Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist fame has posted an article about why travelling is a waste of time. Those of you who know me reasonably well just winced, because you know what my reaction is likely to be.

Penelope is one hundred percent wrong. Not necessarily in all of her reasoning, but certainly in the conclusion she drew. If her article was a college paper, it’s the sort of thing that would scrape a B- thanks to its presentation and the fact that she at least presented a somewhat logical train of thought.

Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

I’m growing sour on travel. I have always disliked it. When I was a kid my parents took us all over Europe and the Caribbean, and it really exhausted me. Now that I’m a grown up, I am better able to articulate why I think travel is a waste of time. Here are four reasons why I think the benefits of travel are largely delusional:

Well, short of putting it in the title, she couldn’t have been much clearer—this article is about why traveling is a waste of time for Penelope Trunk. She didn’t like it as a kid, she doesn’t like it now, and sucks to anyone who thinks she should. Fair enough. But then she goes on to call people like my friends and I delusional, which I think is deserving of a well-articulated rebuttal.

1. There are more effective ways to try new things.

While it’s true that learning and broadening your experience is important, doing that one time is quite different from consistently integrating something new into your life. It’s low risk to try something for a week. Which will make more impact on your life: going to Africa for a week and seeing wildlife and living in the jungle, or retooling your weekly schedule so that you take a walk through your local forest preserve once a week? You will have a stronger connection to the forest preserve than the jungle, and you will have a deeper sense of how it grows and changes and how you respond. So if you hope that travel will change how you see the world, doing something each week to see the world differently will have more impact than doing it one time, seven days in a row.

::whistles:: I’m not even sure where to begin. Okay, point one: not all travelling is a one-week endeavour, Ms. Trunk. Some of us find ways to go abroad for months at a time, and live or work there. Living or working in any new place for an extended period of time exposes you to new and valuable experiences, and doing it on a different continent even more so. Point two: visiting that jungle may be a one-week endeavour now, but who’s to say that one trip won’t change your life and introduce you to your future career?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hugely important to make time to visit that local forest; travelling is unlikely to do you any good if you don’t already have a strong connection to your home. Or, as Twoflower puts it in The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, “All this traveling and seeing things is fine but there’s also a lot of fun to be had from having been. …You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.” But you don’t get that fun if you don’t go anywhere, either.

In summary, if travelling is all you’re doing to try new things or change the way you see the world, Ms. Trunk is right; it’s a waste of time. On the other hand, travel can be a fantastic way to encounter new things if you already have your eyes open.

2. Cultural differences are superficial. Economic differences matter.

Don’t tell yourself you travel to learn about different cultures. Because you don’t necessarily learn from people in other cultures. And you don’t need to leave the US to find cultures different from your own.

Frans Johansson writes about diversity, and he says that race is not a indicator of diversity any more—background is. And the most diverse backgrounds come from economic disparity. So a rich white person and a poor white person are more different than a rich white person and a rich black person.

I think this is true across cultures as well. I had a South African roommate in college. But she was just like me: rich, white, Jewish. But when I lived on a French farm for a summer, the big difference between me and the farm family wasn’t that they were French. It was that they were living on a farm. I know this because when they figured out I was unhappy, they sent me to live with their cousins in Lyon—a large city in France—and the cousins were just like me.

You don’t have to travel to learn about different cultures; it just helps. Travelling helps to jar you out of your normal routine, and encourages and enables you to explore aspects of a society you would otherwise avoid or miss. When I visited Scotland, I wound up staying with a man who was a baron by blood and land (he didn’t feel the need to pay a fee to become a titular one). While I could certainly attempt to spend time among his economic peers in the United States, they still wouldn’t be landed nobility. As a traveller, you will likely find that your status opens cultural doors to you that are difficult to open through other methods.

Again, the issue here mostly comes down to the fact that if you walk around with your eyes closed, you will find it equally difficult to encounter and learn about new things whether you do it at home or abroad. If your eyes are open, travelling gives you access to a new (and often wider) range of people and cultures.

3. People who love their lives don’t leave.

Imagine if you were excited to get out of bed every day because you had structured your life so that every day was full of what you have always dreamed of doing. And you were in love with your boyfriend, and your job, and your new handstand in yoga. You love it all—imagine that. Would you want to leave all that behind for two weeks? What would be the point? You’d have more fun at home than away from home. So instead of traveling somewhere, how about figuring out what you’d really love to be doing with your time, and do that? In your real, day-to-day life.

I find the assumption that I am travelling to get away from something troubling. I do love my life. And if I want to love it abroad as well as at home, where’s the problem? I can be just as excited about my life whether I’m at home or abroad, and if there are people, places, and things I can reach by travelling, why not add a thrill of discovery to that excitement? I’d rather travel with one of the people I love, it’s true, but I enjoy the experience of travelling (new people, new places, long train rides, and so forth) sufficiently that I am willing to travel by myself if necessary.

