Amidst the ongoing ‘Occupy Wall Street‘ protests in the US and abroad, I thought it was as good of a time as any to talk about how travel fits into the current global state of affairs. Sure, if you’re drowning in student debt and have been unemployed for months, you’re not exactly financially nor mentally able to jump ship to explore Europe or even less-expensive locales like Africa, South America, and Asia. That said, maybe the real debate shouldn’t be about who is to blame or ‘who’ constitutes ‘what’ percentage, but how we expect to live through this—and what ‘living’ means. While Occupy Wall Street is increasingly the heartbeat of the ‘Me’ Generation, I thought I’d turn to a recently-published article in New York Magazine entitled ‘The Kids Are Actually Alright.’ As a 1980s-conceived product of the Baby Boomers’ obsession with perfect parenting and even more perfectly-ambitious children, I feel the pain this current recession (ahem, depression?) is causing those of us who were constantly told we were capable of not just anything, but everything, if only we set our hearts and minds to it. When I first left the country (to live in China for 4 months) at the age of 16, I thought I’d won the lottery (anyone who witnessed me opening my ‘acceptance’ letter to the home-stay high school study abroad program that put my parents into even more debt would’ve pegged me for a Megabucks winner). China felt like the farthest, most interesting place in the world (it just may have been) and traveling then wasn’t just about jumping on an airplane (needless to say it took three layovers to get to Beijing when now it would only take one, if not any). Traveling to me was then, and will always be, a way of seeing the world. This recent article by Noreen Malone in New York Magazine, may explain why.The author writes, referring to a friend named ‘Desi’:
“Jean Twenge, the Generation Me author, turned me on to the existence of a concept called ‘locus of control.’ Essentially, it’s a measure of whether you think your destiny is controlled by you or outside forces. For years, young people have increasingly placed their loci of control outside themselves, and this is true of my generation more than any yet. It seems unlikely that a global financial crisis that revealed just how deeply ingrained, intertwined, and intractable are the world’s problems is doing much to counteract that trend. Yet someone like Desi manages to place the locus of control firmly within himself, centered narrowly on his own life and the people he knows. Notwithstanding what that attitude portends for social justice (nothing good), maybe it’s the only way to feel like you are in charge of your own destiny, by focusing your lens ever tighter.”
That’s as good a siren call as any to continue traveling—whether it means to a nearby neighborhood you’ve never before explored or to the Occupy Wall Street protests or to Antarctica. Because, as I’ve always believed, traveling isn’t simply about ‘going somewhere’ but it’s more about a way of seeing the world and how you fit into it. While it took me a long flight to China in 1996 to discover that fact, I hope that my generation (and all those that follow) will continue to see the benefit in not only ‘clicking like,’ but in being open to exploring those things we don’t like/are less comfortable with–whether that’s as small as bicycling a different route to school or talking with someone with views other than your own (for me, watching Fox News), to as big as figuring out how to live peacefully and happily in a world for which we are all equally responsible, and to the fruits of which we are all equally worthy.