In an inspiration-intended to-do list aptly titled “25 things to do before you’re 25,” I read the following suggestion,
#16. Identify your fears and instead of letting them dictate your every move, find and talk to people who have overcome them. Don’t settle for experiencing .000002% of what the world has to offer because you’re afraid of getting on a plane.
I thought it was imperative to bold the second sentence of that suggestion for two main reasons. The first is that it implies that formative life experiences can only be found by travelling outside of one’s geographical borders. And the second is that it assumes that anyone can get on a plane at any time they desire to travel without much hassle.
While this particular suggestion may have been written with intention of encouraging readers to identify and reconcile their personal life pains, the privileged language used is exclusive and ignorant of the complex, multifaceted realities experienced by poor, racialized peoples in our communities - many for whom the idea of travel often has more negative connotations.
The self-obsessed language through which travel and travelling is typically talked about in our culture is rooted in an imperialist mode of thinking that sustains itself through othering poor people of colour. In fact, the ways of talking about travel have made it so that travellers going on vacations for fun, or trips to help others, do so in manners and behaviours that are strikingly similar to the trips that European colonizers took centuries ago when they first came to “civilize” the rest of the world.
In this light, travel discourse is directly perpetuating colonial ways of thinking: it markets travelling as an apolitical, carefree, schism-free and fluffy experience, unaccountable to historical and present violence caused by ongoing colonization. It ignores the reality that the actions of global powers are the main causes of the poverty and oppression in travel destination countries. We need new ways of talking about travel that does not equate gaining personal fulfillment at the expense of poor people, Indigenous people and people of colour.