Thursday, January 10, 2013

Does travelling broaden the mind or reinforce stereotypes?

Several months ago there was a programme on Australia’s ABC Radio National that discussed why we travel and how it changes our out world-view. This discussion has been at the back of my mind while I planned and embarked on my latest adventure.

It was cited on this programme that one third of Australians travelled overseas in 2011 and with so many of us packing our suitcases and grabbing our passports raises the question of what do we want from the experience and how does it impacts our lives.

The reasons why people go travelling are many and varied, including seeking an authentic experience of being a strange person in a strange land as well as getting that adrenaline rush and feeling of being alive when you’re slightly in danger.

There is also an element of escapism that travelling provides - either from a dead end job, unsatisfying relationships or simply living in a sleepy city where life can go by without you noticing.

Author and writer Kris Olsson comment about life in Australia being ‘wonderful but too wonderful. You can almost fall asleep here while life passes you by’.

While we do have our little piece of paradise, it is good to leave to leave it sometimes and to gain perspective, not only on our own lives but how good we have it as a nation

The question was posed by presenter Paul Barclay to The Griffith Review’s Editor Julianne Schultz, whether the great movement of people will aid understanding or promoting tensions?

Her answer was along the lines of while Australians may get a sense of how lucky they are to living in a country where there is a welfare/heath care system, etc but these realisations have yet to trickle down to the public debate.
You can see this with the debate around Refugees and if anyone had been to a developing country, logic would have it that they could begin to understand why people would want to leave their poverty stricken and/or war ravaged country for a prosperous nation like Australia.

But no such luck, not yet anyway.

Paul Barclay went on to discuss the concept of the “Ugly Australian” who extracts nothing cultural from a trip to Bali or the beaches of Southern Thailand.

Image: Facebook - Perth WA Memes

Bali and Phuket being the places where thousands of Australians go every year to do what they’d do at home such as eat, drink and party but at a fraction of the price. It is there that the stereotype of the Drunken Australian is probably reinforced.

Image: Facebook - Perth WA Memes
But for the many travellers who visit Bali might find that they their world-view hasn’t changed much as they have been part of a similar social scene to back home.

Not to mention that their tastes and sensibilities have all been catered for by Indonesians.

This is one of the things that always disturbed me about Perth where many seem blissfully unaware of the outside world and the current issues as well as how good life is here.   

Another thing that disturbed me about Perth was that how the collective mindset is that somehow it is the epicentre of the known human cosmos. Maybe this sense of over importance exists because there is this lack of curiosity about the outside world. 

Image: Facebook - Perth WA Memes

But back to travelling, this radio programme also discussed the distinction between a Traveller and Tourist.

My take on it is that the Traveller is generally the more independent sort who is out for an adventure of their own making and openly wants their views challenged and changed. 

Nima Markets in Accra Ghana

Curiosity rules and wanting to know how others live is of paramount importance. Choosing to going out of their comfort zone and to be slightly shocked and uncomfortable are other signs of the traveller

The meat delivery to Nima Markets, Accra Ghana

Central Accra, Ghana

A normal and totally accepted activity in a Thai Hill Tribe
Image: Kirsten Donnelly

Image: Kirsten Donnelly

Imagine stints working overseas in both the western world and in less developed countries as well as volunteer workeco-tourism, development projects and aid work.  Not to mention completing studies abroad.

Volunteer project in among the Hill Tribes, North Thailand
Image: Kirsten Donnelly

Image: Kirsten Donnelly

Organising their own trip rather than relying on a travel agent and/or peer group pressure to tell them where and how to go is also very important to travellers. 

Tourists on the other hand, head overseas for different reasons. Maybe it’s to escape the mind numbing boredom of a dead-end job or just a change of routine.  Think packaged tours, cruses, nice hotels, Contiki, etc, etc.

But whatever the reason there is an element of searching for the exotic.  Like when Alain De Botton writes, 'What we find exotic abroad be what we hunger in vain at home.' (2002,78)

Travelling does broaden the mind and give you a different prospective on people, countries and the stereotypes. But the key seems to be intention and attitude.

Travel also gives you the space and time to reflect. What Alain De Button in his book on the Art of Travel is so true when he says, 'Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places.' (2002, 56)

Wat Rong Khun Temple, Chang Rai
Whatever the reason, travelling is so rewarding as there is so much to see and do. Travelling is especially cool when you mix it up and combine being a tourist and an independent traveller.  This way you can get the best of both worlds – eye opening and life affirming experiences, adventure as well as relaxation and recreation.

Riding in a Tuk Tuk in Chang Rai, Thailand


De Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel (London: Penguin Books, 2002)

1 comment:

  1. I'm not good with words so thank you for writing this as I feel the same way,you are spot on! I have never been travelling but I can't stand the people who are always going to Bali and such, and going on and on about how they have been travelling all over the world yet they have not experienced any of the culture! They seem to have no realisation about how the people of different countries live and completly miss the all the amazing things that the Country has to offer! They go there and just sit around in luxuary hotel going swimming in a pool!! Not even the beach haha! And just drink and party... Which I might ad is all well and good to go and have fun because it's cheaper and you need a break.. just don't go on about how you have been all over the world to get drunk!


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