Ellie is a 24-year-old freelance writer and hopeless hippie, currently travelling the world and writing about it on her blog, Grad Gone Global. Currently hovering somewhere around Singapore and Malaysia, she believes in travelling first and figuring out the rest later. She blogs in order to inspire others to travel, and then teach them how to do it (she does not blog to sell fancy bikinis or promote expensive hotels). Her favourite way to experience new countries and cultures is to volunteer or work there, and she’s made a habit of finding ways to go abroad while making barely a dent in the bank balance. She balances backpacking with bog-standard hard work, freelancing while on the road, and taking jobs in countries where that’s possible.
It’s an easy criticism to make. And indeed, more twenty-somethings than ever before are regularly jetting off around the world to endure sweaty night buses and contract stomach bugs.
Harming career prospects. Shirking responsibility. Pissing away their parents’ money, probably.
Except here’s the thing. We travel because the mind-set we have been brought up with urges us to do so. We travel because you (parents, education system, society, media) taught us that we should.
Follow your passion, you said. Do what you love. Explore, seize every opportunity, and don’t settle.
And then when we follow all of this advice? We are flighty, or irresponsible, or selfish.
This is not only unfair, it is also untrue.
If almost every post-30 adult I have ever met tells me they wish they had travelled more when they were younger, then how does travelling constitute frittering money away?
If so many conversations have led me to believe that people don’t find their chosen career path until several jobs and more years down the line, then why shouldn’t I spend some time early on working out my path and seeing more of the world while I do so?
If I should follow my passion, and my passion is travel, then why would I not spend all of my time and energy on pursuing it – at least until I figure out something better to do?
I’m still going to travel, regardless of criticism. Of course I am. But it frustrates me that it is simultaneously portrayed as a horizon-expanding endeavour, full of challenge and opportunity for growth, and as a complete cop-out: an excuse to get drunk in beautiful places with lots of other Western backpackers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I recognise that both of these descriptions have a ring of truth to them. To an extent, it depends what you choose to get out of it. But my point is, the former is definitely possible; even likely. It is how travel has impacted me for the past six years, and how it continues to do so now.
For me, and so many others I have met while travelling, it is not just about beers on the beach, full moon parties and elephant selfies (though we all indulge in one or two of those from time to time). Instead, it is about all of the most time-honoured clichés: broadening your horizons, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people and testing yourself beyond the bounds of the regular 9-5 life.
They are clichés for a reason: clichés are built upon repetition of an idea, and recognition of a (hackneyed) truth.
I am saying that all of these ideas about travel are right. Everything you read in every mindless sentence of every travel blog pushing the same story – it’s all true.
Travel is useful. Travel challenges assumptions. Travel breaks borders and tests limits and above all, it teaches.
As a twenty-something, I have grown up around these images and ideals. Since before I can remember, since I picked up and devoured my first Bill Bryson book, since I subscribed to National Geographic Traveller magazine and read every travel blog around (before they multiplied into the millions), I have heard this message about the value of travel repeated over and over, and I believed it. I still believe it.
It just frustrates me that the very people who have perpetuated this message simultaneously seem to want to deny it.
You said, “Go travel.”
You told us to see the world while we can, while we’re still young.
You told us you wish you’d done more to explore before you had responsibilities: a mortgage, a car, children and pets.
And we’re doing that. And it’s just as brilliant as everyone promised.
So please, don’t tell us that we’re wasting our lives away.
Follow Ellie’s blog: Grad Gone Global