Here’s the obvious: The world is a hot mess right now.
This year has been relentlessly hitting us with punches of death and destruction. We watched as Donald Trump became the next POTUS, to the horror of many around the world who had been keeping up with the US Presidential Election. Europe is waiting with bated breath for Brexit to be officially implemented. Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte has been waging a public war on drugs in the Philippines, which has resulted in horrifying bloodshed on the streets. The devastation in Aleppo has reached catastrophic levels––the once beautiful city has been reduced to nothing but rubble, and attempts at evacuation were met with obstacles. Venezuela has been facing a food shortage caused by a currency crisis, while Yemen – which has been caught in an ongoing civil war – is now a humanitarian crisis as famine strikes and millions are suffering from severe malnutrition. As if things couldn’t get any worse, there was a violent incident in Berlin, leaving 12 dead and 50 injured in what was a suspected terrorist attack – which ISIS has since “claimed responsibility” for – at a Christmas market. And then there was the assassination of a Russian ambassador in Turkey which made headlines earlier last week.
And let’s not forget the pop icons who were gone too soon. David Bowie and Prince passed away earlier this year, and George Michael died on Christmas––his Last Christmas. Carrie Fisher, known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, passed on to a galaxy far far away on 27 December. It seems that the grim reaper is determined to take the souls of as many well-loved celebrities as he can before the year ends.
Closer to home, China’s economic slowdown is beginning to hit Singapore hard. It’s highly likely we might be heading for a recession next year, depending on whether Trump’s protectionist policies will materialise, as well as how things will play out post-Brexit. Meanwhile, we’re already feeling the effects of this unfortunate turn of events as the Singapore dollar slumps, and the job market is looking pretty bleak at the moment with 91 job vacancies per 100 job seekers according to statistics released by Ministry of Manpower. While this number may look low by international standards, it doesn’t bode well for Singapore, which has seen a rise in resident unemployment rate––from 2.7 per cent in March to 2.9 per cent in September. As Singapore isn’t a welfare state, her unemployed citizens are left to fend for themselves.
Despite the chaos, there are more people want to travel than ever before; whether to escape a bad situation in their home country, get over a heartbreak, explore new horizons, work wherever they want, or the ol’ cliche of finding themselves.
Tech disruption has rendered many jobs obsolete while the growing gig economy has enabled millennials who possess the right skillset to free themselves from the shackles of full-time work to go freelance. A program such as Remote Year, which commenced in June last year, collects an exorbitant monthly fee of $2000 from obviously affluent “digital nomads” in exchange for taking care of all logistics, accommodations, itinerary on a year-long trip.
Social media has also allowed bloggers, Instagrammers, and content creators to go on what looks like a perpetual holiday whilst getting paid for posting pretty photos. Looking for travel advice? Run a search on Google or YouTube and you’ll find countless websites and videos by travel b/vloggers offering the information you need. Article headers that look like this are trending: “This 28-year-old man quit his job to travel the world. Here’s how you can do it too.” Where there is supply, there is demand. Clearly, there is a demand for such “aspirational” content.
If you’re reading this, then perhaps you’ve been consuming content on other travel sites, and you’re green with envy. You desire nothing more than to travel. As tempting as it may be to drop everything and leave, something’s holding you back. With the economic downturn, perhaps you’re thinking you should tighten your pockets. Your parents are objecting to your travel plans. They’re telling you that they never had the luxury to go on long trips when they were your age. They think you’re wasting your money. You begin to fight a battle between your heart and mind. You know that travel will broaden your horizons, it may enrich you, and the experiences you’ll gain along the way will be invaluable. You’re young; it’s now or never. With that in mind, you book that flight out anyway. Seeing the e-copy of your flight ticket brings you excitement, but along with it comes a tinge of regret. A feeling that perhaps you shouldn’t have spent the money that would definitely come in handy on a rainy day. It’s a first world problem that I call “Traveller’s Guilt”.
It’s a feeling that I’m all too familiar with and it’s a rather lame one to have, considering there are more pressing issues that the less fortunate are facing. Each time I embark on a trip abroad, my parents would start guilt tripping me. They’d tell me that I’m wasting money; that instead of travelling, I should increase my financial contribution to the household. I can’t say the same for other Asian countries, but in Singapore, kids who aren’t from a high-income background are usually obligated to start giving their parents a monthly “allowance” once they become working adults, as repayment for having been provided with food, clothing, and shelter, unless the parents are self-sufficient. My parents are not self-sufficient. They will have to rely on me for financial support when they retire in a few years. That worries me, and I feel immensely guilty about having spent thousands of dollars on my travels instead of putting the money into their nest egg.
On the other hand, I am lucky enough to hold a passport that allows visa-free entry to 143 countries, to have had jobs that have enabled me to set aside savings for my travels as well as rainy days, and understanding parents who have, perhaps reluctantly, let me spread my wings.
I’m now in between jobs, and I’m not sure when the next time I’ll get to board a plane will be. And that’s another stupid first world problem.
Travel, whether long-term or simply a short getaway, isn’t accessible to everyone. Having been on both ends of the accessibility spectrum, I can empathise. For many people, watching travel videos, scrolling through sun-drenched photos of a beautiful beach, and suffering from major FOMO are all they can do. Those who can’t afford to travel as much as these people do can only live vicariously through travel bloggers.
For people whose immediate concern is how they can get by each day with what little they have, travelling is probably not even on their list of priorities. There are also people whose disabilities or passports severely limit their mobility. The process of applying for a tourist visa can be costly and a pain in the ass, and there might be a risk of having the applications denied. The concept of borders may seem unfair, but it is necessary in order to maintain the security of nations.
There isn’t a remedy for Traveller’s Guilt but there are ways to alleviate it if you’re healthy, able-bodied, and lucky enough to be in not be living in extreme poverty in a developed country. Take on a couple of part-time jobs or a few freelance gigs, cut down on meals at restaurants, and do whatever you can to save up. Plan your finances to ensure you won’t return from your trip completely broke and unable to fulfil your financial obligations.
I’m not a life coach nor a guru, but one cliche rings true: When you’re lying on your deathbed, you wouldn’t want to regret not doing what you wanted to when you still could, would you?