A fern in a latte and a felt hat perched by a waterfall.
Fluffy bathrobes bathed in golden sunlight by turquoise waters.
These images were once relegated to the world of high end travel magazines. More often than not those images were created simply to advertise a Bvlgari watch or an exclusive resort, very rarely did those photos depict actual travel. Why? Well, for one simple reason: Travel is not tidy. It is messy. Those carefully crafted images tamed the un-tameable. Those images were created to coax a response out of the reader... I want that watch... or more importantly... travel is so messy and unreasonable, perhaps I'd have a chance at that serene perfection if I bought that watch.
When those images are placed in a glossy periodical, the feelings that came with it remained contained. Deep down inside we all know that those photos were staged with professional photographers and models and an entire team of advertising experts behind it. All was well, we co-existed nicely with the irrational idea that a new watch would also buy us a perfect tan and an infinity pool.
It remained contained... for a time.
And then came the Internet Travel Influencer.
Which is a nice term for "A self made talentless internet celebrity who gets paid to convince you that their life is a perma-Conde Nast Bvlgari watch ad." A person who would be nothing without high quality photo equipment that was once only available to professionals. A person who can mimic the advertising agent's agendas to get the viewer to wish they too could have a slice of the high life.
Then the Pandora's box was opened.
If a nobody could curate a fancy existence out of a few travel points and a bikini, why can't I? Suddenly this rare, fantasy was available for everyone to re-create. You too, with access to a few simple filters, could have a life worthy of a glossy magazine spread.
The appeal is understandable. Travel is, at its heart, incredibly messy. It is a lonely, isolating, and vulnerable experience that suddenly...isn't. It wasn't any of those things. Look at all those travel blogs/accounts? They make it look so easy.
Perhaps in some ways we enjoy defying nature. We go to the moon and thwart nasty bacteria. It is human nature to push our boundaries to make life better. Perhaps that is why we enjoy a tidy image. We enjoy life being easily contained- even just for a moment. Which is why the illusion of taming travel has appealed to us so much. The uncontrollable can suddenly be now controlled with a few simple clicks and swipes.
I see the desire. I love tidy squares. I really do. But, I would be remiss if I didn't say that travel is incredibly hard. It is not as easy as a grabbing a passport and the fern lattes just simply show up in your hand. It is not as easy as hopping onto a plane and rose petals suddenly show up in your bathtub. The answer is a great resounding no that travel is anything like what we see on social media. There is sweat. There are crappy hotel rooms and people farting on airplanes. There are long lines at immigration and rude waiters. Travel is messy. Period.
People often ask about a writer's "why". Why do you write? Why are you here? Why am I here? To un-sanitize travel and re-normalize mess. That is why I am here.
There is this part in the Harry Potter books where the main character finds a magic mirror that will show you the deepest desires of your heart when you look into it. The character spends hours staring into a comforting fantasy when the wise, old Headmaster confronts him saying "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." -J.K. Rowling.
I feel like this can be a tendency in the current travel community... to stare at perfect images and wish that we could have that too. To feel our value lies in being in an infinity pool or enough "likes" that tells the world we, too, have mastered the impossible of taming travel. The tragedy is that it will never be perfect, and people who strive for a perfect photo in front of a waterfall will simply find themselves disappointed that the photo didn't take. And that is devastating indeed.
I am hear to tell you to step away from the mirror. It is just a dream.
Travel is great not because of the mimosas and upgrades. Travel is worth the effort because it is messy. Because it pushes you out of your comfort zone and with that comes character. Travel is a lot like any of the other things that push us: Learning a new language. Finishing a difficult book. Getting a degree. Running a race. None of these things evoke flashy mental images- yet they give us the same thing- the broadened horizon, the feeling of accomplishment, a new curve within our minds that tells us the world is much bigger than we imagined.