Farhan is 32. He is smart, funny and confident. He talks intelligently and entertainingly on a wide range of subjects from South African politics to Formula 1 championships. He has a job that sends him all around the world, a lovely house in Richmond and a beautiful wife and child. He is, by all measures, a successful product of modern western society.
Then there is Anna, also 32. Anna is a freelance writer and author who has written for all the major broadsheets. She is beautiful, sweet natured and, like Farhan, smart, funny and confident.
They are two of my most interesting friends, which is why I was so surprised when they both independently told me that they don’t like to travel. In my mind, an interest in seeing the world was just a natural subset of being an intelligent and cultured person. How could they not want to do it?
And therein lies the greatest myth in travel: that everyone should do it; that if you don’t, you’re somehow less interesting, less cultured than the teeming masses who dutifully trudge up the Inca Trail or jostle for space in the Sistine Chapel every year.
In truth, travel is not for everyone. If, like Farhan, you like your creature comforts, there’s no shame in not wanting to squeeze yourself onto a Mumbai train with temperatures unsafe for transporting cattle or spend a night on a ship crawling with cockroaches. If, like Anna, you don’t enjoy the hassle and stress of travel, there’s no shame in staying at home with a good book instead. It doesn’t make you an inherently uninteresting person.
And, of course, the flip side is even truer: a propensity to travel doesn’t make you an inherently interesting person either. Like Mark who I introduced in 5 things travel writers don’t tell you, travellers can be some of the dullest, most intolerable people you’ll ever meet. Hell-bent on regaling you with their oh-so-unique experiences of backpacking across Asia, they will drone on about that wonderful eco-lodge up in the mountains or that hidden village you just must get to – all of which is usually in the guidebook anyway.
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Personally, I will always extol the benefits of travel: it’s fun, it’s eye-opening and it provides perspective, but I’ll also try to remember that it’s fun for me, eye-opening for me and provides perspective for me.
In some ways, travel is like having children. For some, it’s an essential ingredient of a happy and fulfilling life while others prefer to spend their time, energy and income on something they enjoy more. People who tell you that you must travel, in the same way that people tell you that you must have children, are blind to the fact that we are individuals, fulfilled by different things in different ways. So, travel if you want to, stay at home if you don’t. Just don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for choosing one over the other.