Throughout the last century or so, travel has not only become a much more affordable commodity, but has been picked up by the likes of Instagram influencers as a full-time job. With it’s ever increasing availability, it is no longer the stuff of fairy tales for many of us. Airplanes and cruise liners are objects we spot easily, often times not even sparing a second glance at the mighty vessels. And yet, a quick scroll through social media will quickly prove that travel is still made into a beautiful fantasy by many who paint travel like a perfect fairy tale that not only brings joy and laughter, but always makes you fall in love with a new country. There is very little online about people who have traveled to a new country and didn’t like it, or didn’t enjoy themselves as much as they would’ve liked and are simply happy to be home. But unfortunately, the reality of travel is slightly more bleak. This is not to say traveling isn’t amazing, and a very eye-opening experience, but it’s not all beautiful sunsets and pretty photoshoots.
Traveling today has become the perfect way to dress up one’s life, even if only through pictures and videos. It seems as though we are slowly shying away from the sheer beauty and uniqueness traveling can provide us to instead focus on what we can show the world travel has given to us. We need to return to the bare bones of what travel has the power to gift us: eye opening experiences through which we can grow. Instead of focusing on what our travels can give to others, we should be looking inward and focusing on what travel can give us: the ways in which it can completely change and mold who we are from the inside out.
Let’s begin with an often overlooked detail. Travel, when the distances are quite lengthy, occurs with airplanes. Sometimes, even ridiculously short distances that would be easier to complete with a train or bus are undertaken with airplanes, but that’s usually the exception.
But that’s not the focus of the fantasy of travel, is it? No, the focus is usually on pretty views and crazy stories one brings home, all forever immortalized with pictures and videos redone one too many times in order to encapsulate the feeling of the moment. But travel is not about that. Travel is not about the Snapchat and Instagram stories one shares so all their friends know where they’ve been. It’s not the Instagram and Facebook posts you can upload to flaunt the memories you’ve made. But somehow, as something so unique and personal has become so accessible, it has also become immensely shallow. It feels as though travel has become a perfect vehicle to fill an empty void within people when they don’t really know who they are, or are not confident enough to own it.
Travel should be about mistakes and difficult moments that made one stronger, with laughter and happiness weaved throughout the story. It should emulate life in its rawest, truest form rather than the picture-perfect tales we flock to movie theaters and bookstores for. Travel should be clashing with new cultures and being uncomfortable and admitting that perhaps, it’s not all rainbows and rosies. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and getting lost in the moment and somewhere along the line finding yourself among strangers.
Going abroad is a strange, sometimes difficult experience that Swat students have the access to. Being almost at the end of my experience, I’ve had to face a lot of difficult days. After accepting that life does not always imitate art in the perfection of its details, faking sheer happiness on a constant basis became a little harder. Coming into touch with a culture that has very few resemblances to the U.S. caused a culture shock I never expected, and I felt surrounded by strangers who couldn’t understand my struggles. And yet, among the mess and chaos my emotions were crafting in this situation, I found myself and rose stronger than I ever could’ve hoped otherwise. And for that, I have to thank the wondrous beauty of travel when I chose to put the phone away and stop playing into the fantasy social media crafts for us. It made me realize how important our mere presence is. The act of traveling has the ability to open our eyes to our truest selves and help us see how small our place is in the world, humbling us. That’s what we should be highlighting instead of pretty photoshoots and slightly overdone social media stories. We should be using the opportunity to expand our minds and sights and improve who we are, not for likes and new followers. Because travel is nothing like the storybooks would lead us to believe — it’s more freeing than that.