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April 7, 2012

On Being Young, Traveling and Escapism



Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir, 1881

I decided on the title of this article before I even started writing it. I wonder if the article is necessary at all; "Being young, traveling and escapism" sums up everything I have to say. (After a thorough reflection on this matter, however, I came to the conclusion that summarizing is what titles are for, and so I should still write this article).

I am not writing about being young in general, but about being a young adult in Western society. It seems that in this society, there is a transitory stage between the teenage years and "full adulthood."

In some other parts of the world, people get married and start having children earlier than in the West. In 2009, the age at first marriage in the United States was of 28 years for men and 26.5 years for women. In Germany, it was of 33 years for men and 30 years for women. (Source: UNECE)

Now, this post is not an analysis of marriage trends. I do think, however, that getting married and having kids is related to the topic of being young, travelling and escapism. When you get married and have kids, you usually start to settle down.

As a North American, when I think of being young, I think about a certain Western conception of being young and a student:

1.       Graduate from high school, and take a gap year to travel the world (or go straight into university).
2.       In university, have a part-time job. Make a couple grants a year, and travel in the summer.
3.       Do a semester abroad
4.       Repeat steps 2 and 3 until graduation.
5.       If you graduate and still don’t know what you want to do in life, do a Master’s degree.
6.       Repeat steps 2 and 3 until graduation.

I admit this was a little extreme! Mea culpa. This sequence of events was meant to be caricatural. I am aware that a lot of students do not have the money to do all this, and many do not choose this path.

There is some truth in my caricature, nonetheless. Many students work during the year and travel in the summer, and many do semesters abroad.

I would venture to say that this is a relatively new phenomenon: students nowadays are richer and more comfortable than their parents, it seems.  And they travel more.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Frederick Childe Hassam, 1888

Why do young people travel?

The quick answer is: "To see the world!"
And it is true. We live in an integrated and cosmopolitan world; reading about other nations and cultures is not enough to satisfy the thirst of our curiosity. And even seeing is not enough: We have to go, feel, touch, taste, live.

The second quick answer is: "Because we can!"
The World is becoming more and more accessible to students. Universities make it easier for their students to go study in another country for a couple of months. And although in debt, students are willing to spend money on traveling.


I’m wondering if there is another reason why young adults travel, or want to travel so much. I do believe the reason sometimes is escapism.

Escapism is probably one of my favourite words in the whole world. I like the way it sounds, the way it looks on paper, and the idea it conveys. But let’s rationalize and look at what this word actually means:

Merriam-Webster: Habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine.
Oxford: The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

Traveling is not included in the definitions above, but my idea is that it can become a form of escapism. But escapism from what?
How would I know? Different people want to get away from different things.

Even if there is nothing in particular we wish to escape from, traveling gives us the opportunity to escape from our familiar environment and routine. Everything abroad is exciting, because it is new.
Traveling provides the novelty and excitement we sometimes cannot experience as much in our normal environment. 

The people are friendlier. The food is better. The buildings are nicer. The nature is more beautiful.
Life is better.

For the time our travel lasts, life is amazing. It seems like we live life at its fullest: we make the most of every smell and taste.
The days seem to last forever, and it’s like our entire life is on hold.
Every day is the fulfilment of a dream.

We are so fully human. 
Cafe Terrace at Night, Van Gogh, 1888

It never lasts. Ultimately, the trip comes to an end, and we return home, though we’re not sure where home is anymore. It seems to me that coming home is always hard. Everything seems to be not-as-good-as-it-was-there-and-then. We become intolerant to the usual, the typical. Life could be so much more than what we know!

And the only solution to this First World problem is to go traveling again.

I think that Robert Louis Stevenson put it well when he wrote: ''For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move'' (Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes, 1879). 

In my opinion, this is what traveling is about for many young people nowadays.
Whether or not we are conscious of it, escapism is probably one of the reasons why traveling is so amazing, and so addictive. Escapism is not bad in itself! It can be very positive.

My concluding thought is more of a question: I wonder how the culture of traveling will influence this generation in the long term. I wonder if this generation will ever be able to be satisfied and settle down, or if it simply never will.


3 comments:

  1. Bonjour,
    J'aime bien ton article. Je suis d'accord avec l'idée que nous voyagions pour nous évader, et je crois que c'est la mentalité du monde actuel. L'industrie des voyages est omniprésente dans la société, et personnellement j'y vois un danger potentiel. Comme tu le mentionne en conclusion, cela peut être addictif, et créer le repli sur lui-même de la génération 17-25. Tu as dit : « The people are friendlier. The food is better. The buildings are nicer. The nature is more beautiful.
    Life is better.» Pourquoi ne peut-on pas trouver cet état d'épanouissement dans notre ville? Elle est pourtant l'outremer de quelqu'un.
    Je crois qu'en tant que Chrétien il est important de ne pas se laisser gagner par cette mentalité que le monde souhaite nous imposer. « Tu n'es pas heureux ici? Pas de problème, j'ai des billets pour la Chine pas cher ! » Ça ne règle pas le problème, ça le déplace.
    Happyness is in God alone, and God is everywhere.

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  2. I haven't traveled that much yet in my life, but all my best traveling experiences involve the people and not the place. Generally, I tend to care less about the visuals, and more about making friends. That's why I love Montreal so much. Although the fact that it's 8:00 PM and 27 degrees plays its part too.

    One of the reasons I think people should travel is to be less ignorant. I remember reading some nationalist American blog post that was basically like, "Screw learning any other language. All I need is English," and though that doesn't necessarily refer to traveling, it's kind of that attitude that the West is perfect and we couldn't possibly learn from other countries.

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