Essays on why we travel, what we get out of it – travel as epic adventure or religious experience …
The growing obsession with travel is apparently induced by very cheap air fares, growing affluence, ever rising expectations, an increasing sense that hypermobility across the globe is an entitlement – on top of an emptiness and dissatisfaction with what everyday life has to offer. In a series of essays, an anthropologist looks at some of the reasons for our globe-trotting, why we do it, and what we get out of it. He considers travel as epic adventure, and how we seek challenges, in our rather mundane lives, over-influenced by health & safety; how we want to substitute novelty for normality; to reverse our daily routines, and abandon the comfort of familiarity. And the quest for ourselves. In looking at travel as a religious experience, he considers the rite of passage of much gap year travel…” some 25,000 visit Thailand, Australia and New Zealand …there is ritual talk: “where are you going?”; “where have you been?”; “did you ‘do’ this monument/trek/natural wonder?” etc. Drink, drugs and digital photos, sun, sea and social networks … Upon their return from the wilderness, our young vagrants are transformed (or reformed) into worldly-wise Westerners, new sovereign citizens of a global era. (Theirs is the Earth and everything that’s in it!) … Indeed, for many in the West today, overseas travel has come to fill the void vacated by ‘real’ religions, providing meaning, purpose, awe and wonder, as well as a sense of belonging.”
by David Jobanputra
… one of a series of essays on why we travel …
…. it is a long article, well worth reading. But these are a few extracts below …..
In the last article, I set out the idea that travel can serve a quasi-religious function akin to a ritual or pilgrimage. This week, I want to look at our motivation in a different light. Rather than viewing travel as a kind of religious experience, it is, I contend, an epic adventure, a journey of discovery whose destination, as Henry Miller once suggested, ‘is never a place but a new way of looking at things’. Above all else, it affords us a new way of looking at each other, and at ourselves. More tellingly perhaps, it offers the chance to change what we see, to ‘find’ oneself and fashion it anew.
Whatever one says about travel, whatever truths one tries to mine from its representative depths, it is most certainly, literally, an adventure. Be it two weeks in Malta or two years in Tibet (visa permitting), the act of travel presupposes the same encounter with the unknown that is at the heart of every adventurous undertaking.
And as travel is more or less a matter of letting things befall one, of submitting to the new and unfamiliar in the pursuit of pleasure, it is, by definition, an adventure.
So what are these things we allow to befall us? Which novel events comprise the adventure? To name but a few of this endless assortment, there are different climates, different foods, different modes of dress. Often, the language too is unfamiliar, while elsewhere we may encounter disparate laws, singular customs, foreign fauna and strange currencies.
More generally, travel rests on a series of oppositions or inversions in the fabric of everyday life. Thus, we swap cold weather for warmth, city living for country, fast living for slow, stress for calm and so on, perhaps vice versa. While the extent of these inversions may vary – not everyone swaps the rat race for an ashram or the Arctic for Arabia – they have in common the essence of adventure, namely, the substitution of novelty for normality.
Why, then, do we take pleasure in reversing our daily routines? For creatures of habit, as humans are, what is to be gained from abandoning the comfort of familiarity?
Well, the first and most obvious explanation is that the highs justify the lows, which is to say that the unforeseeable pleasures equal or exceed the unforeseeable pains. So it is, then, that the sunrise trumps the blizzard, the food trumps the filth and so on.
In fact, the epic adventure is less a quest for paradise than a quest for ourselves. Now this might sound like a clumsy cliché, and granted, it can be unwieldy. But there is truth to this truism, for in the course of the adventure, in the process of displacing our persons from their usual surrounds, we cannot help but arrive at a fuller conception of our characters.
For the vast majority of people, this is arguably the ultimate appeal of travel: it is a means and a medium to know one another, an adventure to be shared. But what of those who prefer to go solo? Why the desire to ‘find’ oneself? And what does this actually mean?
Viewed this way, the desire to travel is inseparable from the desire to appear (i.e. look and feel) like a traveller, just as the need for adventure is synonymous with the need to appear adventurous. Travel, then, is a brand that helps to define one’s identity. Like the food we eat, the car we drive and the clothes we wear, it works to confer on us sense of our own individuality. Nevertheless, like any other product, it is subject to the market and the whims of consumerism.
by David Jobanputra
… one of a series of essays on why we travel …
…. it is a long article, well worth reading. But these are a few extracts below – relating to young people and the semi-ritual travel rites of passage of the gap year …..
Let’s think again about the gaggle of gap years sketched out above. Every year, approximately 100,000 school-leavers head overseas prior to embarking on work or further education. Many more young people take similar breaks during or after their studies, or in-between jobs. Among this growing demographic, which is worth an estimated £2.2 billion in the UK alone, there are two major gap year options: project-based trips with organisations such as Global Vision International (GVI) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO); or budget backpacking through Asia, Australasia and the Americas.
Of those who opt for the latter, some 25,000 visit Thailand, Australia and New Zealand in the same outing, making this the pre-eminent gap year circuit. Already, then, we have the first elements of ritual: time and place.
But what else? Well, for a start you need the costume. (Rituals, you will recall, work best in garish garb.) Ponchos, sarongs, fisherman’s pants: practical, yes, but also symbolic. Like braids, dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings, this decorative dress denotes a departure from everyday life and heightens the sense of occasion. There are other adornments too: the journal; the guidebook; the low-slung knapsack.
And then there is ritual talk: “where are you going?”; “where have you been?”; “did you ‘do’ this monument/trek/natural wonder?”; etc. Drink, drugs and digital photos, sun, sea and social networks – these too are ubiquitous features.
Travel, then, becomes ritual; there is an order of action, a template to be followed. Upon their return from the wilderness, our young vagrants are transformed (or reformed) into worldly-wise Westerners, new sovereign citizens of a global era. (Theirs is the Earth and everything that’s in it!) Through their reintegration, initiates renew a vow to society. In return, society bestows on them the mantle of maturity, endorsing their experience as life-changing and morally valid.
So there we have it. What appears a humble waterfront guesthouse is in fact a stage upon which various reverent rites are enacted, be it a kind of coming of age ritual akin to an aboriginal walkabout or the righteous restraint of the shoestring ascetic. Viewing travel in this light is in no way meant to devalue it – quite the opposite in fact. While at one level these foreign forays are decidedly frivolous, at another they can be seen to fulfil basic social functions. Indeed, for many in the West today, overseas travel has come to fill the void vacated by ‘real’ religions, providing meaning, purpose, awe and wonder, as well as a sense of belonging. As we shall see in the following article, it may also serve to satisfy an ancient appetite for adventure and the itching innate in our figurative feet.