Should we stop writing about travelling?

 

Last week someone left a very shocking comment on my last published article. It was Sameer, a Palestinian male with a message that I could not shake off my head for the rest of the day. This is what he wrote:

"This is sounds amazing... I wish I can do the same, but I can't. The problem with you travelers is that you are indifferent to other peoples lives and restrictions. You try to encourage and inspire people to travel and explore and follow your footsteps. And I know that this is a life changing experience and actually essential. But that only if you are a privileged European or American with a strong passport that lets you do all of these stuff, but not for people which their passports are so weak that they can't go anywhere without applying for visas and lots of paper work and restrictions and requirements that aren't easily met.

 

Reading these kind of blogs, watching road and traveling movies, reading books about it, is instead of inspiring becomes so tiresome, it feels like a knife stab in the heart knowing that you can't just because some politician decided it. I live in Palestine and I can't tell you how everyday I struggle to take away the idea of suicide out of my mind to continue my day as normal as possible, but then I meet with my friends and they are talking about how boring their lives are because they can't travel and explore and make adventures the idea comes back until next day to start the same struggle again. So I don't know if these kind of "inspirational" stories are good actually, they are rather really bad and harmful, until we live in a just world and have equality for all of it's citizens we must stop these inspirations.

 

Thank you."

 

This was not my first encounter with this particular topic, but it sure was the most emotionally striking one. So I decided to dedicate my next article to take a closer look to the privileges that travelling entails and to ultimately seek an answer to that question: Should we, indeed, stop writing about travelling?

 

How many of these are achievable depending on where you live? Asheville, NC, U.S.A. (Nov. 2015)
How many of these are achievable depending on where you live? Asheville, NC, U.S.A. (Nov. 2015)

 

Back in July, I attended and helped organising the first Nomads Gathering, up in the city of Amsterdam. During the closure, one of the organisers (Maks) walked up to the stage and gave a short speech about the privilege that we, as travellers, were enjoying just by being there, sitting and attending the event. He spoke about how travelling, which has been the greatest discovery of our lives to many of us, is strictly denied to many and a tragic, forced decision to others. When he finished talking, there were one or two seconds of silence. It's not easy to have your privileges shown to you without feeling guilty. Then, there was an applause.

 

Travelling for pleasure is, indeed, a privilege. Granted there are different levels within it that don't necessarily always depend on the area you're exploring - I, for instance, have it generally easier than a transsexual person of colour, but I also have it harder than a heterosexual white male. However, all these privilege differences belong to the same group of people who can freely travel to nearly anywhere around the globe without getting into much trouble. Some get more advantages than others, but we all own a passport and the possibility to go wherever we want, just because we want. We are the ones who post amazing pictures on Facebook, the ones who see the bright side of the road, the ones who, as Sameer pointed out, write inspirational articles on blogs. We are the lucky travellers, and yet, sometimes we seem to forget the responsibilities our good fortune implies just because we think our audience holds the same global social status as us.

 

Speaking for myself, what I seek when I write about travelling is to share what it means to me so that maybe other people with similar circumstances will give it a try and see their lives improved in some way as well. Finding out that reading one of my articles had made someone feel the way Sameer so bitterly described was a difficult hit to take and it made me consider quitting writing about this topic. But then I remembered Maks' message back in Amsterdam about responsible travelling and realised that maybe there was a more useful, logical option, an aspect of this way of life that we tend to disregard - the relevance of making an effort to understand people's struggles everywhere we go, the difference between visiting a country and helping improving its communities, the awareness of our privilege and the choice to use it as a tool to help others have it too, so that the concept of privilege will eventually disappear. Eliminating the pleasures of travelling will not help others get them, but maybe, if we become responsible travellers, active rather than passive, aware and supportive, there is a chance that we can make a difference. The question here is: how?

 

Street market in Brussels. I wonder how many of these men were unwillingly far away from home. July 2015.
Street market in Brussels. I wonder how many of these men were unwillingly far away from home. July 2015.

  

There is something I never really quite liked about certain travel bloggers, and that is their absolute conviction that travelling makes them "superior" to the rest of the world in some sort of way, as if they had discovered a meaning to life that cannot be questioned. The harm in this point of view is that it sometimes eliminates the humbleness in their writing and turns them into socially passive travellers, motivating other privileged youngsters to explore the world without stopping to think about the locals' struggles. I do agree that nomadic travelling can be a direct and impacting way to understand human beings in a broader sense, and that it challenges the way our Western society has always told us how life is supposed to be (study, graduate, get a job, work from 9 to 5, get married, get kids, get a house, etc.), but choosing this option does not make anyone superior, it just gives us different responsibilities. It means you have discovered another path that your privileged life offers you and that was not as stark as the mainstream one. And it is wonderful and necessary to talk about it - thanks to people who did, I found the courage to start travelling. Inspirational writers for privileged audiences are still needed. But we must not forget the other side of the coin. The way I see it, maybe it's not about stopping to use the tools that we have, but changing the way we use them.

