Everyone knows someone who studied abroad, took a semester leave or volunteered outside the US. In some cases, the person wanted to become more globally aware, while in other cases, the person had an uncontrollable, saintly desire to “help the less fortunate.”
That person has probably told you countless stories about his or her transformative exploits in some “exotic” country that just happens to have a booming tourism industry, too.
Now, don’t get me wrong; there are so many people whose world perspective completely changed after studying abroad or after a trip overseas. But, more often than not, it’s about being able to push a pin into a world map and say, “I’ve been there.”
How can you know which of your friends traveled abroad out of a genuine desire to experience other cultures, and which of your friends traveled as a means to appear worldlier at cocktail parties?
Check out the following four ways to know whether or not your worldly friend is just a pretentious assh*le:
1. Visits “Exotic” Locations
It doesn’t matter where you go when you travel. Nobody cares whether you vacationed in Prague or backpacked through the Andes.
Every place in the world has something unique to offer, from the smallest town in Eastern Europe to the bright lights of Tokyo. Still, no region in the world is “exotic” to the inhabitants of said region.
If you friend is bragging about how a place off the beaten trail is better than another place, he or she is a pretentious assh*le.
Traveling is not a competition; it’s a recreational activity only the most fortunate people on earth can afford to do.
Most people spend their entire lives scraping to get by, and you braved the unpaved reality of their existences for two days?
Spending any amount of time in a region does not equal ownership. So many people think bumming around a city for a couple of days means they experienced everything the place has to offer.
Even if you spent a year in Bangkok, you would barely be scratching the surface of what it’s like to be a true Thailand native.
3. “Helps” The Less Fortunate
Who hasn’t heard this one? Someone travels thousands of miles and shells out hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for a flight to “help the less fortunate” overseas. This type of person believes him or herself to be a saint, but in reality, this person is the patron saint of bullsh*t.
If you’re paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to volunteer overseas, it’s not for the people you claim to be helping.
Volunteering is great, but why not just donate the money you would have paid for a flight to the organization where you planned to volunteer? That amount of money goes a lot further than your manicured, lotioned hands.
Admit it: If you’re traveling internationally, you’re doing it for you. And, there’s nothing wrong with that! Just don’t act like you’re Mother Teresa when you can make a huge difference by volunteering at local organizations or donating money to organizations abroad.
4. Societal Integration
Even if you spend a year teaching abroad, you will not suddenly become a local to that region. You are a visitor, regardless of whether you speak the native language fluently or know the best local spot to grab a bite.
As a traveler, it is impossible to fully understand the perspective of a citizen from another nation.
Traveling sheds insight and this insight leads to personal growth. It’s one thing to experience a new culture and gain a new perspective, but it’s totally inappropriate to tell others you “became a local” after a trip.
Who cares what you did when you traveled? Even a trip to Disney World can have its merits. As long as you took something meaningful away from the trip, it was a worthwhile experience.
Bragging and claiming ownership about a traveling experience will not impress anyone. Be grateful you had the financial opportunity to explore beyond your own backyard; most people are not so lucky.
That being said, traveling can be eye-opening and completely change a person’s perspective. But, when recounting your experiences to others, it’s better to measure your trip in personal growth.