Inspiration without perspiration?

| September 29, 2009 | 15 Comments
wing1 Inspiration without perspiration?

Photo by l1mey (Creative Commons)

Recently, on Brave New Traveler, Ross Tabak asked if we could “assert that luxury and life-changing travel are generally opposite to each other?” Tabak makes the case that they are antithetical and cautions: “if we begin to blur the lines between everyday comfort and eye-opening experiences, we stand to lose the most important aspect of travel”—which he asserts is its transformative power.

While I commend Tabak for the courage to wade into the murky pool of the “tourist/traveler” debate (don’t worry, Ross, you have good company), I do take issue with his conclusion. In my opinion, hardship and adversity aren’t the primary agents of transformation offered by travel. Instead, I believe that these transformative properties owe more to the power of juxtaposition than, say, exertion. Juxtaposition implies contrast and contrast surprises. And it’s these surprising relationships that engender new questions, new ideas and new associations. The bringing about of these new ideas is part of the work and nature of travel.

Contrast and juxtaposition aren’t solely the domain of backpackers; if anything a jaded backpacker is less likely to be “moved” by travel than a wide-eyed novice that’s on his first packaged excursion. Let’s face it, backpackers—and I count myself among them—haven’t cornered the market on insight. And the transformative power of travel isn’t necessarily forged in the furnace of worry and hardship.

Now, I think it’s admirable that Tabak is examining travel styles in terms of the social worlds of their producers, but he fails to make his case. The truth is that the independent backpacker and the urbane flashpacker can co-exist. In fact, they have an obligate relationship with one another—the collective identity of the backpacker set presupposes the luxury traveler. It’s the age-old argument of identity seen through the lens of long-term travel—the ‘traveller’ relies on the ‘tourist’ to define their own identity. You can’t have one without the other.

While Tabak points towards this, he ultimately asserts that the more complete experience of the ‘traveller’ is somehow redemptive. The truth of the matter is that growth and insight are attainable for anyone who opens their eyes. It’s not the tour group that’s the problem; it’s the clinging to the tour group. Authentic travel experience does not require you to rush out to your local co-op and get fitted with a backpack—unless you want to. What it does require, however, is for you to leave your preconceptions behind, whether you leave them at a 150 baht/night guesthouse or the Westin is immaterial.

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

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  1. Shannon OD says:

    Really thought provoking article and I have to generally agree with your point of view. It’s a bit of a gross overstatement to suppose that luxury travelers miss the tranformative power of travel just because they are not on the backpacker route. Although it is certainly a different experience, not everyone is a backpacker and travel is too important on the whole to dismiss it in any form.

    If the only way that someone is going to travel is with in the comfort A/C and other niceties, well, then at least they’re gettin