Why Travel is an Important Life Choice, Not Just an ‘Escape’

Published by Catalogue Magazine, 02/03/2017

I’m addicted to reading advice columns. Specifically, I like the type where people write in with their crazy problems, and some underpaid intern pretending to be an omniscient, kindly, older lady tells them they should probably just make space for more me-time and have a bubble bath. Last week, though, I came across one where a woman wrote in to ask if she should move across the country to escape her needy family, and the advice columnist told her not to do it. I couldn´t stop wondering about all the possibilities for this woman I´d never met, if she just did it anyway. In my opinion, it is perfectly okay to move across the country (or continent) for any reason. In fact, I highly recommend it. We are often told that we can´t run away from our problems, because they will catch up with us eventually. But what if travelling isn’t running away from something, but running towards it?

In our work-driven, consumerist society, travel is sometimes portrayed as a frivolous luxury; a break from reality that serves no higher purpose. The traditional capitalistic markers of success are still very much significant in our lives, and travel isn’t one of them (unless it’s an all-inclusive resort or a cruise). We are defined by our work, and being overworked and stressed is somehow seen as a positive quality. As certain politicians have suggested, getting a ‘good job’ is the only way to make it. Often I’m asked whether I still have enough money to travel, and, if so, wouldn’t that money be better used towards something important like a house deposit? Here’s the thing: travel is important.

Yes, travelling is fun. It is mostly eating, drinking, meeting new people and exploring new places. However that doesn’t make it meaningless. It can even be healing. Paradoxically, I feel safe when I’m in a different continent, the anonymity allowing me to experiment and express myself. I no longer have to worry about bumping into my ex-boyfriend at the supermarket, or whether I’m visiting my parents enough, or even being late (because everyone is late, always). As a result of the language barrier I spend a lot of time in my own head, which has lead to a healthy dose of self-awareness.

After travelling in Latin America and living in Mexico for almost a year I’ve learned that travelling isn’t always easy, but for me it is necessary. I have been confronted with the Anglo-centric worldview I grew up with in Australia, and had to reassess who I want to be and how I want to live my life. As one of the most unequal countries in the world, in Mexico poverty is juxtaposed with rapid economic growth every day. In a city of more than twenty million people, I am intensely aware of how my choices affect other people. I have also encountered art, music and ideas that I never would have come across in Australia. In fact, I’ve learned more here than in my whole university degree.

Of course, it’s a privilege for me to be able to travel to Mexico at all, to be able to cross borders with ease and book a plane ticket without a second thought. This is even more apparent here, while Mexican-Americans are being detained and threatened with deportation as I write this. But there is something about the openness of strangers from all over the world that reinforces my belief that we, as humans, are essentially good. And in our current political climate I need that reinforcement.

In Mexico, I miss dessert and Vegemite and being able to ride my bike wherever I need to go. I miss cider and rain and clear skies. However, I have a new, somewhat obligatory, appreciation for public transport and chili. I also have a whole lot more perspective. So here’s what I would have said to the woman who wrote in to the advice column: You’re allowed to run away once in a while. Just drop your responsibilities and bolt. It doesn’t matter where. Be alone, make some hard decisions, and then change your mind. And when you’ve realized the simple beauty of having complete control over your own life, maybe you’ll go back home again. Or maybe you won’t.

Image: movie still from Burn, Burn, Burn. Image Source.

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