Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Why Are You Here?

Written May 2

I met up with a fellow traveler today for coffee. And in our conversations I found myself coming back to a point that I’ve frequently discussed, one that seems to be a fairly important point in my opinion scheme as it relates to traveling.

If you are going to travel, travel. If you aren’t, why did you leave home?

This primarily comes out of seeing people doing it, in my opinion, wrong. There are two major evidences of this.

The first action is hanging out with people who are similar to you. It is a given that many people find comfort and are drawn to those with whom they share commonalities. That is human nature. It is the basis for much self-segregation in communities. And in a very general sense, it is what we all do. Everyone is similar in some regards. But in a much more definable and specific way, it is what causes Germans to hang out with Germans and French to hang out with French. Many of those I’ve met in hostels clump with people from their own country, sharing a language, stories of home, and joking around. And finding that comfort in those that remind you of home can be good to help relax you and keep you going. But doing it day after day to the exclusion of actually meeting those from other cultures, such as the one you are in, defeats much of the purpose of traveling.

This is actually so much an issue that I’ve met a couple people from non-English-speaking countries that have wanted to travel with me because it will force them to speak English. After all, they came here to learn English and they aren’t going to if they can easily use their mother tongue with their countrymen. And yet, in both instances, they have run back to the comforts of their own language, sacrificing their chance at learning.

The second action is doing things that aren’t unique to a place, or that really speak to the culture, or that relate to travel at all. As with finding the comforts in similarities, there can be comforts in doing things that remind you of home. And in moderation, as to keep you going, these are a good thing. But the example that I see time and time again, the one that causes me to bring up this criticism, is the Party Club I’ve met. The backpackers who go out, night after night, get drunk, sleep till the afternoon, go buy cheap booze, and repeat the process. Saturday or Tuesday, it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter how many consecutive nights they have done this. Nor does it seem like the blowing off of steam in this manner is really an earned one. “At home, partying is a way of celebrating the weekend, or taking a pause from the workaday world; on the road, every day is a weekend, every moment a break from the workaday world.” (Rolf Potts, Vagabonding)

If all you ever see is the inside of a bar, the bottom of a bottle, and a close-up view of the toilet, why did you travel around the world? You can get drunk and fail to contribute to society in your own country. And in so doing, you wouldn’t be poorly representing your nation to others.

The most disappointing thing is seeing the two evidences combined, as I have over and over and over. A group of people from one country, hanging out night after night, drinking cheap booze in the hostel. The drinking starts at 5. Perhaps, though not always, the group extends to include people from other countries. But they are backpackers as well, sharing the same travel experience. Perhaps, though not always, the group leaves the comfort of the hostel common room. Usually it is to go to the backpacker bar. They don’t meet locals. They don’t party with locals. The only culture they are guaranteed to not come across is that of the country they are in.

I’ve watched these people time and time again. They don’t anger me. I’m not standing on a soapbox yelling at them of the errors of their ways. I just don’t get it. There are many methods of living that seem like different preferences. Ways of living that are just as valid as the ways that I choose. But these ways, of living the same day over and over, of traveling half-way around the world only to emulate the same destructive lives that were paused back home, are ways that I cannot support or understand.

You can get drunk in moderation. You can drink with locals. You can have a fun time getting to know those who aren’t following the exact same course as yourself. After all, wasn’t that why you left home in the first place?

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This entry was posted on May 13, 2012 by in Australia, South Australia (Adelaide) and tagged , , .

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