x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

In praise of staying put

Is our desire to travel prodigiously and line-up photo opps in front of a plethora of famous landmarks actually enlightening us?

 

Unless you've spent the past few weeks locked up in solitary confinement, you've probably had an advertisement for a well-known Middle Eastern airline beamed into your eyeballs.

In the commercial, a clutch of photogenic people swan around a series of glamorous destinations, before the voice-over tells us: "Tomorrow believes the more of the world we see, the richer we become."

So, in an obvious ploy to guilt us into buying more plane tickets, it kind of implies if you haven't tread over a suitably large swathe of the planet's crust, you're evidently a worthless nobody.

This view is confirmed by a Facebook app that's currently doing the rounds, in which you're required to tick off the nations you've been to, then announce the results to your pals. This, too, suggests that those who score highly in the survey are well-rounded, superior beings; those who don't are parochial, xenophobic yokels. But honestly, does trying to attain this badge of honour by visiting as many of the world's sovereign states as possible actually belie the true purpose of travel?

Take the example of my grandmother. At the age of 18 months, her parents took her to the Yorkshire Dales - a hilly swathe of moorland in northern England - as the country air was deemed the best cure for a childhood ailment.

From then onwards, she and her family holidayed in the same village, submerging themselves in communal life and forming friendships with the local populace.

In the 1940s, with the German army taking a vacation of their own across much of Europe, overseas travel was not feasible, so she and my late grandfather honeymooned there. This yearly visit continued with her own children - my mum and aunt - and for almost eight decades, right up until her advancing age made travel impractical.

I too have been to this village, where I was hugely impressed at my mother's consummate knowledge of local history and her numerous friendships with many of the long-term residents.

Conversely, on the aforementioned Facebook list, Sweden is a country I could justifiably check off. Yet in reality, my trip there was just a swift sojourn to Malmo via a train journey across the Oresund Bridge from Copenhagen. My three-hour foray into Sweden involved a bit of wandering about, some staring at the moderately impressive town hall, shivering under the full force of a Scandinavian winter, then slinking back to Denmark. I left with nothing except a few snapshots and a bad case of the flu.

So, is our desire to travel prodigiously and line up photo opps in front of a plethora of famous landmarks actually enlightening us?

Personally, I believe that if you discover somewhere that you love and feel an affinity to, stick with it. Finding this place is infinitely more enriching than a heavily stamped passport.

 

hberger@thenational.ae