It is Saturday morning. You have a cup of steaming chai in one hand, and your phone in the other. You’re on Instagram, and as you scroll through your feed, an image posted by some friends – a couple you hang out with, maybe – catches your eye – a woman standing gracefully on one leg, her hands folded above her head as though in prayer, with a beautifully coloured sunrise forming the perfect background. You hit ‘like’ and scroll, and another image shows up; this one is posted by a colleague – the turquoise-blue waters of the Maldives. The pictures have something in common –
In that brief moment, what crosses your mind?
Does it stir up memories of your past travels, cajoling you to revisit photographs from that trip, and even coaxing you to post the best of the lot on the platform yourself? Does it encourage you to start planning your next adventure? Do the lessons you amassed from your travels leave you feeling peaceful or content?
Or, does it dampen your spirits? Do you feel pressured to keep up with all your friends and peers who somehow not only manage to travel ever so frequently, but actually enjoy being away from home so often and for so long?
We are navigating in a world that is saturated with social sharing. Invariably, we are and will be influenced by what others do, and how they see the world. Often, this yields positive outcomes – if we are inspired to do more good because we see others doing it, isn’t it wonderful?
It is just as wonderful when more people are inspired to travel by witnessing others’ experiences. Travel is a great teacher, and it almost never fails to help us open ourselves to life-changing lessons.
But what about those of us who do not travel? Not only because we can’t, but also because we don’t want to? Are our lives somehow less fulfilled because we choose to not travel?
I’ve found myself in numerous conversations and social settings where there is almost always someone in the group who shrinks away, desperate for a segway, when the topic of travel comes up. One may think that this is because the person in question has nothing to contribute to the conversation. But that’s not true.
Often, the reason is that they are inevitably shamed for their choice – their choice to stay, and not travel.
So, when you read that hashtag, see those pictures, watch those videos, and feel like your choice somehow makes your life less interesting or less fulfilling, I’ve got some unpopular opinions for you.
You’re not alone, and it’s alright.
It’s okay to not travel. It’s okay to not want to travel. It’s okay if travel does not excite you. It’s okay that to you, travel is not a necessity, not a first-choice, not a priority. It is absolutely and unquestionably normal to just be where you are.
Staying the course, or settling, is as natural to us as breathing. It is possibly the oldest tool in our belt that ensures our survival; it is what encourages us to build and sustain something for ourselves and for the future – a home, a safe zone, a community. It is the ones who’ve chosen to settle who create warm and welcoming spaces for the ones who choose to travel; a sort of Yin Yang, if you will. If some of us derive true contentment from staying put, why, then, are we pressured to pack our bags and leave?
How else can we escape the dreaded clutches of monotony, or take a break from the rut?
To believe that travel is the only solution to tackling boredom, or that movement is the only way to escape the mundane is akin to believing that there is only one route to a destination.
There are endless ways to add sparkle to our lives, and travel is just one of them. Lose yourself in the pages of a good book. Pamper your pet. Immerse yourself in a play. Grow a garden. Learn a new language. Swim endless laps, and then some. Take an early morning walk in the park. Drink in the colours of dusk. Move, on your own terms. There is no dearth of ways to keep monotony at bay.
Some are born to spread their wings, and others to spread their roots.
– Jen Fountain
Besides, vacationing while being constantly glued to the phone, or travelling across the world just to check in to a five-star hotel room isn’t exactly helping anyone spice up their routine.
How will we grow, if we do not travel?
Now is as good a time as any for some much-needed honesty. Travel is often viewed through rose-coloured glasses as the single-most effective path to learning, to introspecting, and to enlightenment. The real cause for alarm lies in how many of us are buying into this ideal – that travel is the only way to better ourselves.
Learning and growing take place in different forms and at different paces, for different people. What works for me may not work for you. While travel may be the best way for me to learn about diversity and to be more embracing of other cultures and their ways of doing things, others may derive such value by watching a documentary, reading, visiting a museum, conversing with diverse yet like-minded people, or even attending conferences.
Here’s the truth that lies behind the veil – no matter how much of the world we may have traversed, we would have only spent time and money, and gained nothing, if we have journeyed with a blind eye and a closed mind. We will never be able appreciate the oasis if we continue to escape the searing heat by encasing ourselves in the cooling, comfortable bubble of our privilege. Travel, in no way, radically changes people unless people want to change.
Shouldn’t everyone experience the joy that only travel can bring?
A fact that plagues us today is that travel is peddled as a mere ware. It is transacted as a must-have commodity, a necessity even – as a thing not only to be attained or possessed, but also to be flaunted. People flock to Instagram hot-spots just to click a picture because ‘everyone is doing it’. Primped selfies in airport lounges, pictures of perfectly foamed artisanal cappuccinos from expensive cafes, ostentatious photo-shoots by bedecked tourists all hoping to get that one sunset click that will pass the many convoluted layers of social media approval – this is the norm.
What’s more disturbing is how this is affecting the mental health of the younger demographic – many of us subscribe to the idea that travel, particularly foreign travel is the new social currency; it buys popularity, and thereby acceptance. Those of us who don’t/can’t travel often find ourselves feeling ostracized. Moreover, mindless travel fuelled by unethical and unsustainable tourism practices has a lasting impact on our fragile planet.
Somewhere between our need to fit in and our desire to stand out, we fail to capture the true essence of travel.
Travel is not a necessity to everyone. For many of us, travel just does not justify the investments in terms of energy, time, and money. Some of us would rather direct that investment elsewhere – into activities that bring us more joy and contentment than travel. Happiness can be found in travel, yes, but it can also be found in building a home, nurturing a family, spending time with old friends, and reconnecting with our roots.
It is fine to encourage (within limits) people to travel. I do it too. What isn’t fine is shaming those who choose to stay rooted, those who find peace in staying put, those who seek comfort in the familiar, and those who derive joy in being closer to home.
My two cents – throw off the bowlines, if that is what helps you become a better, more giving person. Or, stay your course, if that is what helps you blossom.
It is okay to travel, and it is okay not to.
Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.
– Alan Keightley