What is it with society’s obsession with shaming other people? Fat shaming, skinny shaming, slut shaming, mom shaming, tech shaming, the list goes on and on and now, travel shaming– what is it with the travel shaming, people? You read that right, travel shaming: shaming people who either don’t travel or don’t have an interest in traveling.
I was speaking with a friend in the States, and I invited her (as I always do when speaking with friends and family in the States), to visit me in Europe. At her request, I began searching for flight deals and sending them to her every chance I got. Most of these deals would fly her to Germany, Belgium or France and she could just purchase a separate flight to Genève from there. After several polite refusals, I asked her what her hesitation was about. It was so obvious and yet, I hadn’t considered that she wasn’t comfortable navigating the airport in a country she’s never been to, alone. After further discussion, it was easy to identify with her feelings of nervousness about a situation she’s never been in. There were questions of language, safety, but most importantly her confidence.
I tried to ease her fears, gently letting her know how simple it would be and that all international airports have people who speak English who would help her, to no avail. In response, she apologized and explained that she wasn’t trying to be immature about approaching travel. That moment got me thinking: does she feel pressured to travel? By me? Did I give her the impression that I would think of her as a less bold, less dynamic, less independent woman because she didn’t feel comfortable? This line of questioning led me down a road which insisted that I examine travel shaming and the role that it plays in my life and by extension, the lives of all my loved ones who I desperately miss and wish would visit me, but don’t for a plethora of reasons.
“Fat shaming, skinny shaming, slut shaming, mom shaming, tech shaming, the list goes on and on and now, travel shaming; what is it with the travel shaming, people?”
At this point in my story, it is common knowledge that I am a first-time traveler or tourist. I fall somewhere in-between “traveler” and “tourist” by common definitions. The commonly understood difference is that travelers are the types to throw their shit in a backpack, (possibly) grab a map, and experience a location as closely to the way locals do as possible. Think of all those memes you’ve seen about wanderlust that read something like, ‘The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page’– those types.
On the other hand, tourists are considered to be those more likely to overpack everything they’ve ever needed for a 1 week trip, with a primary goal of recreating every Instagram photo they could find with the same location tag as their destination, just to be able to say that they went there. Actively learning about the food, language and culture are not very high on the list of priorities for a tourist.
In my opinion, these colloquial definitions are completely ridiculous and if you agree with them, you should address your classist and superiority complexes. I think that many people often fall between the two. Yet often those living in or frequenting cities abroad have a tendency to clearly distinguish the two, then, turn up their noses at one ‘type’ over the other. Usually, ‘travelers’ look down on ‘tourists’. Let me be clear: one is not better than the other.
But what about people who just don’t travel at all? They’re travel shamed worse than anyone. Shamed for having a lack of funds; shamed for having a lack of interest in going abroad. This shaming often comes in the form of the social media post captioned, “If you don’t have a passport, you’re basic” or “People having babies and I’m like, ‘what country am I going to next?’ ”
“…these colloquial definitions are completely ridiculous and if you agree with them, you should address your classist and superiority complexes.”
Yes, there are still reasons that people can’t travel. There are also reasons that people don’t want to travel.
While, I am of the belief that traveling changes people in a myriad of ways, I don’t think that it is for everyone and I don’t think that I’m better than anyone because I’m exposed to a constant state of change. I think that there are plenty of people who are capable of growth by moving from one state to another.
For me, travel is about becoming familiar with other perspectives and expanding my world to learn about other people’s lifestyles because they are different from my own. To learn empathy. To be reminded of how big and small the world is at the same time (who would have thought that I would befriend someone in Genève who grew up only 15 minutes away from me in New York?!). To be humbled by people and places far more beautiful than anything I could have imagined.
People have different priorities and that should be respected. The person that doesn’t travel may be taking the time to speak to the homeless person sitting outside of their job, or volunteering to assist immigrants settling into their new life in a new city. Even these actions can teach many of the same lessons as going to the farthest corners of the globe and they’d never need to leave the state they live in. The goal should be to expand one’s horizons and challenge oneself to step out of their comfort zone. The important lessons to learn are that you are not the center of the universe and that people live quite happily in ways vastly different from your own. Learn and practice empathy.
I will always encourage people to travel abroad– it really does change you in amazing ways. However, you can stay exactly where you are and make it your priority to acquire a deeper understanding of the people and places around you. As long as you are learning and growing, you are living fully, so I’m not here for the travel-shaming.