Does the consumer economy prevent us from travelling?

What makes (or made) you want to travel? Were you born into it? Did someone inspire you? Were you just bored of the humdrum of life back home?

It has always intrigued me to find out why each person who travels does so. What triggered that feeling of wanderlust and the motivation to take that first trip? Even though every person who travels tends to have an inspiration that is slightly different from the next, there is usually a similar theme that pops up amongst us all. You find a lot of small town girls such as myself who yearned for something new. Many of those people were also simply fed up with the 9 to 5 lifestyle. Then there are some who were just born into travel, who’s family were already keen travellers themselves before they came into the world. But in most cases I find the latter is a small minority of people. Most people are simply trying to find a way to give their life meaning, to provide bit of excitement to it, and to create more valuable life learning experiences. In fact, all too many people discover the life that society has led them to believe is the ‘right’ path is actually not making them happy at all, but for various reasons they feel trapped within the confines of it.

What may be a more important question to ask is why are there people who don’t travel? And I’m not talking about those people who have no interest whatsoever in travelling and who would simply not enjoy it. I mean those people who would like to travel but simply don’t for some reason or another? They are fit, healthy, would love to travel, but do not do so? Why?

With the average student debt of a graduating American student in 2011 being $26,600 (and that is not including any personal debt gained thereafter) by the age of 25 there are many people I see trapped in a lifetime of debt before they’re even old enough to have decided what they want out of life. However, this is not just a problem seen in America (but I think it’s a good example to make as the power economy of the world), but throughout the Western world I see these same problems of young people taking up huge loans to pay for university/college education – which many are now questioning the value of. And the crazy thing is that it has taken a global economic meltdown for it to even get to the stage where people start to think that university education may not be the be all and end all of learning, or that it is certainly not value for money!

And when you think about it (and sorry to my American friends for using the USA as example again but…) when you find a country with most people not owning a passport yet who still have the largest economy in the world, it begins to make you wonder… Does it pay for a consumer economy to make it’s residents feel like they shouldn’t or can’t leave? If by age of 25 we’re already trapped in a mountain of debt that will take our whole lives to pay off, we are forced to stay put in where we are before we’re even able to decide for ourselves if this is the life we want. We’re stuck paying into a system where a small band of rich men make large sums of money from us just getting by. Our happiness is not of their concern. And to top it off we’re constantly fed scare mongering news stories to make us feel like life outside our country would be some big bad scary place – just in case we did find some way financially that we felt we could move. That’s not before the  commercial break in between and afterwards reminding us of that plasma TV we must buy for our homes soon…

I don’t know – maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age. I’m reaching that watershed of 25 later this year and when you reach these age landmarks so to speak, you really do begin to reflect on life and the decisions you have made so far. I feel like I was lucky somehow to have had the encouragement to make decisions that allowed me to travel early on in life, to have escaped this cycle. Otherwise I may well have got trapped into a repetition of life that friends of mine are in right now but are not happy with. I don’t necessarily think it’s a well-thought out plan by western governments, but I do think there is something in it – that it pays for large consumer economies such as the US, UK, and other Western countries etc to make sure you’re stuck paying into their system all of your life. When if the decision to take these huge loans was made later in life, i.e. if we were made to wait until we had some life experience before deciding to take on mountains of debts, then I think many people simply wouldn’t choose that path. I think many people would go after what they truly wanted in life. I think many more people would travel.


6 Responses to “Does the consumer economy prevent us from travelling?”

  1. Claire says:

    Agree completely with you in this article Jane. People are becoming trapped in university debt before they are even old enough to appreciate the consequences.

  2. Russell says:

    I agree partially. You are overlooking a few things.
    1) The USA is vast. We don’t need to leave the country to see many different environments. All of the following areas are like different countries compared to Europe: Los Angles, San Francisco, Washington DC, NYC, Atlanta, Tucson, many Midwestern cities, etc… We don’t need to leave the USA to travel.
    2) We aren’t well like in certain areas. I wanted to go to Tijuana, Mexico when I was younger. Now I am at the risk of ending up in a pit with many other decapitated bodies.
    3) People place roots as they get older. Those roots add stability, but also tie us down. It is harder to travel when you have a house, job, and pets. If I were still a renter with most of my belongings in liquid assets it would be a different story.
    4) Travel is not cheap when you live in “fly over” country like many of us. For example, the current cost of a flight from my home to Las Vegas will run me ~$450. Getting out of the USA costs much more. A flight to London costs over ~$1200. That is just the flights to and from.

  3. Ashley says:

    Great post! I absolutely agree. People are brainwashed into believing they are living “free” when they are really slaves of our consumer based society.
    Yes, the USA is vast, but regardless of how much you travel within your own country, you are not experiencing foreign cultures, food, customs, etcetera, as you would if you were travelling overseas. “We don’t need to leave the USA to travel” is a completely ignorant statement in my opinion.

  4. OCDemon says:

    A friend of mine is what I like to think of as the Perfect American Consumer. She thinks she “needs” to spend $400 a month on beauty supplies, and it’s fine because it’s less than what other girls spend, and refuses to acknowledge the difference between wants and needs, even if it’s pointed out to her. She says beauty products and new clothes and purses and whatever else “enhance her life.”

    Everyone talks about how Americans buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like, but I’ve never met someone so thoroughly emblematic of this statement as her. She’s actually happy to be go into debt, even though she gets paid well and has very low expenses, and thinks it’s the correct thing to do. Sigh. I can never convince her of anything. She thinks she “needs” pedicures and I tell her that if she’s having so many money problems, she could just wear closed-toe shoes, but nope, she “needs” a pedicure.

  5. Sammi says:

    I didn’t go to university- partly because by that point I’d already dropped out of 6th form and moved to the Canary Islands, but I didn’t actually plan on going anyway. I was brought up not to spend what you didn’t have, and I didn’t have £6,000 to pay for uni especially when I didn’t really know what I’d do with it. Not that I’m doing well career wise now, I waitress on minimum wage, but I like my job, my boss is awesome and lets me fly off on my adventures and even gives me advice from his own when he was in his 20’s. I’m really lucky. I don’t run a car, I couldn’t travel & run one in the UK.

    Also, since you’re in the UK, have you seen that Bright House advert that is supposed to help people who can’t afford a new washing machine or refrigerator when their’s breaks down? They had 3D TVs on their advert the other day, people don’t NEED those, they want them. It drove me mad.

    I think there are ways to afford anything you want, its about making a lifestyle choice, get a cheap flat share, write meal plans, save your wages, don’t run a car- use public transport or get a little scooter like mine (seriously, insurance is just shy of £200, petrol is £6 every 10 days & road tax is £17 a year). I guess everyone wants different things, and that’s fine, but I just think sometimes people are too worried about what other people think. If you know you’re on the path to do what you want to, then that’s all that matters, right?

  6. As an American who has many friends who say they would like to travel but are either bogged in debt, spend their money on frivolous things, scared or all of the above I absolutely agree with your post Jane.

    I racked up some university debt but chose to go to college close to home and live at home. That saved me loads and because I also worked while I was in uni I visited Europe several times in college. Now my wife and I have lived on the continent 5 years (we met traveling).

    Here are some tips for people to save money to travel

    Cheers Jane!


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