Last Wednesday one of my closest friends set off for a 10-week trip around Western Europe. For 10 weeks she will venture from Paris to the Netherlands to the U.K and everywhere in between. For 10 weeks I will get intermittent updates from her about her travels, and for 10 weeks I will undoubtedly feel pangs of envy, jealousy and inadequacy.
These feelings will come by no fault of my friend, but due to society’s pressures on the young to travel. The idea of gap years, backpacking, even teaching abroad is one that, in at least my experience, young people are bombarded with as a rite of passage. Getting out and seeing the world is something we have to attain, or will sorely regret as we age.
But for many Canadians traveling is an expensive privilege they can’t afford–and they shouldn’t be made to feel inadequate or unworthy because of it.
The school year is coming to a close and for those graduating this time is rife with pressure to find employment or at least some direction. For a good chunk of those graduating, including myself, the race to find employment is fueled by another aspect–student loans.
For those with student loans from Canada’s National Student Loans Service, interest will start to accrue on April 30. While payments aren’t required another six months, the loans will still grow with interest in that time, adding to the already substantial debt many graduates face.
Students in this situation do not have the means to bankroll a month-long trip to South East Asia. They are, however, right in the perfect age range to be exposed to click bait websites, such as Buzzfeed, that bolster the idea that traveling isn’t just something they should think about, but need to do in order to be considered an adult. Many of the “listicles” found on Buzzfeed’s travel section feature nothing more than pictures of idealized locations and occasionally a sentence or two about the region.
It’s the wording in the titles I take issue with, in particular, the word “need.” They don’t tell readers they should, but that they in fact need to visit 17 spots in Brazil before dying. It may be coming from Buzzfeed, which is widely known for its sponsored content, but it still advertises a lifestyle that many can’t afford as something integral to becoming a well rounded adult.
This also creates a divide between those who can and can’t travel. They’re separated into two camps–one that has seen the world and one that has not. Often the latter group may find themselves looked down upon by the former.
When I was high school, there were several trips planned annually that carted students off to all over the world. Every year a section of the yearbook would be dedicated to these trips, usually with pictures of the trip group in front of an iconic landmark. Every year the faces in the pictures remained the same–they were the only students able to afford it.
This was a public school by the way, and although the trips were educationally designed, they were incredibly expensive and out of reach for most of the students. While I don’t believe those able should be denied the opportunity to travel, seeing those same faces in the yearbook in China, Europe and Costa Rica, served as a reminder those students were the ones who could afford the trips and therefore somehow separate from the rest.
Traveling the world is something everyone, regardless of age, should be able to experience. However when those who aren’t able to are treated as lesser, society needs to realize exactly how privileged it is, and reassess.