Digital nomad blog: Why travel is not the opposite of consumerism
(Before you dive in, have a nosey at our post on ‘why we’re not chasing our dream lifestyle’ for my thoughts on this as we set up our digital nomad blog before we left London).
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why people travel; about various motives and drive behind the decision to travel and all the different reasons that people give for moving around our little planet.
Travel is often hailed as the opposite to consumerism. Long-term travel is held up as the ultimate shunning of ‘things’ and a rejection of the need to accumulate things in ones own life. There is an implicit idea that someone who travels long-term is so emotionally and spiritually fulfilled that they don’t need the service of any physical item.
This can be summed up in one of the memes that pops up on my feed once every couple of weeks:
“Don’t collect things. Collect experiences.”
There are a few versions of this. “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”, and “buy experiences not toys” are slight twists on the same idea- that those who travel are not looking to ‘have’ things for themselves. There is a noble air to it, often a superior air- that those who stay in one house and who make their home aesthetically pleasing are materialistic and not quite as emotionally or spiritually advanced, or ‘free’, as those who travel.
Digital nomad blog: Travellers are not necessarily ‘free’
Even as someone who will choose travel over a house every time, this bugs me. It’s false humility, it’s simply not true, and here’s why.
Travel has, for some, become the new way to hoard. To collect and accumulate things for ones own gain, for ones ego and image.
Instead of straw donkeys or sombreros, we are now bringing back images of ourselves on a swing above the jungle (yep, I did it) or silhouetted against a magical sunset.
There may not be any tangible object to show off, but the message is still the same: I have more than you. Look at what I’ve got, or had, this experience than has made me richer.
We don’t want to be like that; I don’t want to ‘collect’ experiences. This is why I don’t have a typical ‘bucket list’- because I don’t want to spend my time striving towards collecting more things for myself.
I’ve been given enough- so much more than enough. I’ve had far more than my fair share of privilege in this world and really, what I want with my life is to give so much back that I end up leaving the planet just as I came- with nothing but my soul and my identity as eternally loved, because those are really the only things I own.
Of course I have a few things i would LOVE to do- watching turtles hatch and crawl to the ocean is one- but if I don’t get to do any of them, cool. I am in the most ridiculously small percentage of people on Earth with this level of privilege, and to spend a lot of my time trying to accumulate more- whether that’s material things or experiences- would be pretty gross.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy things, or that I won’t try to make things enjoyable where it’s possible. A bit factor that affects this that is our kids; I won’t project my principles on them and have them eat bread and pot noodle (my current genuine favourite budget breakfast) just because I know they’re privileged.
It just means that I need to keep my perspective and focus calibrated, and when I have three cheap noodle meals in a row to keep within budget (Bali cheap noodles wipe the floor with the UK’s version, btw), I give thanks and am genuinely joyful that I have something hot and tasty to eat, and that I can eat it with my healthy family in the sunshine.
There are some things that travel exposes us to and enables us to learn, that we are hard-pushed to find in another way. Meeting people from all over the world in their own cultures, becoming really educated in other way of life, having to trust previously unknown people to a giddying degree and being flung out of your comfort zone in a matter of hours are all things that travel opens us up to that nothing else really can. It is a magical thing, indeed.
So, how do we make sure that we don’t get caught up in alternative consumerism? We are keeping our eyes peeled as we travel for opportunities to help- there’s no particular who or what or why, just as we can. We enjoyed cleaning up the beach here in Sanur the other day and it’s something we’ll do again; it’s something anyone can do.
We visited a cat sanctuary a couple of weeks ago and I’m helping them out with promotion and fundraising; it’s not glamorous or photogenic but it’s something.
In the next couple of months we are also hoping to visit a children’s project that we have been aware of for several years; this will be a bigger trip with more potential for us really giving of ourselves, and we can’t wait.
So is travel anti-consumerist? Does it make people more spiritually fulfilled, or selfless, or aware, or giving of themselves? No. It doesn’t ‘make’ us anything. Travel is a resource, a fantastic, wonderful, often mind-blowing resource that we can choose to use to develop our character.
As a family we are putting together an ‘alternative bucket list’, a list of ways that we want to serve as we travel. Look out for it on the blog soon!