We travel for vastly different reasons. Some of us float around the world in search of adventure, while some of us travel to escape. Many of us set out to find ourselves, while an equally bright-eyed amount set out to lose ourselves. Our journeys bring us to life. But our travels come at a cost, one that is quickly adding up.
Here’s Why My Obsession With Travel Harms The World.
Note: This article was originally featured on the Huffington Post.
Quit lying to yourself; traveling is for hypocrites. But here’s the good news—you’re not alone in your hypocrisy. If I’m being honest, the entire travel industry is full of liars. Airlines have been lying to us since their inception. They’ve pulled the wool over the world’s collective eyes and have most of us believing that travel is purely for the rich.
Don’t get me started on accommodation sites. Hundreds of dollars per night to rent a bed that thousands of other people have slept in? Seriously? Tour companies are no better. You want us to pay you to walk around with us as you recite random facts about wherever we are, from Wikipedia?
So who’s the biggest hypocrite of all? The answer is simple: me.
Each and every time I write about travel, I’m being hypocritical, at least in part. I tell you how to find the cheapest flights and how to book accommodations for next to nothing or literally nothing at all. I rave about how beautiful the world, its people and their cultures are. I go on and on about how traveling has spurred growth in me, and how it has changed me as a young man.
What I don’t tell you, is how much damage traveling can and does do. Do I abuse my privilege as a traveler? If traveling is a friend who has welcomed me into her home with open arms, have I worn out my welcome? In my quest to discover and rediscover myself and the world through travel, have I been eating away at it?
Of course, in a lot of ways, travel is one of the oldest industries known to humankind. And we’ve already established that I, self-proclaimed travel addict and lowly travel blogger, am hypocritical. But my moral compass isn’t entirely off. I won’t lie to you and say that I’ll never travel again. In fact, this very piece you’re reading, was written by me at thirty thousand feet altitude over the Pacific Ocean on a flight to Thailand.
That being said, allow me to play devil’s advocate to show you exactly how destructive travel can be.
How The West Was One
In college, I once heard a professor say, “the world is becoming flat,” not in the literal sense, but culturally. Think about it. How many places in the world can you visit, where they don’t have Starbucks, iPhones, snapback baseball caps and Hollywood blockbuster movies?
As our western culture gets diffused through different regions of the world we’re unwittingly (and wittingly) erasing the cultures we travel to experience. Some of us embrace new places and everything that comes with them, but most don’t. Most of us are too deeply embedded in our comfort zones or simply don’t care enough to completely take in our new environments.
All The World Is A Stage
Do you ever wonder what the place you’re visiting is like when you’re not there? Is it the same? Is it all just a part of an elaborate show to please us and our western standards? I don’t know the answer to these questions. Yet, instinctively, when we host guests, we tend to carry ourselves a little differently, maybe not better or worse, but certainly not the same.
Our preset ideas of what foreign cultures are supposed to be, causes locals to mirror and act on our views, even if only in part. This show locals put on to please us has two negative side effects: inauthentic experience for us and a disruption of normal life for them—catch 22.
More Money, More Problems
How many of your travel dollars are spent at small or even medium-sized local businesses? As in most cases, there are exceptions to the rules. Some travelers are mindful enough to channel their spending into the local economy. Still, not nearly enough of us take that initiative.
We take the path of least resistance. Why go to a local restaurant and struggle to order a meal in the local language when we can go to KFC or McDonald’s (where they likely speak English) and simply point to a number? Why stay in a guesthouse or couch surf at a local’s apartment when I can stay at the Hilton or Holiday Inn?
The answer is simple: it helps the local economy of wherever it is you’re visiting, a lot.
Something Has Got To Give
Let’s call a spade a spade. Wide scale and long-term travel is no good for the environment. Anyone who’s remotely considerate of the world knows this. We travel to hunt endangered animals for sport. Nearly every mode of transportation we use guzzles gas by the minute, consequently ripping holes in the ozone.
We waste water, electricity and food without any real concern for those who are less fortunate and the effects our wasteful habits have on the planet. Not a fan of pollution and waste? How about “development”? We’re constantly tampering with ecosystems by building complexes, malls and stadiums we don’t need.
Some countries have resorted to buying and selling air space and creating man-made islands in the ocean. I’ve personally witnessed this hyper overdevelopment in a number of cities across the world: condos in Montreal, skyscrapers in New York and Hong Kong and beaches in the Philippines lined with western restaurants.
I’m no environmental expert, but the cons seem to outweigh the pros in a major way here.
All Hope Is Not Lost
The adverse effects of travel can’t and shouldn’t be denied. But a strong case can be made for the freedom, personal growth, and altogether transformative power of travel. So how do we have our cake and eat it too? Research and take action.
Eat and shop at local restaurants and stores, wherever you are. Choose locally owned accommodations; hostels, guesthouses and apartments will do the trick. Travel by land whenever possible.
Like I stated earlier, I’m playing devil’s advocate, and I’m far from an expert on these matters.
However, as a community of travelers, we need to hold ourselves accountable. The way we travel needs a collective push in the right directions. And who is better suited to spearheading a travel movement than avid travelers? We need to be the difference.
Want more thoughtful articles? Check these out!
- The Truth About Traveling: Lessons To Make You A Better Traveler And Person
- Life Hack: 6 Essential Lessons Every Traveler Must Learn
- Travel And Friendships: An Open Letter To Lost Friends
What’s your perspective on the way travel impacts the world? Leave a thoughtful response below. I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,