Published: October 20th 2009October 20th 2009
Travel is a gift all too often taken for granted. As members of the Western middle class, we have the social mobility to move in and out of new countries and cultures seamlessly, sometimes roughing it and living on spaghetti and tomato sauce for weeks on end. We are able to do so with knowledge that the social safety net of our background will usually prevent us from any real harm. Upon return home, we have faith that well paying jobs will be there, paying for our next escape. While owning a car and having a mortgage are often vilified by more progressive members of the travelling community; planes, trains, automobiles and the indulgence of travel are justified in the name of broadening horizons. There is a dualism that exists within this community. Generally a left leaning bunch, the average traveller supports less consumption to limit damaging environmental practices. They prefer communal living close to city centres as opposed to houses in the suburbs. Travellers do things like host potluck suppers, do volunteer work in far away lands, work on organic farms and couch surf. Conversely, travel tends to be individualistic and destructive. Though many travellers do tend to limit their
environmental impact through overland travel, and many give back to the communities they visit overseas, the purpose of their trip is usually personal fulfillment, and the thrill of adventure. In the best scenarios, meaningful travel experiences develop relationships, establish cross-cultural dialogue, and positively shape both personalities and future decisions. In the worst case scenarios cultural and social norms are grossly ignored, people are offended, and the only lasting evidence of a trip is sunburn and a red bull t shirt.
I am not suggesting people stay home all the time. The percentage of Americans without a passport has shown us what staying at home all the time can do to create open minded, worldly individuals. I love to travel, and will be on the road once more before long. But having been exposed to the vacuous morality of the backpacking scene, and more recently to the community of generous locals interested in making connections through the use of couch surfing, I am torn. I am pretty sure the key to happiness is building strong community. My lowest days on the road were those where I failed to make meaningful connections to those around me. While living in Europe and
travelling abroad at every opportunity was glamorous and adventurous; what drove my partner and I back to the humble streets of Saskatchewan was the incredible sense of community among family and friends. Building community takes the focus off of the individual, and places the emphasis outside of the self. I have noticed that once part of a strong community, there is a social requirement of respect for others and the world that generally follows. If people care about and have a vested interest in maintaining the community they will do everything in their power to help make it strong. I have often written about the ease with which community can be created quickly, often in situations where alcoholic beverages are available. And so, while community can be strong on the road, its temporary nature can lend itself to one night stands and battered livers.
"If you build it, they will come." My dream is not to build a baseball field in the middle of a corn field and try to create community with a bunch of ghosts. But there is something to be said for creating a space people want to be. For the first time in a long
Hoola Hooping at a wedding
time, I am not transient. I have a lovely house, and live with lovely people. I know my neighbours, and live close to many friends. The house has quickly become a gathering place where people feel at home. Many nights there are shared meals, board games and conversations. Couch surfers use the spare bedroom regularly and now represent my access and exposure to travellers. We bought a comfortable couch. I come home from work, turn on the fireplace and lay on the couch, fully expecting neighbours, family, and travellers to come to me. I spent along time travelling to see them, and so for now am content with the changing cast of characters that perform for me nightly.
As a recent retiree of the travelling community, I feel the pains of this dangerous and expensive addiction drawing me towards the pages of lonely planet and travel blogs. The natural process of Glorification of the past will drive me to set off again, trying to recreate what memories have turned into epic adventures. I know that attempting to live vicariously through the lives of others can only last so long. Inevitably websites like Expedia, Kayak, and Flight Centre begin to
appear on my browser with increasing regularity. Normally, it is only a matter of time before the visa comes out of the wallet. Numbers are entered, affordability is ignored, and once tickets are purchased, there is no going back... Mexico, Spain, BC, Peru...Whoops... This might be an expensive year.
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