Climbers walk over bodies to queue at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Voluntourists put their intention over their impact on damaging mission trips. Travellers trample on native flora, disrespect indigenous land and damage sacred sights for the perfect “insta” shot.
We all know that capturing snippets of your life allows you to turn passing moments into lifelong memories, but social media has destroyed the true meaning of travel in almost every sense. We’re in the midst of the Anthropocene, the era of mass tourism, the digital age… Humans are having such a devastating impact on the world around them, and sadly travel is no different.
People no longer do things because they truly want to, but because the online world has made them feel like they should. They crave the gratifying feeling that’s obtained when someone admires their travels and the number of activities they’ve ticked off their bucket list… The ego blinds them from the destruction that is caused by the mindset of “doing it for the gram”.
The true meaning of travel — to learn more about other cultures, to diversify the mind, to connect with other human beings and to lose a part of yourself that you no longer need — has simply been lost in the madness of social recognition.
I bet you’ve heard the saying, “if you didn’t post it on social media, did it even happen?“, but this has got to stop.
So I have a question for you, and I want you to answer it honestly…
Would you still travel if you couldn’t tell anyone about it, take any photos, post on social media, or share it online?
Think about it. You can’t tell anyone about what you’ve experienced. You can’t capture it. You can’t post it for your followers to see… You simply have to keep it to yourself; living fully, deeply and entirely in the present.
Imagine you’re swimming with humpback whales in Tonga, observing the incredible wildebeest migration in Kenya, standing in front of the Taj Mahal, watching the Northern Lights in Iceland, or climbing to the top of Mount Everest… But everything you’ve just experienced has to be kept to yourself.
Would you still do it?
If you answered yes, and you truly mean it, you are what we need more of in this world. The people who pick up trash without searching for praise, who do ethical volunteer work that doesn’t look “instagrammable”, who would happily turn down an experience out of respect for the local people who requested it, and who wouldn’t step over a body to reach the summit of Mount Everest, but who would stop and help them live instead…
Mount Everest – the beautiful natural wonder it is – has become the epitome of mass tourism, and I’m sure it comes as no surprise that most of the people queuing at the summit are doing it for social recognition… Because they want to be known as one of the few (well, maybe not so few) people that have made it to the roof of the world.
But if you are comfortable with climbing over a dying person, disregarding local customs, ignoring the damage caused from voluntourism in the name of “good intentions”, or harming flora and fauna for an Instagram photo, then I’m afraid you’re in it for the wrong reason. It’s not enough to want to “conquer”, to “challenge”, to “capture” or to “feel good about yourself”, when it’s so very visible that it’s causing a world of harm.
This ego-driven mindset is what allows travellers to push their ideologies onto other communities, to treat locals and their land with disrespect, and to risk their own life or those they’ve paid to assist… We have lost what it means to be a decent human being, all in the search of an inflated ego.
Now, this is not to say that you should never take another photo on your travels (I certainly will)… The point of this is to get you thinking – long and hard – about why you do what you do. Are you going somewhere because you truly want to and you have a deep yearning in your heart, or because you want to quickly tick it off your ever expanding list and share it endlessly with the world?
Are you going on this volunteer trip because you actually want to help, or because you want to feel good about yourself? Are you being open minded, or are you letting your ego blind you from other perspectives? Are you travelling because you love it, or because you want to create content and share it online?
What happened to the idea of travelling for the love of everything that travel brings; the deep connection to fellow human beings, the longing for nature, and the beautiful, messy, life changing journey it almost always is. Why is it ok that we put our ego before the needs of the environment and the local people? Why is it that we let our ego control what isn’t ours to be controlled?
I think it’s time that we forget the bucket list and reconnect with what travel truly means… You’ll quickly realise that the journey itself is the most beautiful part, and that ticking something off your list, or having a camera to capture the moment – although a wonderful addition – is actually totally irrelevant to what travel is all about.
The selfie you take, the likes on social media, the approval you might receive from others, is nothing if you’re causing harm along the way… So, you want to be a better traveller? Start by kicking your ego out the window.
Now, tell me… Why do YOU travel?
Let’s have a discussion in the comments below!
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