Travel Torture: Personal Implications of Cultural Consumption

by Christine DeSadeleer Oct 19, 2009
Travel is a wonder, but how often do we wonder about our addiction to new experiences?

Photo: the euskadi 11’s photostream

The moment we stepped off the bus, my panic set in. No, I take that back – the moment I looked out the window as the bus pulled to a stop in Tunduma, the panic set in.

We should have arrived in Lusaka, Zambia about four hours prior. Instead, we left Dar, Tanzania two hours late, and were stopped by the police every 70K along the way. That means we made it to the border crossing way, way after closing.

So now, two white, American girls (we were 23 at the time, so I’m not quite sure I can say “women”) and a bus full of Tanzanians and Zambians had to find our way to an accommodation for the night. Guess who the crowd of locals outside the bus went after?

This memory, among others, makes me identify with what author Lynne Sharon Schwartz is apparently referring to in her book, Not Now, Voyager (I have yet to read it): travel torture. We often talk about the wonders of travel, our amazing and beautiful experiences, how it changes us and makes us better people – all of which is true.

But, there are also the flight delays and cancellations, (hopefully) getting through customs, having all of your money stolen, or being ditched in the middle of the Zambian bush with only the hope that some sort of transport would come your way say, in the next two weeks (yeah, second night of the aforementioned bus ride).

And often, our memory projects those challenges onto the big screen, warping them into something that was painful yes, but beautiful and exciting too.

An article in the Boston Globe has Schwartz quoting the French philosopher Albert Camus: “There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing.” A spiritual growth test for each of us individually, no doubt.

But are we testing ourselves and the places we visit in a more negative fashion?

Consuming Other Cultures

Schwartz continues:

Preferring to stay put is practically disreputable in a cultural climate that prizes mobility, haste, multitasking and optimum consumption of sights, sounds, and experiences. An economy rooted in the culture of greed must place a premium on consuming rather than producing anything, even experience. . . . To keep the whole machinery running and growing, we need to consume other cultures at the great mall of travel, and we grow bloated on them.

Ah, yes, not the side of spiritual travel at which most of us would like to take a look. We ponder the environmental affects of air travel, the good and the bad of tourism economies throughout the world, but rarely the personal implications of our addiction to new experiences.

The way in the West is certainly to go out and consume rather than sit, ponder, and produce.

My drive to see the world and experience other cultures took me to Zambia all those years ago, but was it also the desire to escape from myself? Maybe there was a deeper lesson for me in the middle-of-nowhere bus drop than I realized.

Do you agree with Schwartz’s negative interpretation of travel? Share your thoughts below.

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