5 Things I Learned From Traveling Around the World in 2016
1. In the New Year stop writing silly travel blogs.
Let’s be honest. The world doesn’t need another shit travel blog. It doesn’t need to hear the same story we’ve all heard a million times. If you’re attempting to go viral with your amazing stories of petting mistreated elephants in Vietnam or doing some yoga in Colombia then please stop.
If you’re going to do something about travel then please do something beyond a vanity project where you try to make everyone feel jealous of you and remind them of how fantastic your life is. The sad truth is that anyone with a thousand Euros can book a ticket and open up an Instagram account. Traveling does not make you exceptional. It hasn’t worked for thousands of others and chances are it won’t work for you. Instead, actually try to make a unique contribution to travel writing. Write the travel article you wish you had found when traveling. If you do that then chances are you’ll be far more successful than you ever imagined.
2. If Europe has any hope, people should start looking eastwards.
Seemingly, the beautiful notion of Europe has become incredibly passé and unfashionable. All the symbols of the 12 stars and those great scholarly institutions that paid us to get drunk no longer cut it. The masses no longer see Europe as a beautiful idea but an outdated pain in the arse.
The truth though is that the major centres of Europe such as Paris, London, and Stockholm have increasingly priced young people out, becoming static, and turned into the playground for rich hipsters and douchebags who work in finance. The majority of Europe has lost any sense of a radical youth culture because those of us that came to maturity during the post-2008 fallout have found ourselves largely working in precarious employment while our cities have been transformed to reflect a reality that has nothing to do with us. Thus, much of Western Europe has become static and culturally backwards.
In contrast, we’re seeing a newfound confidence within Eastern European cities like Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Tirana, where young people are utilising cheap rent, lack of governmental regulations, and cheap booze as a means of re-establishing what Europe is meant to be: a challenge to the American hegemonic wave. In so many ways, these non-European Union centres have looked to challenge their status quo to progress culturally. You see more businesses, art galleries and music spaces in these cities; places that reflect our generation by keeping alive the belief that Europe has to be so much more than just another America with cobblestones.
3. Travel isn’t actually always the answer.
I spent most of the spring drinking heavily and making sound recordings for an incredibly massive (ultimately failed) project from Tbilisi to Tirana with an American friend. It was rather taxing. I spent the majority of my time hanging out in shit suburbs of cities like Skopje and Kyiv, while trying to avoid getting robbed by “gopniks” (eastern European chavs), horrifying local friends by getting drunk with the occasional homeless man, and eavesdropping on conversations I didn’t understand. It was draining.
I went home and spent a month with my parents which was so refreshing and the smartest thing I did. However, within a week I booked a flight back to Kyiv, got a girlfriend, stopped the non-stop travelling, and was altogether really bored. Travel wasn’t what I needed. Sleep, sobriety, solitude, and maybe a gym was.
Sometimes you need a prolonged break of staying in on Fridays, eating your mother’s uber-vegan cooking, and reading Adichie to remember why you actually travel, instead of just booking shit for the sake of it. I finally took a break during a good percentage of the fall and I’m back now to loving travel all over again.
4. The true measure of societal development is when people stand up on airplanes.
Economists, sociologists, political scientists, and other people far smarter than you and I have attempted for years to come up with some metric for societal development. Some attempted to measure it using GDP, literacy, average life expectancy, gender and economic equality, and a whole variety of other types. After taking roughly 100 flights this year, ranging from a diverse array of countries, Ukraine to Bahrain to Germany, I think I finally figured it out.
The problem is that countries are full of contradictions. Georgia is poor as fuck but has the highest percentage of university graduates in the world while Saudi Arabia is rich with extremely high illiteracy. How to come up with a pseudo-scientific method to solve this?
My theory is the key indication of a country’s development is measuring the amount of people who stand up after the flight has landed but the seatbelt sign is still on. The theory goes that if the people don’t stand up and listen to the rules then they are more likely to abide by rule of law and believe in fairness. In contrast, flights with a majority of people that ignore the rules are more likely to be more corrupt and unfair. Chances are that if you’re going to have to pay a bribe during your holidays then you’ll notice the local people standing up before the seat belt sign is switched off. I think this is a bulletproof idea to present at a party and might lead to a conversation where I get laid.
5. People are horrible, but our horribleness is occasionally lovely.
Everyone in this life is horrible, bar my mother (and hopefully yours as well). We’re selfish, we like to cheat, we’re egotistical, and if the opportunity arises for us to get away with something illegal then we’ll certainly do it. I include myself in this list. However, our horribleness has been nothing short of a lovely inspiration this year.
Existing in all of us is an absolute stubbornness that, regardless of facts or figures, continues to march forward because we believe it is right or we’re in love. Throughout this year, I’ve encountered so many examples of this where I have seen both men and women be confronted with absolutely dire conditions but resiliently push on because love is worth it. There is something amazing about knowing couples of mixed religion or races who refuse to allow that bullshit to stop them. I met gay men in homophobic countries who risk it all to be themselves. I know lovers that refuse to allow distance to be an impediment in their desire to love the person they belong to. It overwhelms me at times.
We need to love our horribleness sometimes because that sense of irrationality and relentlessness enables us to aspire for the best. It will be our horribleness chased by our love that will enable us to move into 2017 with hope. I don’t know a lot of people who think 2016 was the greatest year ever but I know a lot of people that want 2017 to be. I am hoping your horribleness and love guides you throughout the year to nothing more than joy, good Tinder dates, more chances to see your parents, positively negative STD tests, and the occasional first class upgrade.