In Defense of Travel (As a Third-World Citizen)

In Defense of Travel (As a Third-World Citizen)

Posted in Perspectives, on June 20, 2024

It depends on your perspectives
It depends on your perspectives

A tweet and an article inspired me to write this piece. Here's the tweet (it's a private tweet, so I took a screenshot), and also the screenshot of the article on The New Yorker. Apologies to the original poster; I found it very interesting and inspiring.


The article, "The Case Against Travel" by philosopher Agnes Collard, can be read online before it gets paywalled. To save you time, here's a summary: Collard argues that travel often makes us feel like lesser versions of ourselves. Travelers can be inauthentic, focusing on collecting experiences rather than truly living them. Travel can also hinder genuine connections with others and is a way to avoid thinking about death. Here's a quote that captures the essence of the article:

"Travel is fun, so it is not mysterious that we like it. What is mysterious is why we imbue it with a vast significance, an aura of virtue. If a vacation is merely the pursuit of unchanging change, an embrace of nothing, why insist on its meaning?"

The privilege of travel

I find some points in the article and the tweet relatable, but not entirely. People who advocate for travel often fall into two categories: privileged or brave. Privileged travelers have financial stability, live in peaceful countries, or hold strong passports. Brave travelers are adventurous, taking risks despite limitations.

Here, travel is defined as leisure, not business or other purposes. We're focusing on international travel, the kind that requires a passport, involving stark cultural differences. In countries like Indonesia or Brazil, you can have shocking experiences domestically, but let's focus on cross-border travel.

Not everyone has the privilege of a strong passport or efficient government. For example, Indonesian citizens need visas for over 70% of the world, which involves costly and time-consuming processes. In contrast, Singaporean citizens only need visas for about 25% of the world. This highlights a significant disparity in travel privileges.

This means that those with fewer travel privileges, like Indonesians, don't necessarily have self-serving attitudes. They plan carefully and consider risks. Compare this to a Singaporean who can book a ticket to Paris on a whim.

There are people with limited travel privileges who still wish to travel for leisure or exploration.

The motivation for travel

If we all had equal travel privileges, would it still be self-serving to travel? Yes and no. This is where I agree with both the article and the tweet.

I used to believe travel was essential for self-enlightenment, and those who didn't travel were missing out. I thought travel would change me for the better, as the article suggests. However, I now have a more realistic view: I travel because I haven't had many travel opportunities and want to experience new things. It's not about self-virtue.

Seeing crowds at famous landmarks doesn't mean all travelers are self-centered. People have different motivations for travel and don't always look down on others' reasons, even those of shopaholics.


Collard argues that visiting museums on a trip when you don't at home is just "locomoting," making it a tourist activity rather than a genuine experience. I disagree. It's about trying different perspectives. For example, in Vienna, I attended a classical music concert, not to become an enthusiast, but to experience and appreciate it.

A trip to Iceland changed my views on how people live. Coming from crowded cities, I was amazed by Icelanders' self-sufficiency in remote areas. This experience reshaped my ideas of fear and isolation, showing that even in remote places, community and support are present.

Different motivations, different arguments

Travel motivations vary widely. My parents travel to take photos of landmarks but sometimes feel cultural shock. Some travelers believe their way is the only right way, which can be egotistical, as Collard describes.

However, some see travel as a way to gain the privilege others enjoy. They work hard, plan carefully, and travel to broaden their horizons without infringing on others.

Critics like Collard, G. K. Chesterton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Fernando Pessoa argue against travel, seeing it as limiting and superficial. They believe it narrows the mind and caters to those who can't feel deeply. However, these views overlook travel's potential for transformation.

Travel isn't just about moving or collecting experiences; it's about immersing in different cultures and perspectives. While some engage in superficial tourism, many seek deeper connections and insights. Travel can foster empathy and broaden our worldview.

Historical figures like Socrates and Immanuel Kant, who seldom traveled, didn't represent universal truths. Their stationary lives were shaped by their times and philosophies. Modern travel offers unprecedented opportunities for cultural exchange that they couldn't imagine.

Travel isn't just about enjoyment; it's a journey of self-discovery and growth. Experiencing diverse cultures and ways of life can profoundly shape our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Collard suggests travel distracts from contemplating mortality. While it can, travel also confronts us with our mortality and helps us find meaning. It pushes us beyond our comfort zones, fostering fulfillment and personal growth.

In conclusion, while travel critics raise valid concerns, they often miss its transformative power. Travel immerses us in diverse cultures, cultivates empathy, and fosters personal growth. Embracing travel enriches our lives and deepens our understanding of the world and humanity.

Thanks for reading!

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