Travel: ‘I’m too poor to travel” is a belief that causes many to lack the confidence to believe travel is possible.’ He effectively argues that – for a good handful of people – there is the choice.
And it’s a common argument: we all have the power to make choices in our lives that impact on our experience of life.
Whatever our income (or lack of) our lifestyle choices do determine to some extent our potential to travel. For example I’ve got friends on the dole who spend their income on internet, tobacco and weed. I’ve got friends in high-income roles who do exactly the same. Both could save money to travel if they truly desired.
Can desire, then, play a role in us reaching our goals to travel? Somewhat. It might kick start a process, but there’s no guarantee. Effectively, without money (and time), desire can be quashed as we are pushed into survival mode, which makes it impossible to imagine any other way of being. Travel appears to be something that other people do. Richer people.
So is there a way to become richer that can apply to all? Unlikely. Maybe there are things you can sell, things you can do in your spare time to earn extra cash rather than watch TV. Hell, sell your TV and cancel your cable plan. Cancel your internet service and go to the library instead. Switch your phone to pay-as-you-go. Prepare food at home. Find amazing deals and coupons and vouchers. Every little bit counts; it all adds up.
But maybe you work so damn hard ten hours a day that by the time you get home you’re too flogged to do anything but flake out in front of the TV.
The comment left on my blog made me realise that it’s too simple (and even insulting) to say that travel is just a mindset and that anyone can travel. Clearly not everyone can, at least not in the way that the media talks travel. (To be fair to Matt, he does acknowledge this in his blog post).
So maybe there’s a different way we can think about and approach travel?
Seeing things differently
One person who realised this was a retired aircraft engineer called Bahadur Chand Gupta who bought a decommissioned Airbus A300 and transformed it into a travel experience, The Flight to Nowhere. Charging up to a dollar for entry, Stuff.co.nz explains that it ‘offers people who might never be able to afford to get on a real flight the experience of being on a plane.’
Coming from a place of wanting to share the experience, this flips the whole travel thing on its head. Not only are people getting to enjoy a ‘flight experience’, they’re possibly getting a better – or at least more holistic and fun – flight experience than those people who actually use planes to get from A to B. It’s not the real thing, but it a real thing in its own right, an experience nonetheless.
And it shows the world we live in where a ‘travel experience’ is interchangeable with a ‘new experience’. Thanks also to the internet, we can now ‘see’ and ‘experience’ the world more readily than ever before, without ever leaving our sofa/home/country. Google Earth takes this a step further, in that we can virtually navigate through the streets of a totally new place, pull up at the driveway of a foreign friend and check out their neighbourhood.
But in amongst this mass of information is a whole lot of content curation. The photo you see is unlikely to be the only photo from that collection. It’s just the best one of many. Who’s going to post their worst photo(s)? Who wants to look at them?
So what’s real about travel?
Does this then mean that the travel we think exists is actually a myth and we’re doomed to be disappointed by reality? In his book, The Art of Travel, philosopher Alain de Botton indicates that this may be too pessimistic, and that it ‘might be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different’.
Advice across the board seems to be: Keep things in perspective when reading everyone’s amazing travel accounts, mine included. I have barely written about the nastier, grosser and sadder moments of my travels because most people won’t be interested. It doesn’t offer the same escapism as stories with glossy, beautiful backdrops. Keep the view that those pictures and videos too are but one account of that place, one glimpse of much more complex reality. We live in a real world, after all. It’s complex and multifaceted (and surely all the more beautiful for that?).
Darby Cisneros, the artist who created the satirical Barbie Instagram account (mentioned earlier in this post) has now pulled the plug on her experiment. She told Wired ‘I get it, it’s pretty to look at. But it’s so dishonest. Nobody actually lives like this.’
How can this help us? Whenever you feel like everyone else is doing all these incredible things and seeing all these special places because of all the fun, zen, wide angled pictures they’ve posted, realise it’s possibly a load of BS. Or at least a very constructed moment in time.
(The likelihood, anyway, is that during the BEST experiences of your life you will be too absorbed IN the moment to take a photo that does it justice. And it really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that YOU JUST HAD THE BEST EXPERIENCE, right?)
