*This article was originally written for HerCampus.com by the same author, to see the original piece, visit www.hercampus.com/life/travel/why-im-sick-seeing-your-wanderlust-instagram-photos.
Please, spare me the Instagram pictures of your family vacation to Cancun with the hashtag “#wanderlust”. Call me a travel snob, but I have no interest in hearing about how your all-inclusive resort package is the definition of an enlightening cultural adventure. Your expensive color-block bikini and umbrella drinks are indicative of the fact that you took a vacation, not traveled—And trust me, there is a difference.
American culture glorifies the buzzword “wanderlust” and consequently misconstrues it into some Tumblr-esque sensation involving enviable Instagram photos and Snapchats with noteworthy geofilters. “Traveling” in the year 2015 has been denigrated to nothing more than finding the most admirable angle to photograph the Eiffel tower in an attempt to maximize “likes” on Instagram.
We are so quick to self-label ourselves travelers—to have the desire to go to new places, beautiful places, boast-worthy places. Yet few of us actually take the time to learn about the culture of the places we visit. We fail to make the basic effort to learn about the history and the people and the communal issues surrounding the places that we feel so entitled to enter. Beyond the beaches and the picturesque tourists destinations are thousands of years of culture, history and socio-economic injustice perpetuated by tourists who go to these destinations with the intent of using the developing world as their playground.
“Voluntourism,” or volunteering abroad as a tourist, is a booming business, raking in nearly $173 billion a year. This lucrative form of commercialization is masked behind the altruistic facade that makes voluntourism so appealing. Voluntourists, even those with good intent, are eager to go to countries they know very little about to help people they do not understand—And inevitably, the volunteer trip centers around the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves rather than the communities they visit. The gaps in culture, background and privilege are evident, especially on social media where locals become props for Facebook profile photos, devaluing the original purpose of volunteering abroad. Working in the developing world should not be for the fulfillment of one’s ego, but rather for meaningful change and the expansion of one’s worldview. The exchange should be mutually beneficial, not a showcase of first-world privilege.
As someone who has seen both the pristine chateaus in France and the beaten-down shanties in Pakistan, it’s hard to simply ignore the fact that so many tourists are so oblivious to their surroundings, romanticizing their travel by labeling it as “wanderlust” or a moral crusade to change the world. I understand their heedlessness, though. Last summer I spent my days roaming the cobblestone streets of Europe with a pen tucked behind my ear and a notebook in hand, wandering from place to place, searching for something glamorous, something European to write about—But I seldom spent time trying to understand why there were children begging on the streets instead of in the classroom, or thinking about the large socio-economic divide between immigrants and European natives. Those things weren’t romantic or glamorous, and at the time I felt they were irrelevant to my European experience. It’s only now, looking back on the experience, that I consider those haunting observations. They serve as a painful reminder that while I was out trying to fulfill my Lizzie McGuire-esque European fantasy, the world I painted in my writing was far from reality.
I wholeheartedly encourage travel—real travel. Travel that involves taking the time to learn about the people, understand the culture and integrate yourself into that lifestyle in order to learn and grow, rather than taking a trip because everyone is doing it. A genuine adventure trumps a vacation every time.