If you so much as stood on an airplane 50 years ago, you’d probably made it in some way. You could afford the luxury of air travel and that meant something. You had status. But for most, travel was a fantasy – something that people did in books or the National Geographic.
Skip forward to now and jumping on an airplane is as normal as riding a bus. Those fantasies have become not just real but affordable. Economy air travel has opened the world to people of all classes. Everybody has the opportunity to go to foreign countries and experience different cultures.
Once a thing becomes affordable and everybody is doing it, it takes on even more importance in terms of your status.
Most people own a car and have a house. As well as serving their practical purposes, they also show our status. The bigger your house, the better you’re doing in life. The newer the car, the richer you are. I’m not saying this is true, just the trap people fall into.
We get pulled into this battle of status with others, we can’t help ourselves. Maybe we have insecurities and the only way to feel better is to prove to others that we are equal to them because we can afford the same commodities. It’s the basis of advertising and capitalism. We need to keep buying so we’re equal to others.
Few people buy a new iPhone because they’ve yet again revolutionised the phone. But rather because they need to keep up appearances. They can afford the new iPhone, so they have status. Life is a battle for status.
Travel is now affordable for so many that it has become something a person needs to do to keep status. If you haven’t travelled, or don’t go on regular holidays, many would have you believe that you’re not actually enjoying your life. This idea is strongly held by many young people and the problem with this is that it’s now no longer a matter of if you should travel, but simply when. It has to happen at some point or you’re not going to have any status.
Since travel now adds to our status, there becomes a lot more pressure to do it. With houses and cars, most people need them, they serve a purpose and fulfill a need. But I always struggle to figure out what purpose travel serves.
This is partly a trap I’ve fallen into. I believed that if I didn’t travel, I would somehow be missing out. I looked at my friends that had travelled and thought I had to do it too. However, I realise that travel hasn’t made me any better than anybody else. I have grown, but growing is something we all do no matter where we are. All travel has gained me is happy memories, which are easy enough to come by at home.
As with all social pressures, this can create tension for a lot of people. Let’s go back to that new iPhone. Those with less money, who can’t afford a new iPhone may start to believe that they lack status or aren’t good enough as people. It’s a stupid thing to think, like a new phone matters, but people still believe it.
In the same way, those who can’t afford travel may feel they don’t measure up.
Since many people can afford to travel though, another problem comes about. Those who don’t even particularly want to travel end up doing it. I truly believe that travel isn’t for everyone, it takes a certain type of person to do it. But since we’re in this mindset of competing with others, we often don’t ask ourselves whether we want to do things because we’re putting our status ahead of what we truly want.
You may sit at home and believe your life is a waste because you’ve never travelled. Work yourself up into doing it, then find yourself thousands of miles from home and miserable. At this point you could be tempted to push on, travelling to keep up status. But really you should search yourself and ask if you truly want to do it. Do you want to travel, or do you simply want to fulfil the needs of others who believe travel is needed?
We should live our lives as we want which sometimes means admitting “I don’t like doing something, even if others tell me I should. So I’m not going to waste my time doing it.” It’s hard to go against the grain of social conventions, but worth it when you realise you’re actually living your life, instead of a life others believe you should have.