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Does Travel Abroad = Less Conspicuous Consumption At Home?

by Sarah Menkedick Nov 13, 2009
What are the impacts of long term travel abroad?

I often hear talk about how travelers made a bold and courageous move to “leave behind the American dream” or “escape from the rat race” to travel abroad. Well, great, I think, but what happens when you go back?

Perhaps in contrast to many travelers and travel bloggers, I’m not sure I see the act of getting temporarily out of the 9-5 grind as inherently courageous or life-changing. Sure, in some contexts it is – but in others, it seems like a vain and pompous way of, well, to put it bluntly, slumming it, playing at poverty and adventure for a certain period of time before settling snugly back into a world of Western plumbing and three dollar lattes.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from work to travel (nor, I should add, is there anything wrong with Western plumbing), and I think escaping daily life for awhile can lead to some perspective-altering experiences, but I just don’t buy that it’s always an act of nobility to leave a cushy job with a pile of savings and hit the road for a bit; I don’t buy the frequent argument that this automatically creates a life or society changing perspective.

But this piece about how adventure travel kills conspicuous consumption changed my mind for a bit. I cringed at the opening line about ditching the American dream, thinking isn’t it the “American dream” that’s allowed you to save up for this whole adventure and to appreciate it from the distinct perspective of someone from the land of plenty?

But the article humbled my cynicism. The author talked about coming home to an overflowing storage unit of stuff she realized she didn’t need. She discusses the changes in her lifestyle in San Fransisco after more than a year traveling around the world, and how she doesn’t feel the need to fix things that aren’t broken. More interestingly, she notes how before resistance to materialism felt contrived, whereas post-trip, it feels natural.

Thinking about this, I experienced a full-on surge of travel optimism.

I have my personal opinions about how traveler quests for “authenticity” or “simplicity” often enough end up reinforcing the same dichotomy between noble poor paradise and wicked material wealth, but this article offered an alternative: taking an awareness of the enormous gap between wealthy developed nations and poor developing ones -between the excessive haves of the former and the often desperate lack of the latter – back home and crafting a different lifestyle out of it. Yes. That’s good.

And you, reader? What do you think? Do you think travel abroad -adventure or otherwise- curbs consumption? Share your thoughts below.

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