I read a blog post not that long ago about the narcissism of traveling and the next extension of that, travel blogging. The idea was that those who travel these days are inherently narcissistic, and are becoming increasingly passé about the world at large. That certainly cannot be us or any other travelers we know, right? What in our minds distinguishes us from “those” other travel blogs? Nothing. It is okay that someone had a similar experience before, or that they have their own blog post on that city, town, region, or beach for that matter. If you don’t like a place, you are entitled to your own opinion, and if you enjoy something make sure to share it too.
“You travel for yourself.”
You travel for yourself, and that it is inherently narcissistic; and if you write that too is inherently narcissistic. Sylvia Plath said, “I think writers are the most narcissistic people. Well, I mustn’t say this, I like many of them, a great many of my friends are writers.” That would mean that all travel writers must be self-obsessed assholes. Sort-of, Plath has always been a bit bleak anyways. Writing and traveling are introspective affairs. They force the participant, the traveler, and the writer to look in towards themselves, some, more so than others. To combine the two requires some form of an ego, something that says
“I want people to value my personal experiences.”
Or that the writer feels they can better sort through their own sentiments with an audience. Then again, everyone who travels must have some form of an ego. Does that make you a bad person? No, you’re no different than anyone else. Traveling is just as much rooted in the real world as a pharmacist, ironworker, photographer, or sales representative. The end of the day we are all working for ourselves (those with a family choose that too, don’t tell me you work for your children). We’re all questioning ourselves. Life is a struggle, writing can be a struggle, traveling can be a struggle. There is a large difference, though, between an accountant and a car salesman. Forget the constant unfamiliarity. There is a deeper emotion at the heart of it, which is conflict.
“Constant conflict within themselves.”
Travelers are faced with constant conflict within themselves. Especially, those of us from developed nations where we are given tremendous opportunities. Anyone afforded the ability to travel freely cannot avoid some form of guilt. Often, we witness the division of wealth in developing nations with extreme poverty, we are faced with the inadequacies of our own society, or our beliefs are challenged by people with different ideologies; It is a confrontation with the struggles of life around the world. As we travel, we meet and share experiences with people who do not have the same opportunity as ourselves; yet, we feel we can relate to them. Can we? More importantly, can I? I come face to face with this contrast. A contrast I would not be presented with where I was born. There are no slums in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bad neighborhoods? Yes, of course, but that and the poverty seen in other nations hardly compares. Life it seems is a constant struggle. This contrast doesn’t have to be an epiphany either; it could be as simple as a revaluation of priorities while on a family cruise. Maybe that conference call isn’t so important.
“You’re a better person, right?”
That means travel makes you a better person? No. To me it’s an increased awareness, an understanding of the world at large and your place in it. It is not some enlightenment. It is not about knowing what it is like to be Thai, Italian, or Moroccan simply because I spent an extended amount of time in that country. You’re not going to go to a yoga retreat in Rishikesh, and understand the meaning of life. To me it is a realization of how much I do not know. I am not expert on Central Asian Politics, the fall of Yugoslavia, or the identity of an Arab. I do not know the struggles to be a Latvian; sorry, Californian bro who tried to explain this to me, but you don’t fucking know. I would be insulted if a Latvian told me what it was like to be an American. What I do know is what I do not. Travel has taught me that naivety, ignorance, and assumptions to situations, people’s sentiments, feelings, ideas, and groups is a dangerous thing. Traveling for myself has taught me that this awareness spurs growth. And growth can be one of the most important aspects in life.
“You get what you give.”
You should ask yourself “Is this truly narcissistic?” If travel were causing someone to grow as a human being, then I would say no. That does not mean that travel and personal growth go hand, and hand. It is entirely possible to go somewhere and not return with a different point of view. It’s dubious that a week on Haad Rin face down in the sand surrounded by buckets of alcohol is going to cause any sort of personal growth (best case scenario an aversion to flaming kerosene soaked ropes, or plastic buckets). I think you get what you give. That the cruise through the Caribbean may offer just as much to a particular person, that another would find traveling through Western Africa. It isn’t about volunteering at some orphanage or teaching English, which is wonderful. A traveler robbed on the streets at night may find a silver lining. If the traveler makes some personal growth, and that affects another positively than travel is not narcissistic.
“Traveling isn’t narcissistic.”
It doesn’t have to be filled with great moments, vivid sunsets, or transformative interactions; travel is moments in time. Moments that can be a sentence said to you at an airport, or summiting a mountain. Travel and life are a collection of those moments some good, and some bad. The unfamiliarity just adds some spice to it all; it spurs growth and grounds the traveler to reality. So, don’t tell me that travel is narcissistic, except that it is.