In other words, travelling is not my way of leaving my life. It’s my way of adding even more love to it.

4. Travel is not the time to do deep thinking.

People who need an escape so they can think deeply actually need to add that to their daily life. How about setting aside time to think deeply every few days? Sam Anderson suggests in his article in New York magazine that meditation is so important that people are going to start making time for it in the same way we make time for exercise now. So maybe that travel bug you are feeling is actually a give-me-headspace bug, and if you think you need it only for a couple of weeks, you’re wrong. You need time to think each day. Re-craft your days to honor that need, instead of running away for what can only be a temporary respite.

My guess is that the things you are aiming to accomplish while you travel are generally things you could accomplish on a deeper level if you stayed home and made changes to your life instead of running away. Routine and practice are the keys to giving deeper meaning to your life. Sure, disrupting routine is important for gaining new perspective. But you certainly don’t need to travel to the next country. There is plenty that is new right where you are now. Just look closely.

You don’t need to travel. You also don’t need ice cream, or sex, or to lie out in a sunny field on a beautiful summer day. But all of those things can sure help make your life more enjoyable, if they happen to be the sorts of things you enjoy. I think my point here is that travel may not do it for Penelope Trunk. From my point of view, that’s a little bit sad; given my personal experiences, I can’t help but feel like she’s missing out. With that said, she’s perfectly entitled to think I’m crazy for having this wanderlust; the beauty of all of us being different is that, you know, we’re all different.

Once more, though, I feel the need to rebut Ms. Trunk’s assumption that I travel to run away from something. I travel to get to something, to encounter new things, new people, and new ideas. There are definitely side benefits in that I tend to think more clearly for some time after I travel, to desire stuff less, to seek after enlightenment with greater tenacity. Certainly it behooves me to make my home life more conducive to such a state of mind, but if it’s easier to find by travelling, why would you have me deny myself such a pleasurable and educational experience?

For those who consider themselves to be lifelong learners with eyes always open, I cannot recommend travel highly enough.

[Please note: I am currently without internet at home, and as such, I’m posting what is essentially an emotionally charged first draft in order to get it online. Please leave comments pointing out factual errors and other annoyance, as well as your general thoughts, and I will eventually post an edited version on The Commentariat.]

In the 2008 presidential election, voters of my generation turned out overwhelmingly in favor of now-President Barack Obama. The media says—and I agree—that we did so because we have been exposed to more than eighteen years of divisive, polarized politics. Partisan hackery is all the voters of my generation have ever known. An articulate and intelligent man promising change—promising to end that partisan hackery—reignited our idealism. Barack Obama guaranteed himself our vote with promises of a new Washington.

Half a year later, it’s hard to see what progress he’s made. From the closing of Guantanamo to the illegal wiretapping performed by the Bush administration, Obama has toed the establishment line on important issues that had earned him the vote of the iGeneration. His fiscal policy, like that of the majority of Washington politicians, is indeed a form of socialism—or, more accurately, social democracy; the Washington establishment abandoned its claim to anything resembling true capitalism when it branded financial institutions, and worse, large businesses, ‘too big to fail’—if not long before. The Obama administration has made no effort to prosecute the criminals of the Bush administration, and from all reports the largest change Obama has made in the White House since taking office is a sartorial one: the dress code has been relaxed in the most powerful building in the world. Whether or not you’re in favor of formal dress, that’s a poor decision issue to be famous for as the President of the United States.

Some may point out that Obama is at least articulate and intelligent and doesn’t practice cowboy diplomacy, that he at least uses hope instead of fear to gain support, and these things are true. However, the last eight years have made many of us forget that a president bright enough to understand national security briefings and remain friendly with the civilized world, a president capable of leading with hope instead of threatening with fear, should not be a luxury, but our basic expectation for the position. Although I for one am truly grateful to once again be able to claim such a president, I would remind my fellow Americans that we should not rate a merely competent president more highly than he deserves simply because he follows an incompetent one.

In retrospect, Obama’s indebtedness to the political establishment seems apparent. His rise to the presidency was meteoric, and began, for most of us, with his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention during the 2004 presidential elections. I predicted then, without benefit of any political party’s polling numbers, that Barack Obama would run in and win the 2008 election. If I predicted it as a seventeen-year-old, we can rest assured that the Democratic Party was more than aware of his ability to sway voters and win elections. His keynote address that year was the Party’s way of introducing him into the public eye. He was already being groomed then by diehard members of the Democratic political establishment for a run at the presidency. The image of change he projected during the 2008 electoral campaign was carefully calculated and chosen by his staffers and the Democratic Party at large as the one most likely to win the election for him—no more.

