Archive | April, 2008

The tropical isles of wherever

17 Apr

Imported from MySpace blog

Traveling is big this year. Bigger than flats and skinny jeans. It’s even bigger than tunics and leggings. Better than metrosexuality, cooler than emo music and side bangs.

Actually, it’s been big the past couple centuries or so, probably even longer. It used to be the exclusive provenance of the insulated upper classes: trips to Bath to take in the vapors, to Africa for a safari, to St. Barth’s for sailing and lounging, to Paris for debauchery.

It’s still big, and probably always will be. But has it really changed since the days of travel-as-recreation-for-the-upper-crust? Has it actually become any more accessible to people of modest means?

Listen to any white, upper-middle class college student expound on their latest trip du jour, and it will seem as if traveling to faraway places is the sole purpose of life. The starry-eyed youngsters will use overwrought phrases like “life-changing,” “profound,” and “just… just… indescribably beautiful,” when describing their fairly run-of-the-mill overseas adventures. After they’ve exhausted their mediocre repertoire of adjectives, they’ll usually end their monologue with, “You really just have to go, man. You can’t understand unless you’ve been there, know what I mean? Just go.”

Trouble is, most people can’t just get up and “go, man, just go.” Traveling is a luxury. It’s expensive. Therefore, those who travel have means. Bring this up after the conclusion of a lengthy monologue about your friend’s trip to Tibet, and they’re sure to say, “Oh, no! You just have to look for the deals. The other day, I found a ticket to XYZistan in the Caribbean for only $xxx!” God forbid you press for details about how they actually funded their most recent exploit, lest they have to admit that it was, as always, their well-off parents who footed the bill.

So where are these “deals”? Do they actually exist, or are they merely stories told to the have-nots to keep them from rioting? I have a habit of trying to look for said deals — deals to wherever, as I’m as likely to enjoy a trip to Bhutan as much or more than a trip to Kaui — during downtime on the Intertoobz. But I never find them. Plane tickets from San Diego to Peru? $1,200. From New York City to Paris, France? $1,313.

I do these searches partly for amusement, since for the forseeable future, I’ll likely not be able to take advantage of a cheap flight out of New York City without considerable expedinture of time and money, both of which are precious resources in my workaday world. The other part is I’m genuinely looking for a good deal. If I can find an affordable (read: under $600) plane ticket from somewhere within driving distance of my present location to anywhere even remotely interesting, and I have any expendable vacation time (read: uhh, yeah, no) and my work schedule allows (read: it doesn’t) I’m liable to snap those tickets right up and jet off to wherever.

Unsurprisingly, this perfect storm of affordability, available time and convenience hasn’t happened yet. Hardcore travelers might point out that if I were willing to make certain sacrifices (quitting my job, perhaps, and living off my ever-elusive trust fund?) or realign my priorities (bump traveling up above eating food on a regular basis, say, or living inside a moderately climate-controlled, cramped apartment in a town where rents are slightly out of sync with the desirability of the location?) then I’d be able to travel.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that they’re trying to reassign the blame to me. Somehow, it’s my fault that I’m not living the jet-setter lifestyle. Take this a step farther, and suddenly I’m being called closed-minded. I don’t travel because of my “never been nowhere, don’t want to go” mindset. I’m suddenly uninterested in other cultures, won’t try foreign cuisines, hate learning other languages and refuse to “step outside the box, maaan”. People who know me won’t use this flawed logic for the simple reason that they know me and don’t want me to hit them in the face with the full force of my not inconsiderable mass. But I’ve heard it used before on the Other, that great unknown mass of conservative evangelicals, those poor, closed-minded Great Unwasheds, who obviously don’t travel because they don’t want to, not because they simply can’t afford to. Perhaps they have adopted a modicum of xenophobia, but it’s probably more due to poverty than willfull ignorance.

So when I’m subjected to one of the multiannual exaltations from the just-back-from-Mauna Loas, I’m usually struck with a mix of emotions: Jealousy, irritation, and exasperation. Jealousy because I desperately want to be able to travel, but lack the means to do so. Irritation at the speaker’s insensitivity, and exasperation at the utter hopelessness of my — and many, many others’ — situation. It isn’t literally impossible for me to take time off work to travel, but it would result in a number of unpleasant financial situations for me, including but not limited to being fired, falling behind in rent, or having to sell something of value that would make daily life extremely difficult, such as my car.

The way I see it, the only way I’ll ever be able to engage in the level of travel I’d like to engage in (meaning anything beyond what I’ve been doing so far, which is taking short weekend road trips to nearby places) is to a) find a new, far-more-lucrative-but-likely-less-rewarding-and-with-significantly-fewer-pesky-ethics career, or b) find these “deals” everyone brings up in what I suspect to be a feeble attempt to assuage their upper-middle-class white person guilt. But hey, who knows, those deals could very well be out there. Right?

For you, dear reader, in a fit of optimism, I assign this humble task: Find me these travel deals! If you’ve been on the travel-monologue-producing end of our relationship, I demand it. If you haven’t, perhaps you’d like to scout for a deal with me, and we can take that long-awaited trip to the isolated tropical isles of wherever together.




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