Travel

It’s rather ironic that I spent so much time traveling.

In general, I would be totally content staying within a five block radius of my home and seeing no one outside of my immediate family. On the other hand, it seems like everyone I’ve ever met imbues travel with deep meaning.

It’s never been clear to me what sort of benefits one is supposed to derive from travel. You often hear vaguely of exposure to other cultures or something like this.

I don’t get that at all. When I am exposed to another culture, I generally am surprised only by how much the culture conforms to its particular cultural stereotypes. Germans really do act like Germans, Italians really do act like Italians, the Japanese really do act like Japanese, the French really act French, most third world countries really are shitty in the obvious ways, etc.

Surely this can’t be what people are referring to when they refer to the enlightening effects of travel?

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19 Responses to Travel

  1. aretae says:

    I find that travel per se has the capability of giving you a somewhat different perspective on “what the world is like” and you frequently stop assuming that it’s all like my little corner of the world. Of course your move from American Scandanavia to DC did a big chunk there.

    On the other hand…I think travel mostly misses the point. In my experience, you don’t really get a handle on the differences between your culture and theirs until you’ve made a home and lived there for several months. Then you are purchasing an entirely new lens on culture…and you can learn to BE partly non-American. And the vision of your own culture from the perspective of an actual outsider (yourself) is fascinating. Evaluation-wise, you can see what your own culture is like as compared to others, which the first week or 3 just doesn’t give you usually.

    Of course…it also further pulls you out of your own culture…de-tribalizes you even more.

  2. ve says:

    It’s a status marker. SWPLs vacation in exotic locations and foreign countries. Proles go to the closest beach or lake every year. But SWPLs can’t openly say that’s the reason they travel abroad.

    It’s the same way the wealthy SWPLs I work with justify the decision to send their kids to elite private schools (rather than the high-performing suburban public schools where they live) by claiming the private schools have much better “enrichment activities.”

    • Anonymous says:

      SWPLs “love to travel” purely because it gets them away from prole whites and domestic blacks (I am genuinely not sure which is the more important factor). And the same thing applies to the schools.

      • CorkyAgain says:

        Yes. As I hinted in my comment below, SWPLs love to travel because they hate to be at home.

        Their traveling is an aspect of their cosmopolitanism, which is grounded in the fact that they bear no love for their own place in the world. It’s the antonym of patriotism (which they also dismiss as small-minded parochialism.)

  3. Handle says:

    There’s always conversation fodder. I’ve found personal travel stories to be one of the better ways to break the ice or generate threads. It’s especially good for “pick up” type situations, where you are hoping to generate certain emotional responses and connotations, and “exciting and exotic” is one of those in a way that’s more than merely “status” one-upmanship or hipster attempts to transcend the “mainstream”.

    A lot of entertainment, literature, drama, etc. uses an unfamiliar setting as a way to achieve a kind of suspension-of-disbelief “magical realism” where the brain simple comfortable accepts that wacky things are allowed to happen because it’s somehow “foreign”. That’s lets you get away with a lot when it comes to storytelling.

    I think a lot of people are aware, either explicitly or subconsciously, of the “story building” side of travel, and do it partly for that reason. There is also, quite frankly, sexual tourism, which takes on both male and female forms. Men hope that the women are somehow different “over there”, and women mostly hope to escape the judgment of their local social circle and be able to act irresponsibly and have flings with some foreign don juan who can sweep them off their feet.

    Having lived in a place which received a lot of international female tourism and been the frequent beneficiary of this phenomenon, I can testify to its reality.

    There is also the fact that many people do it while young and single in the summer and, with Lonely Planet and Let’s Go tending to get them to converge at the same places, and they hope to have lots of fun meeting new people and often do.

    One of the problems with travel is that for various reasons people tend to stick to the big cities and/or places with lots of cheap / convenient lodging and public transport. That’s understandable, but will really warp one’s understanding of what it means to “be” in various countries. Many European cities have become American-Ghettoized and multiethnic / multicultural Babylons that are increasingly un-European and unreflective of native life elsewhere in the country.

    We get that too of course – when foreigners visit the US, they tend to go to the “glamorous” large coastal cities which don’t exactly reflect life for a majority of Americans. But, again, “experiencing the normal life pattern of the average native citizen” – that is – genuine learning of foreign culture – is not what travel is really for.

  4. Matt says:

    Travel is a good way to disabuse yourself of the propagandized versions that most countries put forth of themselves. Ireland was a nice place, and it did have sheep on the roads, quaint villages, and fun traditional music. Then you notice that the villages are more like museums and the traditional music seems to exist for the tourists…the Irish themselves are listening to Britney Spears. It turns out that people are much the same everywhere, and you can’t escape the annoyances of life in the US by leaving it.

  5. asdf says:

    How about it’s just fun. Seeing sites. Trying new foods. Maybe meeting some new kinds of people. Staying in a five block radius seems boring as hell.

  6. Nick B Steves says:

    …the Irish themselves are listening to Britney Spears.

    Good Lord… the Irish are more strange than I ever could have expected, frozen as they are in a particular time: 1998.

