Ambling down an airport corridor plastered with adverts recently, it struck me that advertisers are increasingly aiming to appeal to the millennial wanderlust affectation. One placard which springs to mind called on audiences to “be a traveler, not a tourist”. Young people are forever prattling on about their so-called travel bug. A staggering proportion of these self-acclaimed “globe-trotters” appear equally infected by a self-marketing bug. Hardly anyone seems capable of alighting on foreign territory without immediately feeling compelled to announce this via their choice of social medium. One is frequently led to wonder whether the visitor in question has even had a chance to ask directions to their accommodation prior to posting a picture of their latest destination. At what price does this new, overzealous tourism under the guise of free-spiritedness come?
Publicizing our private lives seems to be a symptom of a time marked by incessant media exposure. A life is not worth living unless we have an audience, however selective, to constantly validate our choices and actions. Social media provides a multitude of channels for self-portrayal. It is worth questioning to what extent most young adventurers are realizing a genuine interest in connecting with foreign cultures and new perspectives. On the contrary, it seems likely that many seek merely to vindicate already established ideas and representations of other communities. There is nothing inherently objectionable about visiting a picturesque bay or pulsating hub of innovation in Southeast Asia, but it is easy to disregard the fact that any place reliant on tourism will have developed in line with its visitors’ tastes and, crucially, expectations.
In this age of radical individualism, we all rather fancy ourselves unconventional and evolved. This attitude lends itself to blurring colonial legacies and power relations. The Bali North-American enlightenment-seekers experience is not the Bali of its own citizens. Quirky bohemian towns along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast cater to eco-minded Western exchange-students. Many are shocked to learn that Costa Rica, notwithstanding its reputation as an eco-friendly model nation, suffers from abysmal waste management. Outside popular tourist destinations, urban developers casually strew waste onto back streets, and in rural areas, it is still common practice to burn garbage or toss it into the nearest river. Greener waste management is unlikely to be a priority when food prices exceed those of European cities and a large proportion of the rural population lives on a pittance. This is not a narrative found in many travelers’ accounts.
Rather than dwelling on the hypocrisy of countries that are after all only doing what is required to remain competitive in the face of globalization, I would implore all avid jetsetters to remain mindful of ways in which their blogs and albums may reinforce problematic narratives. Rather than flooding everyone’s feed with pictures of street food and wooden huts, or fluorescent lights and skyscrapers, just take it all in and be. Allow yourself to live rather than compulsively project images of a life you have been led to believe you ought to live.
Kim is a political science graduate with a focus on international relations and an interest in gender and social issues. Currently she is completing a postgraduate thesis in the field of international drug policy. She loves food, natural history, and thrift bookshops. Writing has been a favourite pastime since childhood as well as a means of marshalling thoughts, views and observations.