Is the internet killing our sense of adventure?

Julia Jaworska, Newcastle University

Millennials are reported to be making travel a priority when saving money while investing in experiences rather than things. CNBC reports that while people between the age of 21 and 35 are eager to travel more than previous generations. Opting for self-organised trips that push them out of their comfort zones and are culturally enriching rather than a comfortable all-inclusive tropical holiday. In short - modern life is more saturated with movement and travel for pleasure than it had ever been before. 

 

Grand Tour

The idea of travelling for an educational and mind-broadening experience is not new. Starting in the 17th century and carrying over to the 1840s, the tradition of a Grand Tour was widespread amongst the European upper classes. Young men, usually for their 21st birthday, would embark on a tour around Europe. This included a covered itinerary designed to familiarise them with the cultural legacy of Europe, improve their language skills and establish strategic connections within the socialites in other European countries. The equivalent of today’s TripAdvisor’s must-see lists for the Grand Tour included Venice, Rome and Paris, still prominent tourist destinations for young people today. Those trips could take anything from a couple of months to a couple of years, but can easily be seen as precursors of the modern-day gap-year-type travels. Except for the smartphones with the connection to the omniscient web of things, ready to give precise instructions on the top ten Paris cafes and how to get there; they did not have those.

 

21st-century travel is globalised, more egalitarian in terms of gender and class and significantly more openly hedonistic than the Grand Tours of the past centuries. It becomes featured on Instagram and an ever-growing travel blogosphere that packages the experiences into neat snapshots which, depending on the author, sometimes have very little to do with the destination and much more with the perfect photographic harmony between the fabric of the dress and the colour and pattern of the clouds.

 

Reproductive sense of adventure

Zadie Smith, a British author and an insightful observer of the modernity, mentioned on Literary Friction podcast that with a ‘sense of inevitability’ of it, we have collectively given up almost everything we had to technology in the name of convenience. Equal access to technology is, however, more than just convenience - it takes away the fear of the unknown, the confusion in the face of the foreign, the sense of being lost in the encounter with ‘the other’- in other words, the sense of adventure.

 

Millennial travel may seem to be all about the experience from which any grain of uncertainty has been eliminated. Not only can we browse through photos of the destination on endless grids available and the advice on what to, where to and how to, comes at us in great chunks, endlessly. The likely outcome of our extensive pre-departure research is a successful reproduction of the experience, complete with self-authored copies of the photos we had seen. Depending on your willingness to make them ‘instagrammable,’ you may or may not choose to edit out the thousand other tourists that were there at the time experiencing that same reality alongside you. Many find themselves ticking off boxes so that their experience of Paris, Cappadocia or Bali is what it is supposed to be so that it fits the mould.

 

We have produced a paradox of attempting to have an extraordinary experience achievable only by personally visiting a place or undertaking an activity and at the same time, striving to accurately recreate something we had already seen countless times. While claiming to be taking ourselves out of the comfort zone, we happily follow the footsteps of many that came before us, rarely getting off the beaten path, literally and metaphorically.

 

What if you were to actually board a train without thoroughly researching. While smartphones have greatly enhanced the safety of travellers and gave us the opportunity to make our travels smoother, they have also trapped us in the comfortable predictability of the world in which anything, even the exact itinerary of your next walk, can be checked ahead of time, planned and consulted countless times on the way. Feeling lost, however, is a space where significant change and great learning happens, not just because you need to figure out your way back, but because you need to keep going without necessarily knowing what’s ahead. The greatest adventures we can produce for ourselves can come from letting go of the control over every step we take and welcoming some uncertainty into the experience. It may not be as neat as we would like it to be, but that, precisely, is an adventure.