A few weeks ago I was asked by fellow Travelette and blogger colleague Annika if I wanted to contribute an article for her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. We had spent the past months, pretty much since the ‘escalation’ of the refugee crisis in Europe and the terror attacks in Paris, standing side by side on social media discussing the reasons why all these things are happening and what we can do to change them. Already back then she had been asking me for a contribution – the ever so slightly more pragmatic player in our discussions. But I couldn’t yet put it in words how I felt about it all. The fear of political extremism, the disappointment in the media landscape and the frustration about uneducated and populist opinions. It was all to close – and yet I couldn’t escape from this reality – except for when I travelled. On the road I found a different world, a different atmosphere and a different hope for the future. This is what my story is all about – I travel to escape reality…
This post appeared originally on The Midnight Blue Elephant.
Yes, you heard me right. I travel to escape reality. But not the way you think. You probably think of all the comments us frequent travellers get to hear all the time. People who travel a lot are restless souls, never happy with what they have, not ready to settle down, afraid to make real life decisions and all that. That’s what people say, aren’t they? They think we are a bunch of unsatisfied, escapist runaways who put off living life until – well, as long as possible.
While I am no stranger to late-twenties life-angst (why am I doing this PhD again?) I cannot identify with any of these accusations; not in relation to my travels in any way. I don’t travel to escape life in a way that haters want to believe I do. And yet, I travel to escape reality. Let me explain what I mean.
I travel to escape the reality of prejudices
No matter where you turn the media are full of reports on the refugee crisis in Europe and terror attacks in the Western world – sadly, often the two are brought in direct relation with one another. Badly researched news pieces or flat wrong presumptions spread like a wildfire, conservative politicians spread their racist messages and people – in their fear of the “other” – tune in in the racist slander. Many people are in opposition, but remain quiet. Being a racist bigot seems to be socially acceptable these days.
How on Earth could you not wish to escape this current mindset in Europe? And what better way to loose all prejudices than travelling to and encountering “other” people, “other” cultures and “other” mindsets. The most important thing when travelling to escape prejudices is to actively seek out locals to talk to, ask them about their political views or how their society works, and soak up all the differences and similarities without judging them. Travel reaffirms over and over again that “our” way of living and doing thing is not the only way – and that we can all learn a lot from each “other” if we are only open to listen. If only more people would travel consciously, they could let go of their fears…
I travel to escape the reality of boring routine
This goes out to everyone who thinks frequent and long-term travellers run away from the responsibility to choose a career and make a living: you are oh-so wrong. First of all travelling actually requires a lot of responsibility, especially when doing it for months or years at once. The things I have learnt from travelling long- and short-term are valuable life-lessons, and I have picked up more than one practical skill along the way as well. More important however is the fact that routine – and I don’t mean doing the same 9-to-5 job for a few years, but the “being unsatisfied with life without changing anything about it”-kind – should be everybody’s worst night mare.
I am not saying I have to see every corner of the planet before I turn 30, but I also do not want to look back at my life one day and feel like I have not done enough to fulfil my dreams and desires.
I travel to escape the (false) reality of being done learning
I do not want to speak to soon, but once I have finished my PhD I will have more or less spent 24 years in the education system: primary and secondary school, undergraduate and postgraduate studies, a doctorate, intermitted by a few weeks or months of travelling, volunteering or freelancing as writer. To me that sounds like a pretty darn long time and I am sure you can understand that I am also looking forward to be finally finished with school. Finally finished learning – I could not be any more wrong.
I think it is easy to forget how to learn, when you are out of school long enough. I have not learnt a foreign language in 5 years and find it hard to get started with a new one. When I travel it comes back to me though. How to learn a language in order to communicate, how to combine different ingredients to make the most amazing meal or how to listen to stories to learn about history. As long as I travel, I will always know that I will never “finish” learning.
I travel to escape the reality of bigotry
Who else is sick of hearing about Donald Trump? Or David Cameron? Or PEGIDA? Of course, leaving the country is not the way to go against these people – making use of your right to vote is. Instead of getting upset by yet another ’50 terrible things Trump said about women’-mashup I would just rather travel and speak to people who I actually want to listen to. Travelling is learning, and education fights bigotry.
Now, some might say – many people with prejudices don’t have access to education, so how are they supposed to be able to afford a trip abroad? What these people forget is the best about living in a diverse and multicultural country: you’ve get the world at your doorstep. So instead of locking yourself into your living room and being scared about change, go downstairs and have a cuppa with your neighbours from around the world!
So yes, I travel to escape reality. Sometimes the reality we live in is just not the reality we desire – and the only thing we can do about it, it go out and seek inspiration for a new, better reality. We bring it back home and do our best to change life for ourselves and for others. And if you ask me, travelling is the best way to get started!
This post appeared originally on The Midnight Blue Elephant.
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.