Dear critics; Yours truly, an Insta-loving travel blogger:
Wanderlust has been splattered all over our newsfeeds. Friends and public personalities alike now blatantly and unashamedly brag about their exotic holidays and foreign adventures via an impressive array of social media outlets. I will be the first to admit that I have spent hours on Facebook and Instagram scrolling through other people’s holiday snaps with frequent sighs and occasional outbursts of “Oh, I am just so jealous! Look at that gorgeous Hawaiian beach! Oh, and those Roman streets! Beautiful!” It seems that travel has suddenly burst onto the scene as an essential experience. It is the new craze, the new “thing to do”, and consequently it has become a booming business.
Recently, among the happy snaps and blog posts, I have seen an intense backlash against supposedly entitled youths who travel the world. The Internet seems to be divided between a generation of dreaming wanderers and a generation bemoaning the fact. Heated debates over whether youths should be spending money on holidays or home deposits have become common. It seems that in a world of increasing debt and sky-rocketing house prices, young adults who choose travel over settlement are being characterised as selfish and irresponsible money-wasters by the aforementioned settled (and usually much older) adults. As a young Australian Arts graduate faced with these ever-increasing house prices and the pressure of hunting down a stable career, I find it extremely hard to sympathise with this rather critical view of harmless holiday-makers.
However, there is another debate which has emerged; that between those who can and those who cannot afford to travel. The increasing popularity of travel blogs and groups on social media dedicated to travel, as well as the aforementioned issue of settling down being so incredibly expensive, have created an expectation that young people adventure into foreign lands in order to be enlightened, more interesting and all-around “better” people. I’ll admit it – I myself have written blog posts about my own educated state post-travel. But for a large portion of the population, this is just not a reality. Most young adults can only dream of domestic vacations, let alone epic journeys across continents, and the closest that they will ever get to those gorgeous Hawaiian beaches and beautiful Roman streets is through the travel porn flooding their feeds.
I acknowledge this, and I acknowledge that I am one of these bragging brats who shamelessly advertises and flaunts her privilege. When I returned from my university exchange in Pavia, Italy, I jumped right on the travel bandwagon. I began a travel blog. I opened an Instagram account. I was #inspired. Nearly two years later, I am still going, dragging out the anecdotes and photographs to prolong my travel-hangover.
So I am one of the spoilt youths. I am an egotistical braggart. I am that annoying friend who bombards you with #vacation #sunset #jetsetter.
But not one person ever asked me why. And this is what I find interesting. Critics have thrown all travel bloggers and photographers into a very restrictive box. We are all supposedly rich kids who are pre-emptively spending our parents’ inheritance, or irresponsible individuals dodging “life” and avoiding adulthood by globetrotting.
I am neither. I went on exchange to Italy because it was a compulsory component of my language degree. Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to afford to travel while I was there. And it was an amazing experience – just read my blog.
However, there are other things behind my wondrous tales of breathtaking journeys and humorous escapades, behind the stories of gelato in the piazza and nude Spaniards in the corridors, and all of the other hilarious/shocking/amazing things which I have written about. What is hidden by my blog is the fact that for half the time I was in Italy, I was not happy. And that is a euphemism.
Bubbly and excitable and (usually) full of life, something in me snapped while I was away from home. I crashed and I burned. Spectacularly. And only those who sat next to me while I sobbed in the college kitchen will ever understand the extent of it all.
When I returned, I realised that I had changed as a person. Something had clicked, and my relationship with the world around me had shifted. Something had gone incredibly wrong.
I kept no journal while I was away. So I started a blog as a way of recording my travels and my adventures and sharing them with family and friends. It was a much easier way of answering the consistent cry of “So tell me about your trip!” with which I was overwhelmed when I arrived home.
But it was also a way of reminding myself that these incredible experiences did exist. A way of remembering that my trip was not defined solely by the hours which I spent crying in bed, locked alone in my college room. A way to overshadow the Skype sessions during which my parents helplessly tried to calm my sobbing from the other side of the world.
I anticipate the possible backlash which my comments will generate. I already have some readers’ outcries against my unhealthy “suppression” of an unhappy mental state.
No, I am not attempting to ignore that there was a problem. I can’t deny that my emotional breakdown was part of my experience. It formed that experience and it had an impact on who I was and what I did when I returned. And I’m not just talking gentle ripple-effects here – I’m talking a tsunami.
So, no. I cannot and I will not ignore or deny my experience. But I do reserve the right to creatively cope with it in a way which I see fit. Sure, my posts may seem self-indulgent and narcissistic. But hey, maybe I am just trying to make you laugh about my dysfunctional hotel in Barcelona. Or maybe I want to express my gratitude towards my wonderful Hungarian tour leader and the opportunities which she created for us. Or maybe my photographs are reveling in the beauty of the place, and not the money which I spent to reach it.
So to all those critics of the young and restless, I see your indignant articles about money-wasting youth who are taking advantage of social media to create unrealistic expectations and manufactured self-images. I understand these criticisms. But it is important to also understand that there is far more to us young travellers and our wanderlust that your manufactured image of us represents. Sure, we are chasing sunsets and have wild hearts. Yes, we may hate the idea of being stationary and paying off a mortgage. But maybe we need to widen the debate beyond the realms of what social media allows us to represent, and to acknowledge that there are other factors to the blogging craze sweeping social media.
Maybe I’m not subscribing to an Instagram-loving, nomadic stereotype purely so that can shove my foreign adventures down your throat. Maybe, I am purely – God forbid – purely sharing a light-hearted story and a couple accompanying images and hoping that someone out there finds it mildly entertaining.