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Take Memories, Not Pictures

Updated: May 1, 2020

I read an article the other day discussing how travel is becoming a new form of narcissism. I found it so intriguing because I think the author,Henry Wismayer, really hit the nail on the head.

“Somewhere amidst the collision of widening global curiosity, runaway self-absorption and increasingly unputdownable technology lurks a sense that travel is losing its capacity to make us wonder.”

I love to travel. I love discovering unknown exotic plants, fruits, foods, and unpredictable situations. As I am planning this journey to Thailand, and a backpacking trip with friends afterwards, I have looked up countless articles. Seriously. Countless. Currently there are five tabs open on my computer about Thailand and if you had looked earlier today there would have been about 5 more ranging in topics from: “best hidden beaches” “How to find cheap airfare to Asia” and “Most beautiful places in SE Asia.” Part of that is because I like being educated, I like being informed. An even greater part of me gets this tingling feeling from my head to my toes when I think of stepping off the plane in a foreign country and knowing a whole new world awaits me.

This summer I went to Europe for three weeks, and in the process, I got sucked into this mentality thinking I somehow had to justify my vacation to other people. Before I left, I was told “take and post lots of pictures.” I think it’s interesting that although I know people wanted to keep in touch, there’s also a sense of entitlement, unintentionally or not. I do it to people too, I want to see their pictures when they go to great places. But it’s so weird that it has become a cultural expectation to let the rest of the world know what you’re doing and to make sure you look cool while doing it.

This summer was my third time to Denmark, I have family there so we switch years visiting each other. As a result, I didn’t see a lot of sights, I didn’t do a lot of tourist things. In return I got to spend a week with my family in a farm house on an island drinking tea every day, eating every meal fresh from the garden and walking the fields with the cows. I would take that any day over going to “the most iconic landmarks in Scandanavia.” Yet there were moments where I was trying to justify why I wasn’t going to these iconic places. I felt this sensation that I had to prove my trip to Europe was full of the grandeur that is displayed on all the auto-enhanced, perfectly lit, beautiful travel photos on the stupid yet equally genius Pinterest.

I have struggled with this idealism in my trip to Thailand. I honestly hate calling it a trip, but I’m not sure what else to call it since at this point it’s not a permanent move…yet. It is so important to me for people to know, this is way more than a “trip” or a post college opportunity, I want this to be my life. It’s more than “helping the poor” or making someone a charity case, it’s about making someone my neighbor. I believe every person you meet has the opportunity to become a friend. Really, I do. I think that’s why I travel. Since I’ve decided to make this move to Thailand, there is a piece of me that feels I need to justify it to those around me, as if 9 months isn’t long enough to really count as a sacrifice or investment.

“If your traveling is a box-ticking exercise; if you predicate even one iota of self-worth on how many countries you’ve visited; if you think in bucket-lists inspired by clickbait ‘10 best’ listicles appealing to the lowest common denominator… traveling isn’t making you interesting. It’s just confirming your position as one of the crowd.”

Could I honestly look at less travel blogs? Yes. Am I beyond stoked that the freaking lantern festival is going to happen in November when I’m in Thailand? Heck Yes. Does that make me narcissistic? Maybe. But as Wismayer said in his article, the trick is to not lose your sense of wonder.  Don’t look up so many blogs, and “how tos”, and “Top Tens”, and “Must Dos” that when you finally physically arrive somewhere, you’ve ruined all the mystery by already arriving there mentally with researching perfect sunset pictures that will stomp all over the potentially overcast rainy day and lame picture you took at the exact same location.

I cannot wait to taste the adventure that awaits as I step off the plane and onto the tarmac in Thailand. It’s something I’ve cared about for over two years. I don’t really have any goals or expectations for my time, which might be best. What I can tell you is I’m going to eat my body weight in the traditional South East Asian noodle soup, Khao Soy, for 6 months with absolutely no regrets. Judge me. What I do hope, is I take more memories than pictures.  Even more, I pray I do not get stuck in the trap of idealism, the snare of narcissism, and the notion I am entitled to experience the “once in a lifetime” moments. May the wonder of travel, never become a routine.

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