As the not so popular saying goes “Travel makes a wise man better, a fool worse.” Indeed, traveling can bring out the best in you and the worst in us.
And you’ve probably heard these clichés too: Traveling opens up your mind and nourishes the soul; traveling helps you appreciate the world; traveling teaches you humility and tolerance. And, yet, for some of us, traveling is merely a medium to massage the ego and a platform to be arrogant.
Our cyber universe is dotted with holiday pictures. Panoramic shots of idyllic beaches or selfies in front of famous landmarks – these are fine and harmless. Everybody likes to post pretty pictures and there’s nothing wrong with (a bit) of selfies. In fact, any therapist would recommend doing so, because they can give you an instant sense of self-appreciation.
But you wouldn’t believe how outlandish some posts can be. From the typical humble bragging (“oh there's still so much to see, but my feet are so tired from walking and I have no energy left to explore”) that leaves you at a loss for an appropriate response; the annoying passive-aggressive habit of people who post beautiful holiday post, but would not even tell say where the photo was taken (because, oh, that would then be showing off – but why posted it in the first place?); to blatant smugness that would make Gregory House look like Gummy Bear from the Bubbly Gummy Bear Kingdom.
One of my personal favorites is a picture of sunset captioned: “This is my sunset, what is yours like?”
First of all, this is a rhetorical question and secondly the “author” doesn’t really care about your sunset, because whatever yours look like, it has got to pale in comparison to the spectacular sepia-toned sunset, marveled by the person who posted it.
Once I came across a tweet that goes like this (if you can bear the less-than-stellar English): “I really need a holiday. It’s almost a month I just stay [sic] in Jakarta. This is not good.” I tried to find a hint of irony – perhaps buried among the undetectable wit – or maybe there’s a self-deprecating humor that I missed here? Nope. It was plain smugness aimed at turning the most congenial little Miss Sunshine into a green-eyed psycho.
And there are the holier-than-thou “travelers” with a knack of putting the ignorant tourists in their places, simply because they’ve been to more places than the average Budi or Wati (note to millennial parents: these are Indonesian names). Because they’ve been to some exotic spots where birds of paradise gather to mate and rhinos wallow in mud, they feel it’s their God-given rights to enlighten others to travel “the right way”, or at least to acknowledge their superiority. Facebook backpackers or traveling groups are rife with these horrid characters. You’ll know because they’d be the first person to burst your happy tourist bubble every time you post something informative that has become out of date or not entirely accurate.
Have you ever come across a holiday pic with streams of comments from people telling the original posters where to go, what to do and what to eat? Sometimes I wonder whether these friends really intend to share their tips or if they merely want to declare: “Hey I’ve been to this place too! Even better, I was there first.” Most annoying is when they make you feel like you’ve made a fatally wrong decision by skipping a place. “I can’t believe you didn’t go there! Such a shame!” Look, we know what you’re doing there, and it’s not nice!
Traveling shouldn’t be used to make up for our shortcomings. Lack of love and meanings cannot be replaced simply by going to every Instagrammable corner of the world. Travelling will enrich your experience, but it’s not a substitute for contentment. It is not a token of your achievement. Nobody steps up to the podium in straw hats and DLR camera to receive a gold medal for being the most traveled person. Your Facebook posts of the stunning twilight in Barbados or Palau? It will attract 100 likes and loves. But it won’t make you feel more loved than before.
If you can afford a weekend trip every month to some exciting beaches and mystical mountains, that’s wonderful! We’d like to see the beautiful pictures, Who knows, maybe we’d like to steal them to create memes with inspiring quotes. Do tell us the Do’s and the Don’ts in your holiday spots – we genuinely want to know, because these days nobody has the attention span to read a 200-page long plus Lonely Planet book. But spare us the captions that would inadvertently make us feel bad about staying home. Some of us can barely make the monthly mortgage payment; some have tantrum-throwing toddlers to deal with or aging parents to attend to. Your remark that the less traveled are the less open-minded make you look the opposite.
I have yet to meet anyone with a perfect life. In real life at least. And, yet, a look at our social media feeds give us a glimpse of perfect lives being lived, of children’s accomplishments, wide-smiled anniversaries, five-star dinners against the backdrop of a picturesque mountain. Are traveling snapshots another way to falsely advertise our imperfect life?
In 1997, in my life before social media, I did my first backpacking trip to New Zealand for two weeks, carrying a rented oversized backpack and some money earned working as a shop assistant over the summer. Halfway through the trip, my camera busted, and I lost my wallet and money. My first backpacking experience was thrown into chaos. That supposedly sweet coming-of-age trip turned into a terrifying test of manhood (minus condoms and loss of blood). I remember feeling melancholic in a ferry ride from the North to the South Island. But I also remember feeling energized with gratitude towards the end of the trip.
I don’t have any traveling pictures, but the moments are well preserved in my memory. They have been my constant reminder that despite all the chaos, my imperfect life will treat me right eventually.
Tomi Soetjipto is a 30-something dude (at heart), a self-declared douchebag who has been to 39 countries and 30 provinces in Indonesia (douchebag alert!). He hates flying economy and he’s that guy who glares at crying babies on the plane. Told you he’s a douchebag.