But there’s also the flipside that if you do want to go out and take some amazing photos of the world and your experience in it, do it. Why not? The world clearly craves well-constructed scenes of beauty, scenes that hint at a life of ‘what could be’, whether that’s through city excitement or the serenity of nature or whatever you damn well please. Someone will consume it.
And maybe if you spend some time and care taking photos of where you live and of elements that constitute your life, you’ll look back and realise that your life is beautiful in it’s own right. Landscapes, cityscapes, concrete graffitiscapes, they all have beauty and associated stories. Share them.
Take time out
Sometimes to see that beauty, though, you need to step back and take some time out.
I recall my ex’s mum telling me that ‘change is as good as a holiday’. It’s only really now, after what’s been a slog of a challenging year, that I’ve realised that maybe a holiday is as good as a change, and that some time out might actually mean you don’t have to change, whether that be your job, your life, whatever.
I’ve realised that a lot of the time all I really need is a break. I don’t need to do anything high-adrenaline like jumping out of an airplane, I don’t need to fly anywhere foreign or sit in a car for hours to get to a town up the coast, I don’t need to be hyper stimulated by new sights and sounds or handfuls of new people.
Travel doesn’t have to be about perfect beaches, neon city streaked frenzy or screaming markets stuffed with dried llama foetuses or dyed pink chicks for sale. It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
Could the answer be to think of travel as something a little more internal? Of giving your mind the space to appreciate where you’re at by taking a break from your busy life?
Travel local and staycate
If you’re craving more than just a break but a bus ticket to the next town is out of the question, maybe consider a full-blown staycation. At certain times of the year there’s an increased expectation to go away, but why?
In the last few weeks I have had four people ask me whether I’m going away for Christmas. I didn’t realise it was such ‘a thing’. Feeling slightly inadequate listening to other people’s plans to travel to Brazil, Europe and South East Asia, I’ve since decided to embrace the staycation. If other people come to this area for their holidays, why can’t I holiday here too? I’ll cut back my work hours, pull out my walking shoes and wander where I live. Yes, it helps that my current base is beautiful and exotic but my yearning right now is to (re)connect with this area and (re)discover why I settled here in the first place.
When people travel to your part of the world, what are the touristy things that they do? Where do they go? What are they capturing in their holiday photos? According to life coach Charlene Tops, all too often we forget about what’s on our own doorstep. Her suggestion is to ‘observe the area you are living in with fresh eyes just like an outsider would do. It’s amazing how different we view our surroundings when we look at them as though we have never seen them before.’
Is there a way that you can afford a few days off work to do what you love to do in your locality? Or try out a few touristy things? Walks, waterfalls, museums and art galleries, among other things, are often free.
If it still doesn’t feel different enough from your normal life, there’s one further recommendation I have for when times are tight but where you still yearn for that jolt to your routine that travel so beautifully provides. Volunteering.
I remember looking for volunteering options before travelling to South America and being shocked that many of companies I came across were asking me to pay!
Without going into any longwinded detail about why these companies ask you to pay to volunteer your time and expertise, I do now have a basic understanding of the funding that’s needed to run some voluntary organisations, and also how these particular organisations can offer a ‘safe’ first volunteering experience. But, still. Coming from a family where my parents have spent their entire working lives volunteering full time, I’ve seen first hand the value and impact of people being generous with their time and energy. Money doesn’t always have to come into the equation.
So I’m not talking about the type of volunteering where you have to pay for the privilege. I’m talking about opportunities that allow you to exchange your time for meaningful service and experience. In terms of travel this means connecting with new people, places and ways of life.
Both organisations have worldwide presence. Wherever you’re based, there’s a good opportunity to get involved.
Do it your way
The more I explore this topic, the more it seems to come back to the following: Forget feeling like you should be doing anything, or that amazing experiences and personal growth are only gained by long distance travel. Don’t buy into the belief that you have to see the world in order to live a meaningful life.
Travel, like everything else, comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t go judging on it this holiday season.
Wishing you all some amazing adventures this festive season, whether they be abroad, in your backyard or in your brain. I’d love to connect, hear your stories and see some holiday season photos in the comments below. That way we can all travel without leaving our homes after all.
And if you’ve found some value in this post, please share. I’d love to reach out to people who might find this of benefit. Thanks! 😃