I was chatting with a friend the other day who had just posted comments online to an article she had recently read entitled ""Why Don't Women Celebrate Their Travel Accomplishments The Way They Do Engagements?"
Her comments and thoughts on this article were actually perfectly in line with what I was feeling. So I read the article myself and felt a sense of relief. Relief, because since I came back from Ireland I've had the same thoughts and feelings.
One of the amazing things about travel is it transforms you.
When you travel around the world completely alone, it transforms you in ways you can't even imagine. This, (for the person experiencing it) feels like an amazing accomplishment. Your world literally changes with your thoughts and feelings as you experience all of the ups and downs of solo travel.
As a woman who just recently experienced this I can say, when this happens, when you discover something amazing about yourself, your life, the world, because of your travels you want to shout it to the world. You want to tell everyone you know how amazing that experience was for you. You want them to know how transformative it was because you survived. You survived the crying in park of a city you don't know because you felt like you made a mistake. You survived the 1 hour bus ride that should have been 10 minutes because you had no idea where you were going. You survived getting lost in a foreign city (twice in one day). You survived the fear, confusion and most of all you learned more about who you are. Where you fit in the world and what the world really is. You expanded your horizons and met new people. You tried food you've never had before with people who don't speak your language.
YOU DID IT!!!
This is a huge accomplishment (for the person experiencing it) but as I've learned, no one else really cares. Friends and family are happy you traveled, they're glad it makes you happy to do so but they don't see it as a huge accomplishment. They don't understand the obstacles you've overcome. They don't know about the challenge of traveling alone to a foreign country, unless of course they've done it themselves.
This not only makes it difficult to share the experience with them but it makes it hard to explain to them why you feel this is something to be celebrated. We don't, in our culture here in North America (perhaps they do elsewhere but I've not heard of a place that does), celebrate independent acts of success. This article http://www.matadornetwork.com/change/dont-women-celebrate-travel-accomplishments-way-celebrate-engagements/ talks about how we still live in a society that places all of our celebratory focus on things like getting married, having babies and buying houses. This may have been the "norm" 50 years ago so it made sense to celebrate these activities and place the importance of life goals on those things and nothing else.
However, we now live in a world very different from that. Sure people still get married and have babies and I'm not saying that shouldn't be celebrated, what I'm saying is why are we also not celebrating the people who decide at 25 to go back to school rather than have a baby? Why can't we celebrate the fact that someone chooses to travel the world rather than buy a car or a house? Why do we not throw parties for people who decide to leave six figure jobs because they're not happy?
We do not place a high level of importance on independence, self-exploration and life fulfillment.
Someone who chooses to not be in a long term relationship because they want backpack the world for a few years is just as valuable to our world as someone who decided to be a stay at home mom. Both these people have things to offer the world. Both these people should be celebrated for following their hearts and doing what they wanted to with their lives. Both these people are contributing to the world in meaningful ways. One has just chosen to do it in a way that hasn't been the normal path for the last 100+ years.
When I came home from Ireland I was sad, in part because I fell in love with Ireland, but also because I knew I was going home to no pomp and circumstance. I knew no one would be waiting for me at the airport with balloons.
I knew there would be no big dinner to celebrate this amazing adventure I had.
I knew that there would be no cards in a mail saying 'congratulations, way to go, you did this amazing life altering thing and we love you for it.'
My life had changed in a huge way but there would be no celebration. No huge congratulations. No acknowledgement of this life altering experience outside of people asking how the "trip" was.
(Don't get me wrong, I love the people who ask about my trip. I'm grateful they want to know if I liked it and what all I did. I appreciate that they care enough about me to want to know how it was and what I saw. I want to share my stories and experiences with people. That's half the fun of traveling. This however, is not the same as celebrating an accomplishment.)
The article listed above talks about how hallmark doesn't make a card for "Not marrying the wrong guy." My friend (who showed me this article), stated that there is no card for 'finishing high school without getting pregnant.' I would add there is no card or gift registry for "Congratulations, you went to a foreign country, totally alone and managed not to die".
I would love a gift registry for something like "Backpacking around the world" where my friends and family could gift me the items I will need. Where they can put small amount of money toward a night at a hotel or hostel the same way people put money together to buy a crib.
We need to start showing people in our society that it's okay to not follow the tradition path. We need to encourage people to expand their minds and challenge their beliefs. We need to place the same level of importance on backpacking around the world that we do on getting married because both experiences change your life. We need to value people for following their dreams no matter how crazy it seems.
These decisions in life are all ultimately, life altering choices. The girl who decides to intern at a foodbank has made a choice based on what she values out of life. Just because the guy next to her chooses to take an internship at a law firm instead doesn't make him any more or less valuable as a human. They both should be congratulated for making the choice that was right for them. They both should be celebrated for doing what they wanted to with their lives.
Why are we still only placing a cultural importance on the things that are so outdated as life milestones that more than a third of people choose not to participate in. Why can we not also add in more relevant milestones to the day and age we live in?
Why can't I have balloons and a fancy dinner for coming home from a foreign country???
We need to, as a society, re-evaluate what we value as life milestones. We need to alter what we see as significant in life. We should be more inclusive and accepting of people who value experiences over material possessions. We should treat both groups of people equally and celebrate the personal accomplishments of each, based on their personal life choices.
Ultimately, that's all we are, a list of choices we make that hopefully fit the person we are/want to become. Just because one persons choice is different from anothers, doesn't make it any less amazing. All should be celebrated equally.