Over winter break I traveled to Cancun, Mexico with some family friends. It was eight days of absolute luxuriousness, fully living up to its mischievous reputation of all-inclusive drinks, food, music, laughter, and bliss. However, when asked what my favorite part of the trip was, I always gave the same answer: speaking my fragmented Spanish with the natives and trying to sharpen my horrendous accent. This response was almost always met with blank and puzzled stares, furrowed brows, and a handful of “but were any of the natives cute?”
Fast forward a few months to present day-July 20th, 2015- when it seems that almost everyone in America is abroad, or at least that’s the way it looks on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Now, I understand the overwhelming urge on social media to “outdo” everyone else’s abroad pictures (“my Amalfi Coast picture is so much prettier than hers”) but when I asked what their favorite part of the trip was only to receive a template response such as “getting drunk on the beach” or “oh gosh I don’t even know let me look through my Instagram,” it took all my willpower not to let my face contort into tremendous disappointment. What’s even worse is that almost everyone’s captions had something to do with a word that recently gained an absurd amount of popularity: “wanderlust.”
Wanderlust. A word of German origin, it literally means “a strong desire to travel and explore.” But I have to wonder, is standing on a pretty beach with a pretty drink in hand wearing a pretty bikini really considered exploring? Aren’t you doing exactly what you would do in America, with a debatably “prettier” background?
I’ve never been to Europe, but based on pictures I would assume that the entire continent is made up of colorful cocktails, scenic views, and hipster clothes (not unlike many places in the USA). While these things obviously do exist, it’s frustrating when I don’t see anyone taking advantage of the amazing culture all these places have to offer. Where were the stories of getting lost in an unknown city, accidentally saying something offensive in a foreign language, or finding mysterious, ancient buildings? Where was the “culture” part of the trip?
I too went abroad this summer, to a country that I’ve been going to since I was a little girl. India is known for its distinct amounts of people, flavorful cuisine, and bright, bold architecture. It is also known for its growing quantities of poverty, government corruption, and exasperating infrastructure. Considering I hadn’t gone in six years and forgot a good portion of what all this really entailed in person, I was constantly on my phone, taking pictures and making sure I snapped, tweeted, and clicked every little tidbit of my day so my “American friends” could see what a different world I was on. Ironically enough, the amount of documenting I did prevented me from truly experiencing my own heritage, a theory that proved true when one hazy day we found ourselves completely lost in the depths of a large city with uncharged phones, a minimal amount of petrol, and absolutely zero sense of direction. That day I was forced to look around me for road signs, ask strangers where to go, and keep my eyes peeled on every billboard advertisement for a clue as to where we were. And that was the day I truly revisited India from six years ago (when I barely even owned a working cell phone let alone a smart one), saw the crumbling buildings, the face of delight as a man bit into a roadside delicacy, the looks of laughter as girls walked arm-in-arm on their way home from school. Maybe being exposed to such a diverse culture at an early age is what made me look at cultures uniquely, and maybe it isn’t.
Now, I might be making a hasty generalization, and there are always exceptions, but this pattern of the “American take” on a brand new location is getting really old. I don’t have any problem with documenting your trip on social media either (lord knows I do it often). The issue arises when the documentation itself takes away from the immersion of the trip and is merely an empty attempt at appearing more cultivated than your peers. Traveling abroad can turn out to be the best experience of your life, but remember to take a moment to look around, breathe in the air, and talk to the closest native. You never know what could happen, and I bet the story you could tell would be infinitely more beautiful than any desperate attempt at capturing the perfect scenic view. True wanderlust isn’t just being in a new place. It’s marinating yourself in it. It’s an overpowering curiosity to see how others live. It’s a journey unfathomable to anyone but yourself.