So maybe the answer to how can we become responsible travellers may be simpler than we thought. Let's open our eyes to what's happening to the people around us and write about it. Let's film it. Let's show it. You, who were lucky enough to be born with a voice, can choose to make more visible those problems that sometimes remain hidden by all the flashy pictures of adventurous travellers. And, no matter if you're a writer/filmmaker or not, you might as well roll up your sleeves and ask yourself how you can help make the place you're visiting better. If I shut down Revolution on the Road right now, Sameer is still not going to be able to leave his hometown. But if a privileged traveller reads this, maybe when she/he travels to difficult areas such as Palestine she/he will be more aware of this particular aspect of their suffering and will become more willing to lend a hand to its inhabitants. And us, writers, need to be humble and responsible of what we write, aware of the fact that travelling doesn't make us superior, but more privileged, and we can choose to use that privilege to help improve a little someone else's life. So maybe the question is not so much "Should we stop writing about travelling?", but rather "Should we change the way we write about travelling?"

 

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Write a comment

Comments: 13
  • #1

    Marcel (Wednesday, 04 November 2015 19:10)

    I feel sorry for Sameer! He made a brilliant remark on the subject of traveling, and you dealt with it so fair and kindly. Keep up the good work!

  • #2

    Daphne (Wednesday, 04 November 2015 20:29)

    Sameer's comment is indeed striking. However, somehow I always thought travelling as a way of thinking and perceiving the world as well as a way to learn how to enjoy the nature's gifts. And this state of mind doesn't actually require a passport. Within the same country, there are still so much to discover. I agree that a passport might prevents people from travelling around the world, but that is a minor limitation for people with a free spirit and passion for discovering the life on the road. I saw so many inspiring views and lives while travelling within the borders of my country that I prefer to believe that the experiences you write about can also be obtained in a limited geography.

  • #3

    Bart (Wednesday, 04 November 2015 21:50)

    remember that there are limitations beside having a bad or no passport. In a lot of cultures it would be considered a shame to travel around, spending money which could've been spend on your family, who deal with big problems. As most backpackers are western youngsters, they have no commitments, no restrictions, total freedom without anyone harmfully judging you. privileged, yes we are. that's why i totally agree with your article.

    tho, as harsh as it sounds, we cannot expect cultures to be changed in a second. we might be able to spread the information about troubles be in different cultures and circumstances might have, which is an important task -even only for appreciating what we have- but we can't change rigorous the course of a culture, simply because we're not part of it. i guess, as travellers, we should focus on the smaller things; spreading awareness and trying to improve local circumstances on small scale.

  • #4

    Maggie (Thursday, 05 November 2015 03:43)

    Let's imagine that instead of travelling it was a different subject that is seen as unequal around the globe. There are many things that fulfil that requirement but I'll go with women's rights because I'm one and every day I enjoy my privileges without having constant doubts or worries like "what would it be like to not be able to speak to men that are not my immediate family?" or "how lucky I am that I can pursue almost any job that I might want?".

    So, for the sake of this comment let's assume I write a blog about womens' rights and its' activists in Europe and the US. It's not just a rant about feminism, I actually take the time to research and reflect on the issues I write about and do my best to inspire other people and I'm considerate in discussing my opinions with others. Could reading my blog seem painful to a non-conservative woman from Saudi Arabia? Sure. I don't even stop to think how privileged I am when I get in my car in the morning to drive to my classes while that woman is prohibited from driving by her state law. I can enjoy having coffee with a male friend without fearing prosecution for adultery. Should the restrictions of that conservative Islamic culture prohibit me from pursuing the development of women's rights in the Western culture? Should I even write about rape, abortion and unequal wages knowing that for a girl in Saudi Arabia those issues are non-existent simply because there are much more severe restrictions on her everyday life..?

    Sameer wrote: “So I don't know if these kind of "inspirational" stories are good actually, they are rather really bad and harmful, until we live in a just world and have equality for all of it's citizens we must stop these inspirations.”
    WHY?
    If we lived in a world with complete equality for all of its citizens, there would be no need for activism. And that world is never going to exist. There are over 7 billion people living on our planet and they’ll never have equal rights. For some, inspiration is all they’ll ever have, knowing that it may take an entire generation or two to change the situation in their country or even aware that it may never happen. Sameer, if you read this, I know my words may seem harsh and unfair and I’m really sorry about your situation.

