A personal project that I have been working on in my spare time over the past few months involved locating, digitising, tagging, and putting into neat little country boxes (on Flikr) all the photos that I have taken on my travels since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And there are a lot of them, about 5000 photos taken in 40 counties (41 if you count Australia). I have visited countries like Germany, Thailand, the UK, and the US up to 9 times.

1989, California, USA
1989, California, USA

I have wanted to do this project for quite some time as I had difficulty remembering how many times I had visited particular countries and wondered how many I had seen in total (not that ticking-off countries is what I initially set out to do).

And in reflection, I am typical of my (x) generation. The world opened up considerably after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with many former Communist-block countries lessening restrictive visa requirements and welcoming snoopy visitors. I was in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) a couple of months after the fall of the Wall and have been to numerous ex-Communist countries like Hungary, Vietnam and the Czech Republic since then. Also, an essential factor to consider is that in all the time I have travelled, airfares have remained pretty constant (and even become cheaper). My first airfare to the UK in 1989 cost $2200 economy fare, similar to what it costs today. And average wages have increased 3-4 times with the Australian GDP.

I am the last generation to do the coming-of-age big-trip in my early 20s. For many Australians before the 1990s, travelling from Australia regularly throughout one’s life was impossible because the costs made it prohibitive. The big trip involved saving for many months or even years to get the money together to buy the plane ticket and then have enough beer money once you arrived. The UK was the only country where Australians could work (particularly young working-class Australians). I am not sure if this is still the case, but the importance of the UK to my personal development and mobility has been extraordinary.   It is crucial to have special working visas and discounted fares for young people to explore the world in their 20s. The individual and country grow immensely because of it, as does the world and the sophisticated interpretations of it.

I also visited many countries over the summer while studying at University when I was younger. These were primarily in Asia, which is geographically close to Australia and relatively inexpensive to get to and travel within. I mostly travelled the hippy trail opened up in the 1960s and 1970s by the baby boomers, well-trodden and documented by Melbourne’s own Lonely Planet travel books.

India changed my thinking about the world more than any other country. Australians, like Americans and Canadians, are Modernists (if I can be so reductive and general). We can’t be anything other than Modern; I have never entirely understood how one could live their entire life in this otherwise wonderful country and be oblivious to the oppressive level of conformity imposed upon us by our restrictive and somewhat unresponsive Modern industrial system. We have lost much more than we have gained (although we have yet to really have it to start with, and the more I travel, the less unique the Australian Way seems to me…well, at least from a Modern perspective). India opened me up to alternatives. It is a cultural superpower. It is the most culturally rich place I have been anywhere on the planet, and I am sure India can take a crude Aussie Modernist like myself (with his victorious flushing toilets) in its stride.

More recently, I travelled quite a lot for work, but this was for collaboration with fellow Modernists, so it was focused, instrumental, and de-territorised. I would like to know if I gained a lot from it from travellers. Still, a few stolen days here and there on either side of a conference or workshop are always welcome, and I am lucky to have had this privilege in my career so far. Still, I have met many academics and business people who travel every other week, and it does not impact them in any enlightened or positive way. Perhaps they approach the world and its magnificent, diverse cultures like they approach other aspects of their lives (i.e. banally!). I prefer to change my eyes, not my cities.

Speaking of such, the World, according to Craig, is not just about going somewhere and seeing something for the first time; it is how you experience it as a whole person in a different and enlightening way that makes the process worthwhile for you and others. In other words, it differs from where you go; what you take with you counts. If you are an Aussie Modernist, you probably aren’t going to get too far away from Hong Kong or Singapore. You may even think that they are the same but different. But with the right amount of prodding from some of the world’s great authors, Kapuscinski, Hess, Rushdie, Eco, Gregory David Roberts, Murakami, and Calvino, you might discover yourself and a whole world.

We never travel alone; on a winter night, there is always Herodotus, and we are always the midnight children of the historical narratives that we inextricably absorb into our subjectivity as we grow older.

And what have I learned so far? The world never gets smaller; only people get smaller.



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