Obama’s challenger, John McCain, had been part of the Washington political establishment for far longer. Except perhaps for the blatant idiocy of McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, no part of the 2008 election was a real danger to the status quo in Washington. Regardless of the result, the man who moved into the White House would be a man picked and groomed by the Washington power brokers to fill the most powerful seat on Earth. He would not be a true outsider. There would be no real change.

And so we come to the most important questions the iGeneration has faced so far. Willingly blind as we were to his establishment ties, we still have the right to be angry at Obama for so glibly accepting our support; we still have the right to be angry at the Washington political establishment for maintaining a two-party system that is nearly as restrictive and choice-denying as a one-party system. We still have the right to be disappointed in ourselves for accepting the stories of change they told us without question.

But in the face of our disappointment, will we remember that we have these rights? In the flow of our anger, will we accept the responsibility to disempower the Washington establishment that has so blunted our political rights and replace it with a system worth supporting?

In the final estimation, will we be the generation that brings real change to Washington?

A little after eleven thirty today, I shook hands with the doorman and walked through the doors of San Francisco’s Gold Club. It’s a gentlemen’s club on Howard Street, which is to say right in the heart of the city and quite close to very respectable venues like XYZ. I’d never been to a gentlemen’s club before, and in all probability never will set foot in one again—but this being San Francisco and my very last Spring Break, I figured I should probably do at least one thing I might regret.

I’m pleased to say, I don’t regret it. Friday lunches and the accompanying show at the Gold Club are free after a $5 cover, so the place was pretty packed. The clientele ranged from construction workers on their lunch break to a trio of Japanese gentlemen in suits, as well as at least one middle-aged couple at the bar who appeared to be enjoying a date with nary a glance at the stage.

I made a quick foray to the buffet line, where I snagged some fried chicken, jambalaya, steamed veggies, and an iced brownie, then parked myself quietly at a two-person table in the corner. The only pressure I felt during the whole experience came from a relatively fully-clad waitress who let a frown crease her face when I expressed disbelief at the $5 cost of a bottle of water. In her defense, the water turned out to be Voss (artesian spring water from Norway), and came in a bottle that I plan to use as a credible Nalgene alternative for the rest of my time in San Francisco.

For a total cost of $10, the food and particularly the water—the Voss was nearly worth the $5—were entirely satisfactory. The chicken was a bit dry, but the iced brownie was delicious, so things balanced out. Since lunch was the whole point of the exercise for me, with the show being a sort of anthropological add-on, I count the trip as a success.

But that’s not what you wanted to know, so let’s rewind a bit.

When I walked up, the doorman said hi and asked to see my ID. Apparently satisfied that I wasn’t skipping high school lunch to hit a strip club, he waved me through the front door. The diminutive yet somehow intimidating Japanese-American woman at the front desk took my five and handed me a receipt, then gestured me through to the floor.

How to explain the inside of the Gold Club? Think of a cross between your favorite wannabe-upscale restaurant and your best-remembered high school dance (if it had special topless dancers announced by Casey Kasem). Add a small mirror-backed stage with a pole as the center of attention, and you’ve just about got it.

The girls who were working mixed in with the clientele. Occasionally some money changed hands and one of them would lead a gentleman off the floor to some back room or give a somewhat restrained lapdance right there on the floor. It was hard to tell whether some of the girls sitting at tables together were on the clock or just relaxing there in lingerie for the hell of it, since they didn’t seem to be approaching anyone. Presumably that was part of the atmosphere; I don’t know.

As far as the actual dancing goes, I’m going to draw from a Yelp review by Nicole G:

A $5 entry fee includes all-you-can-eat buffet and almost more thigh, breast and leg than you can handle in one sitting. We were there for a Chamber of Commerce meeting (this is how business gets done, people) and strangely enough, we never found our party.

Maybe we were distracted by the naked women? The gals are all cute, albeit somewhat tranquilized. I found myself wishing they would dance a little grindy-er, gyrate a little faster or put some guy in a headlock between their legs. I was feeling a little unfulfilled until we saw Shelby perform… dang, that girl went up the pole and pulled out more tricks than a circus monkey.

I dunno about Shelby and her tricks, but there was definitely one performer who stood out head and bare… uh… shoulders above the rest. The rest did seem a bit tranquilized.

I was pleasantly surprised to be approached by only one of the girls, and she as I was getting ready to leave. A gorgeous Latina in an attractive red not-much-of-anything, she tried to strike up a conversation but gave me a gracious (and dazzling) smile and moved off when I told her I was just about to leave. I’d no particular urge for a lapdance of my very own, but I was still pleased I’d chosen not to take any extra cash with me—I can see where an attractive girl in very little clothing could be ungodly persuasive.

Overall, I’d give the experience a solid four stars, at least as much for the anthropological experience as for the food or the dancers. I don’t really see why any man who has a regular date and more than $5 on hand for Friday lunch would spend his time or money at a gentlemen’s club, but if forced to, I suspect you could do much worse than San Francisco’s Gold Club.

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