    Poland used to be under control from the Soviet Bloc and the lives of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation were heavily restricted. Listening to Radio Free Europe could land you in prison in the 50s. The state “kept” the passports and pro-democratic movement was outlawed for years. The books and post were censored. That was 30 years ago and I’m grateful beyond words for the price my fellow citizens paid for the change that eventually came. From the stories I was told and conversations I’ve had with people who remember those times I know that they took strength from knowing that their situation is not “normal”. Inspiration was a big driving force behind those changes.

  • #5

    Cat (Saturday, 07 November 2015 16:41)

    Lots of interesting points made in both the article and comments. Although I understand the perspective of the author, its a bit naive to think that traveling is for the rich or superior. This is an old fashion point of view. In fact, since the technology boom in the late 20 years its more accurate to say that younger generations have a better appreciation for not only what they have, where they are from and what they can give the world. Traveling is a key factor that inspires global change even within their home countries. I agree with some of the other commentaries who've noted the level of awareness and influence provided when one goes to a foreign land. Granted I also agree that the idea of "responsible tourism" is becoming more and more popular because of the meaning behind it. Calling tourist to action, taking a more intimate look into the everyday lives of the people who live in the countries we visit. Perhaps this is a topic worth discussing as well.

  • #6

    Revolution on the Road (Monday, 09 November 2015 11:03)

    Thank you all for the comments! There are many good reflections here and points of view that I'd love to discuss over a cup of tea if that was possible. I agree, as I concluded, that quitting the inspirational writing will not make any good for anyone, but most probably it will only do harm - but maybe changing the way we write will do some good. As Maggie pointed out, sadly no history of any country has ever been built over equality and peace and we must be aware of our privileges as well as the prize others had to pay so that we'd have them. I've found this to be an essential step for me towards creating empathy and solidarity when looking at people from other countries that are not as privileged as ours.

  • #7

    Zuzka.Gogo (Sunday, 22 November 2015 17:42)

    Dear Sameer,

    I have to admit I am European with no clue about war and I am sure this position is affecting my point of view to that topic. But I still believe, there is so much importance to read and share stories of travelers, not simply because they have adventurous and interesting life or because they are special in their way of life. I believe, every traveler can influence "the system" which rule our lives. From my opinion, travelers are breaking materialistic approach to the life by accepting not making saving, letting others be in touch to them, offering help and many times accepting help (in "normal" life I only her how I should be independent) for example. We could say, but, there is group of those who travel because they do not know what to do with money - yes, I agree, but in most of cases, I am inspired by those who are not afraid to live on the edge, who even decide to live in different minorities to inform society that there are not only materialism, success, growth, money, corporative jobs, fights ... as the main premises we can see everywhere. I believe, all the travelers, who do so - who do not follow the main premises of "wester mind" express they do not accept the rules which mostly politicians are playing with us.

    Dear Sameer, personally it empower me, when I read, that there is woman who is exploring some forgotten place, because I believe it helps to change our view at woman as less stronger and last but not least as well this act shows, that all the people should be free, in all the societies. If I look to the history I see few "rebels" who did so, and I see also the impact of their steps (I am not christian, but the strong example of such a person for me is Jesus).

    But, I agree all the travelers and even people who can be heard should consider the way they express themselves.

    Zuzka.

  • #8

    Phyu-Sin (Tuesday, 26 January 2016 23:14)

    This is a really interesting topic and one I can identify with. Traveling is indeed a privilege, but the best part of traveling are the stories you hear from the people you meet along the road. The best part is, you don't need to travel to have that. Samer might not be able to physically go to places and see new things, but I'm sure even in his hometown in Palestine, there are plenty of diverse stories that he can dig into. It's obviously easier to be inspired by starring off into a beautiful landscape, but it's more rewarding to have a significantly thoughtful conversation with someone of different perspectives. Samer, if you're reading this, don't be fooled by all the glossy photos and stories. You have it too.

  • #9

    Maarten (Friday, 07 October 2016 23:33)

    In the image on your home page "should" is written "shoult". Feel free to delete this comment after taking notice.

  • #10

    Revolution on the Road (Saturday, 08 October 2016 12:15)

    Oh, thanks!! Wow, I can't believe I hadn't noticed before. I just changed it :)

  • #11

    Brett Dev (Friday, 11 November 2016 07:20)

    Great post Elisa, I referenced this and spoke about it in my latest YouTube video.

    https://youtu.be/mCnkqR8gvLo

  • #12

    Revolution on the Road (Friday, 11 November 2016)

    Thank you, Brett!! :) Great video!

  • #13

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