After seeing the NY Times top travel list for 2015, Alexander Porter can’t help but feel a nagging doubt shared by an entire generation: are we really making the most of our time?
The New York Times recently released its list of the top 52 places to visit in 2015.
Acknowledging the fact it was published on January 9th and thereby gave all those travellers a solid week off at the start of the year before they launch into this maelstrom, it still leaves a lengthy list of destinations of which I have only seen six. In my entire life. Forget 2015, it’s taken me 26 years to see just six of the places on this list, which is designed to test your travel mettle in a single calendar year. The places I have seen are fairly normal too, can you imagine the world traveller who visited the Faroe Islands, St. Kitts, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Baku, Azerbaijan in one year? Following on from these numerous yearly lists of places to see before you die, the question becomes what type of effect does this sort of lifetime ranking and achievement based progress have on young minds and what does that say about us as a generation?
I have had a fixation with travel since I was young. My eldest brother disappeared overseas while I was still fresh and impressionable and although the early morning trip to drop him at the airport lacked the romanticism I later attached to his adventures (he was so severely hungover he did not pack until we absolutely had to leave for the airport and then threw up on the back of my youngest brothers’ head on the turn off to the international terminal), the artefacts he sent back for safe keeping, from photos in front of history’s greatest monuments to turbans longer than my entire body, had me well and truly hooked.
In the years that followed his trailblazing travel I have been lucky enough to see an amazing cross-section of our unique world. From 6 weeks discovering the UK with my family, in all its oddities and eccentricities (and that refers to both the country and my family) to solo travel in the brash and bold United States, Contiki trips through sunny Mexico while making new friends then trekking through snowy New Zealand and Asia with old ones. My passport has stamps from across the world, attained beside lifelong companions, in relationships as well as alone and for that I am thankful to the extreme. Yet for every memory I have waking up to a sunrise in a bed that was not my own, I am confronted with these lists that seem to imply that in order to truly live, I have to see the world according to someone else’s view. I know very well these lists are subjective and designed to generate buzz on their respective sites rather than act as an official travel bible, but still the nagging doubt lingers whenever I see them. Am I really making the most of my time?
The issue of time management must surely be one of the most pressing confronting Generation Y. Forget global warming and the threat of terrorism, it’s about the balance between work, drinking, work drinks, the gym, fleeting visits to the parents, maintaining relationships, more drinks, generally figuring out your life goals and ambitions and squeezing in some sleep if at all possible. With this constant crush for time, it seems my issue with these lists of places to see doesn’t stem from being told my travel experiences were the wrong choices. Rather, they are reminders that while there is a finite number of places frequently nominated as the most incredible travel destinations, there is also a finite amount of time in which to see them all.
As I get older the realisation hits home that time is the driving force behind my life, and indeed life in general, and that I should decide what my priorities are sooner rather than later. The aura of invincibility and unending lazy days spent drinking in the closest beer garden and arguing about everything and nothing all night will surely have to be replaced soon with extra hours spent at a serious career, or studying for further qualifications, or feeding an army of cats. There is only so many hours in the day (24 I’m told) and fitting in everything seems tougher than ever the older I get. That childhood spent cursing my mum for not giving me the school lunch I asked for and praying for time to pass by so I could move out into a place of my own and play Mario Kart all day every day seems a world away. The school lunch I asked for was replaced with making my own meals (ordering Thai food) and Mario Kart swapped with making sure I could pay rent.
So now there’s a clear link established between how frustrated I get at travel lists and how time management is at the root of my emotions, what does this say about Gen Y as a whole?
There is no doubt that the youth of today have an insatiable urge to have everything now. Facebook, while bringing us all closer together, has led the charge acrest a wave of products and services, of which Tinder and Snapchat come to mind, that has conditioned us to want information, entertainment and even sex, the moment that craving drops into our minds. These lists, now put in perspective, are no longer the causes of time mismanagement, but an ongoing symptom. Collectively we want the perfect job, the perfect partner, we want fun and love and lust all at once and we want it now. As a generation, these lists become the inspiration for world travel that ticks all boxes at once. Went overseas? Check. Found an exotic destination to impress people with? Check. Established a permanent Facebook memorial with 134 photos and 58 check-ins? Check. They are designed to fuel our vicarious lifestyles often lived, for better or for worse, online, and the result is an army of twenty-somethings cramming their lives full to ensure they get the best of everything on offer, and miss out on nothing.
So if these travel lists are a combination of escapist entertainment and the fuel to our “have everything now” fire then this reflects our generation’s desire to access everything as soon as possible. What does that say about us on the whole? Unfortunately, that’s still up in the air. While we want information and services right now, we also want to run our own companies, create our own inventions and make our own fortunes right now. This desire could well result in a wave of highly successful and innovative individuals who could replace the often spoken Gen Y tag of “they’re good for nothing” with one of “they changed everything”. Only time will tell.
Until then, I’m off to research a trip to Squamish, Canada, to cross off number 32 on the New York Times list.