Is Travelling Really Selfish?

Travel. It's almost a virtue, isn't it? People talk about loving to travel with pride, as if it makes them better people.

In a sense, they're right. There are some great benefits to seeing, in-person, the vast expanse and diversity of our planet and human cultures. I'm sure there is research showing that it opens our minds, perhaps makes us more compassionate or appreciative of difference in the world.

However, in light of climate change and the wild stratification of rich and poor, does it also make us worse people? Is travel not an increasingly selfish act?

In a sense, it always was selfish. We travel for ourselves. Even (or perhaps especially) if we're on one of these volunteer-based trips. We go places for our benefit: we want to see a new place, have a new experience, get away.

But now, is there an extra level of privilege embedded in it? I'm not talking about travelling in the pandemic which definitely exceeds 100 on the privilege and selfishness scale, but in the aftertimes. By travelling, we are saying, "I deserve to be here, in person, and see this thing with my own eyes. It is worth the cost to the climate and local culture and ecology, even if my being here is one step on the path to its destruction."

Sure, there are some benefits for others (mostly because we pay money to a lot of different people when we travel), but that's not why we do it. If it were just about distribution of finances, there are far more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to do that.

This is reminding me of zoos and aquariums. There is a material benefit to seeing the great creatures that used to be held in these places in person. To be awed by the majesty of orcas or lions or elephants. To learn about their diets and habitats, because we're seeing them! Right there! Live!

However, at some point between my childhood and today, society has decided that benefit is not worth the cost to the animals. To the point where even aquariums that operate only as rescue and rehabilitation centres are being targeted to stop housing cetaceans. (We still seem to be okay with smaller creatures being in cages, just not the big ones.)
Do you think our perspective on travel will change? Or do people just love it too much? It's possible that too many economies depend on making people feel like it's their right to travel to ever have it go the way of the whale show.

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