What do people do when they’re on vacation, and what are they taking a vacation from?
If you’re from the states, like I imagine most of my readers will be, vacations are a chance to do one of two things: relax or get cultured. If you’re relaxing, you don’t want to think about anything—not your problems, not your job, not taking care of your family or your dogs, just plunk yourself down in a beach chair and drink a fruity cocktail out of half a coconut. Maybe swim, maybe read a Robert Ludlum thriller or something.
Or perhaps it’s a chance to get out of the states and improve yourself, see some of the most important things in the world. The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Colosseum of Rome, the Brandenburg Gate, the Mona Lisa. They’re all on the list of 1001 Things To See Before You Die, anyways. Again, this is contrasted to America, where we might have hot dogs, baseball, line dancing and the headquarters of Amazon.com, but certainly no historical or artistic things of importance to Western civilization. Again—you’ve only got two weeks, and you want to pack in the largest amount of important things in that time frame, perhaps in the hope an epiphany will emerge while viewing old art or architecture. You’ll come back with great pictures.
Either way, you certainly don’t want to worry about where you’re sleeping or how you’re getting there. So you get a travel agent or a package tour—it might be expensive, but it frees you from the twin anxieties of being away from home and trying to figure logistical things out on the road. This is because, in America, we work 50 weeks and get 2 weeks paid vacation to do whatever it is we want. Freedom is largely defined as “freedom from,” a womblike place of sensory delight where you are free from worry and consequence, and free from other people making demands upon that freedom. Travel is the luxury, the two-week apex of an entire year of suffering, the freedom towards which all spent time inclines. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship you’ll know what I’m talking about. Working 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year (and sometimes more) makes you exhausted when you finally get that time off. Planning the whole trip up front and outsourcing the planning to travel professionals guarantees you won’t waste your leisure time.
This is, I think, the model for travel we natively understand, and the economic system that supports it.
Now, if you’ll permit, imagine that you graduated college in the last six or so years, suddenly had to take responsibility for a five figure debt, and emerged into an economy where nobody is hiring. Imagine that you’re told that the economy is a “freelance” or a “flexible” workplace now, so being successful is about using time-management apps and lifehacking and a FitBit, all to extract the productivity from your time. Imagine being told that everyone has a passion, and that this passion will make you money—and if it’s not, you’re either not working very hard, or you’re not very passionate. Imagine 400 resumes getting emailed to the same Craigslist ad for a barista, and the cafe won’t hire you to make coffee because you don’t have at least two years’ experience. Imagine seeing your peers getting their art shown or writing published, but not for money, just for “exposure.” Imagine living with your parents because you felt bad about asking them to pay half your studio’s rent every month, so you moved home because it was the only way to save anything. Imagine seeing 26-year-olds compete for an unpaid internship to do data entry. Imagine thinking of jobs which offer salaried work, benefits, and a retirement plan as “real adult jobs,” and that it’s something so obviously out of reach that you’ve seen maybe your one friend who knows how to code C++ nabs the gig but you never see him anymore, because the office is always asking him to stay late, and he feels he has to demonstrate loyalty or face the ax. Imagine never having the opportunity to sell out, so you become an idealist by default.
Imagine seeing all this, and still wanting to travel. Imagine having no money, but also no responsibilities, and all the time in the world.
What would you do on vacation, and what do you go on vacation from?