While travel is a means to get gleefully lost, I found that somewhere along the way, travel itself lost its meaning to me.
Traveling has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences in my life. It started when, at barely 21, I flew alone to a foreign country where nobody knew me or even spoke my language. Life has changed ever since, and I became familiar with the methods of backpacking, couchsurfing and DIY traveling.
This first taste of travel spurred more bus rides, flight tickets and tours, but in the middle of it all, I took a pause. For more than a year, I have never booked a single flight (except ones my boyfriend surprised me with). Instead, I started rethinking the way I traveled, and looked within to identify my motivations and find out what kind of traveler I want to be.
During this break, I discovered some pitfalls of modern-day travel that I’ve fallen into. I’m sure some of you can relate to these:
Travel as a mere impulse
Sure, traveling is more fun with a hint of spontaneity and risk-taking. In fact, adventures that push people out of their comfort zones and leaping in faith deserve applause. But taking one too many “spontaneous” trips, and we’re bound to get lost on why we’re doing it in the first place.
During my travel pause, I have made it a point to be more intentional about the places I go to. This does not mean following a strict schedule of itineraries and not making way for serendipitous meetings. It only means that I identify where I wanted to go and why.
Planning trips meant researching for the best pit stops and the most budget-friendly options. It meant getting to know the place prior to setting foot on it, instead of leaving everything to luck. This kept my motivation in check, as it involves polishing details and not a matter of instant gratification and emotional stimulation.
Travel as a compulsion to consume
Most consumerist messages come in the form of “work hard, spend hard” in twisted, glittery wordings. I have come to see through hasty statements like, “You deserve a vacation”, and “Be a weekend roamer”. After all, the reason why most of us slave ourselves off to 9-to-5 jobs is that we are primed to pursue one luxury after another. One of which, is travel.
At first, I thought traveling was a way to connect with nature and people outside my bubble of familiarity. It was a fresh experience to discover beauty outside the cold four walls of a corporate office, and converse with people who are not dressed as if they are hurrying to another meeting after yours. Travel was my means to put myself and others as top priority.
But then, most messages that persuade people to travel have become mostly just a compulsion towards consumption. It is often pictured as the miracle potion to relieve overworked yuppies of their stresses, even for just two days. A quick fix to escape life. It was far from being sustainable.
We have been invited to find happiness in purchasing the next flight ticket or booking a pricey hotel accommodation. But often, the joys brought about by our momentary vacations do not last. We still hate our bosses and dread our Mondays. Nothing changed. And if we wanted to change something, I’m sure a spur-of-the-moment swipe of a credit card isn’t the answer.
Travel to maintain the status quo
Social media has altered the way we view travel. At first, I traveled so that I could get to know other cultures, widen my worldview and open my mind to amazing sights immortalized by a snap of a camera. It wasn’t just about the destination, but about the journey.
But as soon as photos get uploaded to social media sites, suddenly, it was about being seen at a new exotic place. And since everyone travels so hastily, it felt more like people are running to tick checklists of places they “must” go to before turning a certain age. Or rushing to say, “Ha! Been there, done that.”
Travel has also become a measure of success. The daily, behind-the-scenes grind that is far from being picturesque is being ignored for fancier, filter-heavy vacations that are devoid of an accurate picture of how things work. Truth is, I really would rather much have to endorse the hard work that comes in going out of your comfort zone and fighting for the kind of life you want than just seeing the beauty of so many destinations.
Travel without regard for the environment or local culture
There is a reason why I haven’t seen the sea of clouds of Mt. Pulag yet, got myself tattooed by Whang-Od, or beach bummed at the powdery white sands of Boracay. It’s not that I’m hipster enough to find these places too cliche. It’s that they are much too crowded for now to be enjoyed.
Plus, traveling has also caused damage to the environment because of poor tourism regulations and zero maintenance projects especially for natural wonders. Some players in the hospitality industry have short-sighted and profit-oriented goals, rather than going for sustainability and moderation.
An example of this is Mt. Pico de Loro, the peak of which I think is too eroded already because of heavy foot traffic. Another is the whale sharks of Oslob and the tarsiers of Bohol that are being weaned away from their natural rhythms just to feed the whims of selfie-obsessed tourists. Finally, there is Mt. Batulao and its multiple registration booths and requirements, none of which have a legal mandate to operate.
Travel to keep content flowing
Choosing travel as my writing niche also invites a pressure to live up to the reputation of being a well-traveled person. The more I write, the more I am compelled to travel more so that I can provide the most comprehensive guides, the most complete itineraries, the prettiest photos, the most accurate reviews and so on.
Soon, site views and website traffic became currencies of validation. I paused to remind myself to go back to storytelling and to veer away from being at the forefront of manufacturing travel trends that really do not speak to the heart.
Make no mistake, my wanderlust hasn’t been quelled by all these. But taking a pause and traveling slower and nearer my locality was the best decision I ever made. It kept me from being burnt out and from being focused on the mundane fluff that people tend to associate with traveling.
Altering the way I view travel – not as an impulse or need – has enriched it even more.
This article was later published at Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle-Travel Section on March 13.