A philosopher has sparked outrage after detailing why she believes people shouldn’t travel.
On June 24, the New Yorkers published an essay written by philosophy professor Agnes Callard, in which she outlined her argument against traveling. In the essay, Callard claimed that, while some may argue that travel “lifts us into an enlightened state,” that is not always the case.
“Travel gets branded as an achievement: see interesting places, have interesting experiences, become interesting people. Is that what it really is?” she wrote.
In the essay, Callard then claimed that, although traveling is an opportunity to “experience a change,” it frequently leaves people “unchanged”. To back up her argument, she reflected on a trip she took to Abu Dhabi, during which she “went on a guided tour of a falcon hospital,” despite having “no interest in falconry or falcons”.
“But the falcon hospital was one of the answers to the question: ‘What does one do in Abu Dhabi?’” she wrote. “I suspect that everything about the Falcon Hospital, from its layout to its mission statement, is and will continue to be shaped by the visits of people like me – we are unchanged changers, we are tourists.”
As for why it might be “bad” for a place to be shaped by tourists, Callard claimed that it’s because travelers “not only do not know what they are doing, but [they] are not even trying to learn”.
According to Callard, the issue with tourists engaging in tourist activities is that, often, individuals choose to see these places despite not having an interest in them in their day-to-day lives. “If you are going to see something you neither value nor aspire to value, you are not doing much of anything other than locomotion,” she wrote.
“When you travel, you suspend your usual standards for what counts as a valuable use of time… After all, you say to yourself, the whole point of traveling is to break out of the confines of everyday life,” she continued. “But, if you usually avoid museums, and suddenly seek them out for the purpose of experiencing a change, what are you going to make of the paintings? You might as well be in a room full of falcons.”
Callard then shared what she claimed to be an important realization about travel – that we “already know what we will be like when we return” – before noting that this means a vacation will likely not change us in the same way that a major life moment , like starting a new job, falling in love, or moving to a new country, will.
“We embark on those pursuits with the trepidation of one who enters a tunnel not knowing who she will be when she walks out. The traveler departs confident that she will come back with the same basic interests, political beliefs and living arrangements,” she wrote. “Travel is a boomerang. It drops you right where you started.”
According to Callard, although traveling may be “fun,” it is not as “mysterious” as some may suggest, with the philosopher arguing that what is mysterious is “why we imbue it with a vast significance”.
“If a vacation is merely the pursuit of unchanging change, an embrace of nothing, why insist on its meaning?” she questioned.
However, according to Callard, most individuals are not self-aware enough to realize this about their own travels, so she encouraged readers to consider the vacations of their friends, who may argue that they’ve returned from a “once-in- a-lifetime experience” but who are ultimately unchanged.
She asked: “Will you be able to notice a difference in their behavior, their beliefs, their moral compass? Will there be any difference at all?”
Callard concluded her essay by claiming that traveling is merely a way of splitting time into “chunks,” and that travel experiences are “disguised” into a narrative about doing “exciting” things. “You are experiencing, you are connecting, you are being transformed, and you have the tricks and photos to prove it,” he wrote, before arguing that travel distracts from the idea that “someday you will do nothing and become nothing”.
The essay has since gone viral on Twitter, where many readers have accused Callard of having an “entitled” take on travel, while others have argued that they have gained new perspectives through visiting different places.
“I disagree with Callard on almost every point,” one person wrote. “Travel is uncertainty, it is a new challenge, it is a virtue of training in frustration, there are valuable moments of peace and of awe, it requires learning. Obscures the certainty of annihilation? Blessedly, yes.”
“Didn’t even realize there could be a rich, entitled take on *opposing* traveling. Use a bunch of centuries-old, decontextualised quotes to complain about this incredible privilege of experience but never once mention the actual barrier: finance? Amazing,” another person wrote.
A third wrote: “This is a bleach read. Travel opens your horizons, makes you appreciate that ‘your world’ isn’t ‘the world’. Dunno, sometimes the impulse to be counterintuitive and dislike what the masses like is very elitist. What’s next: the case against pop music. Why enjoying life is bad.”
One person suggested something missing in Callard’s essay about the reasons for traveling, writing: “It seems like the possibility of talking to people was excluded here to begin with. But some of us actually talk to people when we travel! Whether or not travel or anything else makes us more virtuous is a question, but some things you don’t learn from a reason schedule.”
While most of the reactions to the essay were negative, some readers agreed with Callard’s argument about what the current state of travel is, and what it could mean.
“Callard’s piece is important. A good number of influential people substitute the experience of traveling for introspection,” one person wrote.
“Agnes Callard comes at it from the wrong angle here but there is actually some truth in it,” another added. “The relatively easy mobility of contemporary tourism creates a false sheen of cosmopolitanism, and a feeling of emptiness as a result.”
speaking to The Independents, Callard said that, while travel can be a transformative experience, “the question is whether, with a given activity, we tend to overestimate its transformative power”. After her essay was published, she also noted that there’s a “caveat” to her argument about traveling, which she shared on Twitter.
“Spent this morning in an argument, the result of which was me conceding that the claims in the piece prob apply better to older travelers (precisely the sort who would assert, ‘I love to travel’) than to young people, for whom I grant travel is more likely to be transformative,” she wrote.
When contacted by The Independents, The New Yorkers decreased to comment.