Travelling in the 21st century.

Adrian de León
5 min readApr 11, 2024
Photo by Apostolos Vamvouras on Unsplash

As a millennial, coming of age in the biggest techno-globalisation leap in history, travel has been a constant and essential hobby; it has been a leisurely activity I have perhaps come to take for granted. Unlike previous generations, travelling across the globe is not confined to extreme poles of the population: the sailors, soldiers and downtrodden on one side, and the wealthy elite and opportunistic merchants on the other. It has become a leisurely endeavour, a benefit of the ‘glory of free-market capitalism’. For our generations, travelling is a commodity, forming an integral part of our existence and shaping our identity in the process.

Of course, how often myself, and my generation, have taken advantage of cheap flights, affordable accommodation and unregulated foreign currencies, has contributed to a lot of the contemporary issues we, and future generations will face. Of course, the impact of tourism and the increasing commodification of travelling, has been on the radar of social commentators and academics for decades, most pertinently summarised in Dean MacCannell’s The Tourist: a new theory of the social class, first published in 1976.

Our grand-parents took holidays, and certainly our parents — the ‘boomers’— have been, and continue to be, the driving generation of travel, with cruises, package holidays and all-inclusive resorts coming of age as the post-war generation emerged from the rumbles of warfare. Nonetheless, things feel exponential at present. Perhaps it is because certain hawkish analysts have dubbed us the pre-war generation that tourism and travelling has continued its fast pace despite the COVID19 pandemic’s biological warning. The world might not be there much longer for us to enjoy, so we shall take advantage of our economic right to travel. On the face of it, it is an idiotic and self-serving stance to pursue, but we are where we are.

This article will eschew the moral and ecological implications of travel to naively focus on a purely empirical and visceral interpretation. Critics would be correct to highlight that in the face of the disasters that we will most likely face, a social commentary on our habits appears insignificant. However, so does attending a football game, watching your favourite singer on stage, drinking beer with your mates, or hanging on every word of your favourite soap character. Immanuel Kant believed humanity was driven by a rationality that tears us away from the rest of nature, but actually, it is humanity’s incessant drive for the irrational that drives us. It is a beautiful, and yet tragic, drive.

Therefore, travelling is an irrational, hedonistic and non-sensical endeavour. It is tragic. Despite this reality, travelling at its best is what populates our memories, it constitutes our self-actualisation, and it builds a platform for humans to interact, engage, and socialise. It remains a privilege and should be acknowledged as one. Those lucky enough to travel gain an access pass to growth, to a broadening of horizons permissible by political and material stability. We live in a world of oysters when many of our fellow (hu) men live amongst arid lands of economic and historical crimes and imbalances.

Travel brings the difference of the world to the fore, for the better and worse. If done properly, travel affords you the luxury of experiencing the other’s life. This is a privilege, and one that must never be dangled above those who will never gain a whiff of walking in your shoes. If done improperly, tourism and travel is nothing but a human safari trip. Guests sit in luxury, peeping across a window or an open-aired jeep to witness the lives of others. We marvel at the archaic and incomprehensible lifestyles of humans considered as a point of observation rather than as a mirror reflection.

Realistic travelling means you will need to find a balance between these two states; it is impossible to experience the lives of others without othering them in the process. Inevitably, travelling is a commodification and transactional process. Humility is key; one must acknowledge and accept that one, at times, will fail to strike this balance right. In the 21st century, finding this balance has become more difficult.

As a result of a proliferation of online professions, flexibility on remote working, and an ever-increasing disparity in income, travellers have come to expect a different experience from their travel. Whereas boomers could expect to find their home luxuries on resorts or cruises only, a new generation has emerged expecting environments that seamlessly assimilate their home. Of course, familiarity breeds certainty, and certainty breed’s safety. This safety comes in numbers and numbers in modern society equates to money. More often than not this money comes in the shape of digital, pound sterling, euros, yen and roubles. The language of this money expects reciprocity. Therefore, developing countries, who often depend on these words, in a way akin to believers acquiescing to the word of God, abide to the commandments.

Amongst these commandments, we find convenience, comfort, luxury, and consistency. The algorithms of social media, who appear to us as the modern-day stone tables, dictate the tastes of travellers. Unlike Moses, these tablets never appear to us; they are hidden in black boxes, whose true content are even hidden from the Silicon Valley gods of contemporary society. This is evident both intuitively and empirically. One of the islands I visited had a tourist map on display; amongst the landmarks highlights on the map, special zones were earmarked as selfie spots. Monuments and natural wonders no longer have extrinsic value unless one’s face is plastered across it. Just as algorithms on YouTube reward thumbnail’s adorned with faces, our natural world requests your forced, awkward, robotic smile for its value to surface.

Modern travelling has become an endeavour for couples and families, with few friendship groups, and even fewer solo travellers roaming the streets. An unsurprising turn of events considering how difficult it is to meet others in today’s society. We travel through phones and laptops, not through word of mouth and human connection. We no longer ask locals for recommendations but scour Google and rely on the reviews of other like-minded individuals. We are walking confirmation biases. We can no longer create connections between individuals because we have lost our connection with our own selves. We have nothing to offer to strangers as we have discarded our own being onto binary 0 and 1s.

Travel destinations play the same music and serve the same food you would find in the West. The shops have turned into franchises, and as destinations grow, they discard what made them authentic in order to become replicants of Disneyland for adults. Louis Vuitton and Senor Frogs rise from the ashes of taquerias and marquesita stands. Restaurants remove the hot from hot sauce to appease vanilla taste buds. Visa MasterCard and American Expresses proliferate the payments systems, building a canoe raft as the wave of inflation submerges the local’s whose currency is made of paper.

Travelling in the 21st century is a pastiche of the travel tales from yesterday. There is no mixing of cultures but a super-imposing of a dominant culture’s internal representation of another culture’s. Travelling has become an extension of the world we initially intended to escape. Travelling will never escape the end of the world as we know it.