It is easy to list “world traveler” as a descriptor on an Instagram bio next to “avocado enthusiast,” “recovering coffee addict,” and “Netflix aficionado.” Unfortunately, it is not always easy to purchase an $800 plane ticket to Reykjavik.
While it would be ideal for all hobbies to be accessible to anyone who had an interest, unfortunately, there exist many barriers to entry for most activities. Photography requires a reflex camera along with a subscription to some photo editing software. Music production requires a digital audio workstation and a variety of plug-ins, not to mention a basic understanding of music theory. Ice sculpting, I would imagine, would require a block of ice, among other things.
Take the example of photography. A DSLR camera costs around $350. An 18-55 mm zoom lens costs around $60. A 75-300 mm telephoto zoom lens costs around $70. A year-long subscription to Adobe Photoshop costs around $120 per year. Online resources explaining the differences between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and how to adjust exposure and contrast in post-production: free. With the starting cost of $600, someone with an interest in photography could advance to near-professional levels given enough time, dedication, and of course, financial resources.
That being said, photography is still one of the most expensive and time-consuming hobbies to break into. It is by no means accessible to anyone who has an interest in photography given the cost of entry and the sheer amount of time it would take to become acquainted with basic camera and editing functions, which are definitely things not to be taken for granted. But despite the expensive cost of entry into various hobbies like photography, in terms of financial capital, there is no activity more expensive than “traveling the world.”
Let’s take a look at a flight to Europe. A plane ticket to Zurich costs about $1,400. A round trip would cost $2,800. A night at the cheapest three-star hotel I could find was $90. A two-week stay would be $1260. Sharing the costs with somebody else would be $630. An average meal out roughly costs $25. Two meals a day would cost $50 per day. Two weeks of food would cost $700. I am going to estimate tourist attractions would cost around $30 per day. Two weeks of touring would cost around $420. A train from Zurich to Interlaken costs $50. Other costs unaccounted for.
Cost: > $4,000.
Photography, although having a high barrier to entry, still requires years of experience in order to be considered adept. It requires countless examples of failure, along with the discipline to continue even when it feels like there are some limitations that cannot be overpassed. Regardless of socioeconomic status, there exist obstacles to be overcome (although less for some more privileged individuals). The same could be said for music production. The same could be said for ice sculpting. However, in regards to traveling the world, I have trouble finding the series of hurdles to be overcome other than financial accessibility.
Traveling the world does not require an understanding of centuries of European colonialism creating the extractive institutions that are responsible for countless political instabilities found in developing countries. Traveling the world does not require understanding the fetishization of European culture in the context of cultural hegemony, especially in regards to the generalization of non-western cultures as primitive or exotic. No — traveling the world just requires some plane tickets and some money to burn.
Does traveling to another country automatically make someone well-versed in the intricacies of culture across the world? Does one trip to China to “appreciate Asian culture” automatically make someone understand why I take my shoes off before entering someone’s house or why I consider my relationship with my parents to be one of that of 痛爱 (translated: love through pain endured for each other)? Because, to me, asking for General Tso’s chicken in a store where most waiters have probably never heard General Tso’s chicken does not make someone “acquainted” with Asian culture. And no, they do not serve dog either.
One trip to another country does not mean traveling the world. Two does not either. It requires the consistent purchasing of plane tickets and countless pictures posted on Instagram next to tourist attractions in order to be considered a “world traveler.” One picture in a European church celebrating the aesthetic merits of centuries of larceny and genocide followed by another picture in a run-down South American hut next to some impoverished children demonstrating a sense of “understanding privilege.” Unlike hobbies, which are defined by the countless hours and frustrations poured into an activity, the authenticity of “traveling the world” is only defined by the number of plane tickets bought.
By no means am I suggesting that traveling the world is an essential leisure activity. It would be hypocritical of me to advocate against traveling the world. I am merely insinuating that spending money on vacation does not lead to a better understanding of the world than that of someone who has not had the resources to fly around the world. Because, to me, understanding the world is not dependent on plane tickets. I am asserting that going to Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda to take a picture without understanding the centuries of ethnic tensions fueled by colonial powers trying to prevent unification (and thus rebellion against extractive economic and political policies) is a greater injustice than not going at all.
Implying that there exists a direct correlation between the number of countries visited and awareness of cultural and historical contexts among various world populations, confounders aside, allows the same elite class of society to continue narrating the grievances of oppressed populations. If money can buy credibility in understanding the world more than education, how do we hear the historical and cultural contexts of countries without as significant cultural capital as those of developed western democracies with the liberty to exist without centuries of subjugation?
Unlike a nice view of the clouds, and an occasional picture of a bloody sunset, a plane ticket cannot buy an understanding of the world.