Why don’t you travel?
Or, if you do travel, why do you bother?
According to a number of reputable authors (and that number is two), travel is hazardous to the mind and body, overrated as a spiritual and intellectual pursuit, and entirely unnecessary.
“There is actually nothing to show that traveling is the best way to discover a town or a country you do not know. Everything points to the contrary,” writes French author Pierre Bayard in How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been, a semi-satirical guide to presenting your excursion through a couple back issues of National Geographic or 1,000 Places to See Before You Die as authentic travel experiences. “If you want to be able to talk about a place, the best thing to do is stay at home.”
Bayard contends that simply reading about—or imaging—a far-off land you’ve never visited will give you the ability not only to credibly describe that place, but to attain a deeper knowledge of the place—and of yourself—than if you’d actually visited it.
“Seldom having traveled myself and already having found myself having to talk about imaginary places on many an occasion, I am not badly placed to offer some tips to those who fear being confronted with the necessity of having to reinvent space without being contradicted,” he writes.
Judith Schalansky for her part advocates a careful study of maps and a vivid imagination about the landscapes they represent. In Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, Schalansky describes far-flung islands you’ve likely never heard of, such as Tristan da Cunha, Pukapuka, Tikopia, and Lonely Island. “Consulting maps can diminish the wanderlust that they awaken, as the act of looking at them can replace the act of travel,” she explains.
Rather than a scrupulous work of geography, history, or anthropology, Schalansky describes her book as “primarily a poetic project … questioning the truth of what I’ve written misses the point.” The islands, painted with a dramatic brush, are each transformed into a self-contained metaphor for man’s ambition, utopian dreams, and nightmarish brutality.
“The journey to these islands is long and difficult, and then landing on them is highly perilous or impossible. Even when it is possible to make landfall, the island that has been the focus of so much yearning often turns out—as might have been expected—to be barren and worthless,” she cautions.
In other words, don’t leave home.
Still not convinced? The following are five reasons you should never travel.
1. There are countries you should never visit
“The human body is clearly not made for leaving its usual habitat and even less so for traveling to lands far removed,” writes Bayard. And, as both he and Schalansky repeatedly note, the perils of travel can be formidable. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of countries you are ill-advised to visit for a variety of unsettling reasons including “unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.”
They advise you cross the following countries off your vacation list immediately:
- El Salvador
- North Korea
- Republic of South Sudan
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Central African Republic
- Israel, The West Bank and Gaza
- Saudi Arabia
- Burkina Faso
Worse is when the country you wish to visit poses no danger to life and limb, but to your long-cherished expectations.
“[There is] the general expectation that unknown travel destinations bring back to life the fantasy place where we once knew happiness and which we have been separated from for much too long,” Bayard writes. “It is difficult to access a place without immediately projecting onto it a grid of personal fantasies.”
Twenty-first century travelers are increasingly susceptible to a malady known as Paris Syndrome, described by The Atlantic as “a collection of physical and psychological symptoms experienced by first-time visitors realizing that Paris isn’t, in fact, what they thought it would be.”
And then there’s Jerusalem Syndrome, which can transform even the casually devout into Jesus Christ the moment they set foot in the Holy Land.
“Anyone who opens an atlas wants everything at once, without limits—the whole world. This longing will always be great, far greater than any satisfaction to be had by attaining what is desired,” Schalansky notes.
Better to stay home and preserve your sanity.
2. You have no time for a vacation
You are an American. You have no vacation. There’s no hope for you. Don’t leave home or you might not be allowed to come back.
3. You don’t have anyone to travel with
You are a loser. You have no friends. There’s no hope for you.
(Kidding, kidding! Plenty of people travel alone. Some of them even turn into this woman.)
4. No car, no passport, no money? You can’t travel.
In order to go anywhere more exotic than the breakroom of your place of employment, you need three things: transportation, identification, and currency. Anyone who claims otherwise is a rich gap year teen who is misrepresenting their situation.
As the anonymous souls of Reddit observed, “[Everyone] seems to love the idea of taking huge amounts of time off to go do world-traveling stuff. … For me at least, I’d have to quit my job and explain that gap in employment afterwards. It sounds great but for a lot of people I can’t see how this doesn’t end up making life much harder down the line.”
“People will post about their experience moving to another country and living the models & bottles lifestyle. … They never ever divulge even the slightest hint of where this magical money is coming from, how they’re able to bypass visa stay-limitations, or any other practical question. Any question that skims below the surface of their tall tale is met with a glib response. ‘How are you able to constantly enter/exit Columbia/Philippines/Thailand for your weekend boat races in Ibiza if your paperwork shows you overstayed your visa (a major crime in some countries)?’ ‘Oh…I just bribe the gate agent each time I go through the airport. Yolo!’”
YOLO indeed. You Obviously Lie Often.
5. You can fake your vacation
If you’re going to embellish the details of your trip abroad, you might as well go all-in.
In 2014, a Dutch student named Zilla van den Born famously faked a five-week vacation in Southeast Asia from the comfort of her own home with the twin tools of 21st-century obfuscation, Facebook and Photoshop.
If you spend your vacation (Americans call it “the daily commute”) learning the basics of Photoshop you can effortlessly pepper both your resume and your Facebook feed with the falsified fruits of your labor.
As Schalansky sees it, there is no longer a reason to explore the world in person. “Now that it is possible to travel right round the globe, the real challenge lies in staying at home and discovering the world from there.”
As for Bayard, he is certain that the nontraveler, rather than the tourist, is the one who inevitably journeys the farthest. “Nontravel doesn’t mean remaining immobile. On the contrary, the places we conjure up in our imaginations can allow us to travel within ourselves.”
Well, I’m convinced. I will do as Bayard, Schalansky, van den Born, and two random Redditors suggest and embark upon an armchair journey of nontravel to a place I have never been and absolutely will never visit: Svalbard.
That’s right: Svalbard!
Never heard of Svalbard? Come with me!