    • Matt says:

      It hasn’t been quite that long, she had some songs back in 2009 or so (I went in 2010). But I was just using her as an example of mainstream pop…maybe I should have just said that.

  7. spandrell says:

    Its not really about people, its about the sites. Paris is beautiful. Bangkok is groovy.

    You have a right to be provincial but come on. Checking national stereotypes is also fun and enlighting. How else can you know?

    • anon666 says:

      I feel like I have heard more autotuned dance club music in public places in Europe than in the U.S. In Europe, they play that style of music in coffee shops, “Irish pubs”, supermarkets, etc., whereas in the U.S., it’s only heard in clubs and in various businesses that cater to a certain demographic. Clubbing is a more mainstream activity in Europe, and the culture of clubbing infects everything else.

  8. CorkyAgain says:

    Most people are always itching to be somewhere else, because they’ve never learned to be at home anywhere.

  9. Aside from signaling as mentioned above, I wonder if the fetish for ‘travel’ comes from the same psychological clusterings as those which make some people highly prefer cities to suburbs/rural areas.

    The benefit of the ‘city’, in essence, is the potential to have sex with strangers, with no social repercussions. The size and anonymity of cities is what makes this possible. You can ‘disappear’ there.

    Going to a different country for a while is another way of achieving the same effect, e.g. disappearing into an anonymized sea of social interaction, with people to whom you have no obligations and indeed will likely not see again.

    This would also explain why people are no less willing to speak of foreign travel as a crucial spiritual experience even if all they really do there is hang out in hotels, tourist trap/landmarks, & restaurants, as is probably the case for a solid majority of our passport-and-proud jet set.

    To someone like me, who doesn’t have this craving for ‘disappearing’, there are only the landmarks. Which is nice and all, but nothing to be too worked up about, and in addition, seeing any given thing once is basically enough.

  10. anon666 says:

    I suppose traveling does drive home the degree to which other cultures are both similar and different to our own. My foreign travel is restricted to Canada and Europe (Scandinavia, the Baltics, Germany, and Poland). Visiting Vancouver, BC made me realize how much Canadians exaggerate their differences with Americans. Vancouver hosts more or less has the same atmosphere and subcultures as Seattle. If one were teleported into a coffee shop in either city and asked to determine whether it was either Vancouver or Seattle (without being able to look at the currency), one would likely not be able to tell.

    When I was younger, I overestimated the differences between Americans and Europeans. Upon visiting, I realized that although their mannerisms, customs and languages are different, they basically eat the same food, watch the same bad television and movies, listen to the same crappy pop music, hang out in the park, play video games, be fanatical about sports (albeit different ones than Americans are), get drunk, go clubbing, try to get laid, spend time in one’s family summer home out in the countryside, etc. It’s the same shit as here. The urban cores of European cities often (but not always) have older and more beautiful buildings, and even the suburbs tend to be more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly than American suburbs. Some of the laws in certain European countries are more lax in relation to certain activities (public drinking, prostitution, etc), and more strict in in relation to others (gun ownership). Customer service is less generous and consumer choice often seems more restricted. The women are hotter due to being more slender and fashionably dressed, particularly in Eastern Europe. Truthfully, books and articles that I had previously read suggested all these things, but visiting drives the point home.

    Truthfully though, “broadening my perspective” has not been primary motivation of traveling. If I really wanted to “broaden my perspective”, I would have chosen travel destinations that host cultures that are more radically different than those of the U.S. In fact, I don’t really have any desire to experience the majority of countries, especially not places like Mali, Bhutan, Bolivia, etc. However, there are a select number of countries that are renowned for having a certain “atmosphere” that appeals to me. I generally do the same things while traveling that I do while at home — drink coffee, eat food, walk around and look at stuff, drink beer, read, womanize, talk to random people, etc. Sometimes, however, I want to do those things in the presence of the ugly Soviet-era buildings and insanely hot and fashionable dressed women of Warsaw, Poland. Sometimes I want to do those things in the far north of Norway while the sun is still shining at midnight. I actually experience intense excitement while anticipating these trips, even though I’ll do the same things I do at home. It’s all about experiencing a certain atmosphere, which I admit I often romanticize in my mind. There aren’t a ton of other countries that I want to experience. Russia, Ukraine, and perhaps South Korea or Japan might be the only ones I haven’t seen that I want to see. After that, I might just start making yearly trips to my favorite foreign countries rather than going anywhere new.

    • asdf says:

      This.

      I’ve spent my international time in Asia rather then Europe, but its the same stuff. Maybe slightly more “exotic”, but not that much. It’s different enough to be genuinly interesting, but also the same enough it’s not the end of the world if you’ve never done it.

      I’m happy when I travel because there are new things to do, instead of the same old shit. And the people you meet traveling are in “travel mode” so they are more receptive to socialization with strangers and have new stories to tell.

  11. Johnny Caustic says:

    Bruce Charlton wrote a stronger version of this post, which I recommend.

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/09/travel-and-mind.html

  12. Gilbert Pinfold says:

    These days, the only faraway place I yearn for is the English countryside, which is the opposite of exotic to my blood. (But I realise that the idyll would soon be shattered by chavs, gypsies and third world types, so I don’t act on the yearning.)

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