Why we desperately need to change the way we travel

My worst travel nightmare is to get on a plane, travel 35000km across the world and find the exact same streets, malls and restaurants. As global brands like GAP, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and Uniqlo start popping up at every corner of Singapore’s malls, it’s not hard to believe that this will eventually be what happens if we don’t question what we want in the world. Even more worrisome is the fact that local cuisine is slowly dying out, recipes lost, as we indulge more in avocado toast and flat whites in the brand new cafes of gentrified neighbourhoods.

What would be the point of travelling then if we all crave and have the same experiences? Surely it must be more than just to upload an Instagram story and accumulate likes?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten a crucial aspect of travel – rehabilitation. If we were to look inward before we embark on any trip and ask ourselves, “Why are we visiting this country?” I think we would have less crowded Eiffel Towers, less souvenirs targeted at tourists selling the same keychain or I heart T-shirts. It’s become a bucket list, a hope for a new life even though you haven’t done anything different and nothing’s really changed.

Why do we visit museums that we don’t enjoy (there are those we do end up enjoying, but was it the biggest motivating factor for you to visit)? Visit cafes that look exactly like the ones at home? Or go up another Sky Tower to get a 360 view of the city? Speaking from personal experience, we do it because it’s recommended to do so, it’s the easy thing to do – have a list and start ticking off it.

There are definitely places where we should be awed by. Mountains so high and majestic, where the moon and stars shine so bright you can’t help but recognise that you are inconsequential in the scheme of things, museums that have educated and inspired me of humanity’s incredible innovation and cruelty. Yet, we can go beyond superficial experiences.

My most precious memories from my travels are of the people I’ve met. My host parents in Germany who cooked me meatballs and secretly stuffed 100 euros in my Pringles in case I would be hungry as I embarked on my backpacking across Europe. The family from Inner Mongolia who told me of their worries of losing their culture and language as we sat and talked perched next to a warm campfire. A hot chocolate cafe owner in Cusco from France who was previously an architect but decided to stay in Peru because she liked it so much. The talks I attended in the startup co-working spaces while I was in Argentina and Hungary.

These memories have impacted my own world view so more than any sculpture, mountain or museum ever could. They have warmed my heart and broken it and reminded me of creativity at every corner of our little blue planet. I don’t know how significant they will be in my work, but I will definitely be more deliberate in seeking out these tribes of people and deeper experiences in the future.

Highly recommend for anyone “brain travelling” today, Alain de Botton’s Art of Travel.