I had been on the bus for almost an hour before I finally looked out the window. I was already entrenched in the stop-and-go traffic of downtown Paris, but the journey had slipped by as I tapped away on my laptop and occasionally thumbed a few messages on my phone. A few hours ago, I was some 1,600km away in Sweden. Now, I’m spitting distance from the Eiffel Tower.
And I did virtually nothing to get there.
Sure, I had to pay for the flight and wake up at an ungodly hour to get to the airport, but otherwise, I just slept as the plane soared through the clouds toward The City of Lights. The flight was uneventful, the journey relatively easy and affordable.
And that, i think, is a problem.
If you’ve ever traveled anywhere, you’ve likely run into someone doing this, someone who still has one foot at home and is, in part, ignoring the here and now. While I have something of an excuse as a remote worker, it’s all too easy these days to be overly connected to your life back home. This is one of the pitfalls of being a so-called digital nomad.
Not only are travellers not paying attention to the places they visit, they aren’t giving them a fair shake. You’ve probably seen travellers doing this, complaining about the destination they’ve come to visit. The food isn’t good. The museums are too crowded. The buses are always late. They don’t queue properly. Yada yada yada. People travel around the world — quite literally — only to pine for greener pastures back home.
And yeah, I’m guilty of this, too. If not of complaining, then of not giving the destination my full attention — like how I was on the bus to Paris. It amazes me that those of us who have the privilege to travel still find ways to take those travels for granted, even if only for a moment. We have the opportunity to experience new cultures, to embrace new perspectives, yet all we do is give it a cursory glance before we find fault.
And I think I know why.
1,000 years ago, if you wanted to get from Scandinavia to France you’d likely have to take a boat for weeks or travel overland for a solid month, if not more! Either route would be perilous, and your arrival was a far cry from guaranteed. If you wanted to travel, you had to earn it. You not only had to pay for it, but you literally had to overcome adversity to reach your destination.
These days, there’s not quite as much adversity to overcome if you want to grab a cheap flight around Europe. Sure, there is definitely privilege involved, and you will need the luxury of disposable income and free time…but after that, you just hop on a plane and hope you don’t get the middle seat. That’s our collective adversity, these days: the middle seat.
When we don’t earn our travels — when we take them for granted — we are doing a disservice to ourselves AND the places we visit. Not only that, we are passing up a coveted opportunity SO many people in the world will never get. By not giving each destination our undivided attention, we are glossing over the very reason WHY we are there in the first place. Sure, you may not like every element of the place you are visiting, but if you just wanted to be comfortable in the familiar then why are you traveling?
Travel is about experiencing something new, something different. It’s about embracing new experiences and bridging cultural gaps. It’s not always comfortable, but that discomfort is necessary. If you want to learn and grow as a person, you need to take risks and deal with new, challenging situations. Travel isn’t about finding greener pastures — it’s about finding new perspectives. We need to stop expecting the grass to be greener and start expecting it to just be different. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of that when we travel. And we need to work hard to stay in the moment, as well, to appreciate the rare gift that travel has given us. We are living in the Golden Age of travel, with budget flights never far from reach and new destinations awaiting our arrival. Yet SO many people don’t get to experience this luxury. We need to be mindful of that and remember that travel is a rare opportunity.
Because when we fail to remember that fact, when we complain about the places we visit, or worse, when we sit on the bus and ignore them, we are missing the very point of traveling.
And if we’re going to do that, we might as well just stay home.