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Citizens of the World
The irony of travel is that it’s mostly waiting. In airports, in hotel rooms, in taxi stands, in lines. Waiting the week before in anticipation of your trip. Waiting to get to where you wanted to go. Waiting to go home. Sometimes I think the waiting is actually the point. There are many trips from my past where I remember what I thought about on the train far more than any of the sights I actually saw.
I’ve traveled a fair amount in my life. Far more than the average American, certainly, but far less than that certain type of millennial who embraces “world traveler” as an identity—the Tinder bio travelers, as I often think of them. These are the types of people who have long lists of the places they want to go, who collect the places they’ve been like a lothario listing off lovers.
Although the concept of traveling for pleasure has existed for members of the wealthiest classes since at least ancient Egypt, it’s only since the Industrial Revolution that it’s become something the average person is likely to experience. The type of travel common among my peers has really only developed in the past generation, a byproduct of airline deregulation and social media. Sometimes I think the current travel boom will continue indefinitely, and what looks now like the apex of the graph will in retrospect have been only a minor bump on the way to much greater heights. Other times I think we may be close to peak tourism already, as cheap airfare proves unsustainable, climate change ruins many of the most popular destinations, and globalization’s continued march makes everywhere more and more the same. Wherever you go, there you are, and there’s a McDonald’s too.
My early travel experiences were almost all international, but in my early twenties I started to focus more and more on exploring America, and I pretty much never looked back. As a fourth-generation coastal elite who once had a poster of the New Yorker’s View of the World From 9th Avenue on my wall, it was surprisingly awe-inspiring to discover so much more of my own country. Sure, a lot of it is a shithole, but it’s our shithole. To this day I maintain a strong affection for places like Florida and Las Vegas that are kind of disgusting, but also beautifully, uniquely American.
Maybe the reason I never fully connect with travel-happy “citizens of the world” is because they seem to take so much unquestioned enjoyment in the way they live their lives. There’s a part of me that’s skeptical of anyone who isn’t constantly looking at everything from multiple angles. It’s what I like about living in New York—New York is great, but it also sucks, and complaining about how much it sucks is part of what makes it great.
There was a time when I thought traveling a lot automatically made you interesting, but now I know that’s not the case. If anything, the opposite might be true. Anyone can seem interesting in an interesting place. It’s the people who can conjure interestingness out of nothing who have the real magic.
Yours in suspecting I’ve just ruined my future political career by publicly self-identifying as a coastal elite,