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Why travel is, perhaps, important, but not as important as people say

The thing about travel is that, as a middle class mostly-cis white woman in my twenties and thirties, I have often gotten the impression from others that they see the concept of me travelling is somehow admirable. It'll make me broad-minded, or enlightened, or wise, or something. Or it's brave of me to travel, it shows an adventuresome spirit.

Of course, currently I'm in Toronto, and that's not the travel that I'm really talking about. I know of nobody who would claim that travelling to Toronto is somehow admirable. I'm talking about the kind of travel where you go to places where the people aren't predominantly of your ethnicity or mother tongue. You know, when you travel to those places, you can "learn so much". They are backwards/advanced there. It's different there. It's fundamentally "other".

But really, it's fundamentally the same, a lot of people coming up with systems to fulfill their basic needs on a day-to-day basis. Systems which are usually some combination of broken and working, with occasional glimpses of flourishing. Just like home, in a lot of ways.

Which is not to say that it isn't interesting to travel. It is interesting. And I'm not saying that travelling to, for instance, India and Japan and Australia didn't give me some new perspectives on my life in Canada. It definitely did. It's just not admirable in and of itself.

One of the problem with travelling is that we take ourselves with us. We see the world through the same old eyes. It's easy to judge what we're seeing first of all as though we are immediately capable of seeing the totality of it with all of its implications - we definitely can't.  It's easy to think that we understand our own system totally, but we usually don't do that either, even after years of immersion in it. It's just too damn easy to judge, and that's usually what we do.

I'm speaking very generally, and rather perplexingly at that, and I know I'm missing pretty much every single point I was hoping to make. Writing at 3 in the morning: something I just shouldn't do, and yet I do.

Anyway, when I say that travelling isn't admirable, I should also say that it's not only not admirable, it's actually a symptom of how hugely privileged I am, with a bundle of aspects therein. Not only am I affluent enough to have the disposable income and the flexible work conditions, in general, to travel when I want to interesting locales, I have the vast class and white privilege to believe that this a legitimate way for me to spend my money and time.

And the reason I got to thinking about all of this, beyond the fact that I've spent the last three years reading feminist blogs every day, is that I went for a walk yesterday (i.e., Thursday). I walked up the street to the main drag and then walked along going into all the little shops and reading the signs and watching the traffic, my baby contentedly on my back. And when I finally got home, my host and his roommate both seemed to think it was quaint that I'd gone for a walk in their Toronto neighbourhood, like this was an odd way to spend perfectly good tourist time when I could have gone to the Art Gallery or something.

And I tried, but failed, to say, "Look, your neighbourhood here is just as different in some ways from my home as any neighbourhood in Tokyo or Kolkata. The architecture is different, the ways that people plan their yards or lack thereof are different, the shops and the people in them are different than the neighborhood I live in. Perhaps the differences are more subtle than Kolkata. I have the advantage of a mostly shared language to help me interpret what I'm seeing and hearing, but this is still an incredibly different place."



All the houses made of brick!
I think you're entirely right ;)

someday I'd love to be able to travel.... *shrug*
I kinda think it is a level of privilege to be able to - but I can't say much as it's not been one of mine. I can look on with a touch of awe, hope (and a small bit of jealousy) - and kind of "live through" being able to perceive stuff I probably shan't(*) see. That, oddly enough, helps. Guess it's why a lot of folks are fond of celebrities too - it's that "life not like what I live, but tantalizing" as well as having friendly eyes say something of what the world out there is like.

(*) I actually went to Toronto as a teen - my dad finally got enough together to bring me out to see him for the first time since my folks had split. It was a really special visit and a special thing. Toronto really is "similar but different" :)


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February 2010

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