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What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Some Thoughts: Travel and Privilege

I'm not a world traveller. The list of countries I've visited is, by comparison to most you encounter abroad, minimal. Still, I've been places. Some international, some not. I consider myself exceptionally well-travelled within Canada. Particularly within my home provinces of Ontario and Qu├ębec. I've been to diverse regions of the United States, I've seen four countries in Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia), and I recently returned from South America, where I spent two weeks in Chile.

This post is the third in a short series about my adventure to Chile. In my first post I detailed my personal experience with seeing South America. In the second, I talked about the socio-economic realities of modern Chile. This post is the one I was looking forward most to writing: I'll be discussion the dynamics of travel in the globalised capitalist world.

The logical starting point seems to be to talk about the evolution of travel. It is characterised by many as a modern phenomenon, but I don't believe that's a good fit. Here's why. In a Western context, travel has always existed, though those who could travel were almost exclusively society's elite. It was a function of wealth, since those with little resources could not afford to pick up and leave. It was similarly a function of social status, where only those who were particularly well-known would be able to cross borders without much trouble. As a result, travel was privilege. The only experience that most people would have with travel would be moving, which was an uprooting experience felt by many who were rich and poor. Some were forced, such as Palestinian Resettlement, the Acadian Expulsion, the Trail of Tears, or the Boers interned in South Africa. Others made more voluntary moves: In the eighteenth century German farmers would relocate to urban areas, in nineteenth century America settlers would move west, and in twentieth century Britain, tens of thousands would leave by ocean liner.

Notions of travel changed with the so-called creation of the middle class. In the 1920s most western societies became stratified based on income and a middle class emerged with access to resources and, more importantly, free time. Travel at this point consisted of being able to go from town to town, something which became all the more common with the Great Depression. Riding the rails became a means not only of finding work, but also of experiencing a world larger than that of your farm or neighbourhood. This was a generation finding itself through easy-to-access travel. In the post-war period, the car became the way to experience travel. Most developed countries established networks of highways, like France's Autoroutes and the United States Interstate System. People could travel further and faster, and with more flexibility, but now it required more privilege: access to a car. In the 1980s it was all the hype for North Americans to go to Europe to "find themselves". Backpacking around Europe became a rite of passage to adulthood, one awarded to predominately white, middle class, North Americans. Several decades later, it's now Thailand, Vietnam, or Korea. Again, it's a reflection of privilege. You have to be able to afford flying.

Having just flown down to South America, I can safely say that airfare is a significant financial obstacle. A round-trip flight to Santiago was over one thousand dollars. I had to absorb this large cost, something which my privilege afforded me, allowing me access to South America, where my currency has strong buying power. This allowed me to travel very cheaply. Taking intercity bus rides for about five dollars, having dinners that cost less than ten dollars, and staying in hostels for fifteen dollars per night.

I was aware of my privilege in travelling - that historical forces had created an uneven world that allowed those with the advantage to experience the world. However, I felt as though this didn't strike my fellow travellers. We all made more impacts on the societies we visited than we might realise. From jet fuel, to supporting black markets, to reprioritising how resources are allocated, travelling damages the planet and society at the local and international levels.

All this to say, I'm aware that our generation is one raised in a travel culture. The message to relatively affluent North Americans is that the world is there to be discovered. Look on your Facebook news feed and see how far you can go without seeing someone's pictures for a recent trip, someone talking about travelling, or an ad on the side telling you about hotels or flights. It's difficult, but it's a representation of the value that's placed on travel in our society, something that is instilled into us in order to support a massive international industry.

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