Today I was reading an article on the rising price of staple foodstuffs like rice and wheat, and how this was causing demonstrations and riots in certain countries, especially those that we in the west would consider "third world," like India, Haiti and Mexico.
It got me thinking about what that means to those of us who like to travel.
Right now in the world, there are a limited number of countries that I think that I would probably strike off my list as being completely and totally off limits at the present time. Mostly they are countries presently in the grips of war or in total political strife. Places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Sudan. Even then, from what I have read, there are probably places in those countries that you could travel to without issue.
Cut them out or not, there are probably very few places in the world that are completely off limits to a western like me. Even North Korea would give me a visa to travel there (though they would control my every movement as I travelled). There are only a few countries in Asia and Africa that are out of the question. Europe and the former Soviet Bloc is now all open to North Americans. The Central and South American dictatorships and civil wars that gripped the 80s and 90s when I was kid have all passed, and all those countries now seem happy for my big tourist spending with a stable currency. Cuba, which eventually became one of the few remaining stalwarts against the American and Capitalist invasion of the world, opened up to (non-American) hotel chains in the 90s and was quickly luring (non-American) capitalist to their beaches. Germans, Canadians and Spanish now happily sip Mojitos on the beach at Veradero without concern for either Lenin or Castro's legacy.
It seems like there is more of the world open now, in the mid-2000s, then any time in recent history. If I had chosen to travel in 1989, fresh off high school, many of the places that I have travelled now (Russia, Mongolia, China, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Costa Rica) would probably have been completely and total closed to me, dangerous to travel to or very controlled in the activities I could engage in. Now, though, all those countries are open to my visit, with few (if any) restrictions.
It could be a golden time of travel, a time when there are very few restrictions on those who are willing to get the visa, take the chances with petty crime and travel to a place to experience it.
I wonder though, is it about to end? Central and South America are turning more and more to leftist politics. African nations that once seemed on the road to stability are falling into disarray over election results that are presumed to be fixed. Poorer countries are rioting over the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the inability of the poor to afford the necessities of life, like rice. The UN debates whether to declare water a basic human right.
In ten years, will be be in the place where travellers (at least from the Western world) have a smaller swath of the world to travel? Will shrinking food supplies and rising gas prices make the backpackers havens a more dangerous place to be in the ten years? Or do you think that the opening up of the world is an irreversible trend, that whether things get better or worse in third world countries, the acceptance of first-world, Western travellers will continue to be accepted?
I don't have an answer (though I have a feeling that leads me in one direction). I'm curious to hear other's thoughts on the matter.
Good questions. I guess we're living in the golden age of everything--from travel, to medical care, to technology, to you name it. Golden age, of course, for those were fortunate enough to be born in developed countries, but nonetheless.
The world always seems to work in cycles--from freedom, to restriction, to freedom, or from war, to peace, to war. If we take a huge step back and look at the bigger picture, the earth itself even fluctuates from ice age, to heat wave, to ice age.
Perhaps you're right--we're fortunate enough to live in a time where travel is open and plentiful and basically affordable. Maybe the door will close again, maybe countries will close in on themselves again. Maybe cultures will try to protect themselves from being overrun by the monotonous Walmart-ish uniculture that's running amok in North America.
In the end, I think it's all cyclical. W.B. Yeats saw the world as two spools winding and unwinding upon each other in 1000-year cycles--one good, one bad. Back and forth. Maybe he was on to something.
He was onto something. The world doesn't stand in one spot, it changes, evolves, de-evolves...maybe this is the Golden Age - whether or not it goes away anytime soon, I don't know. But it'll be back; everything has to end sometime..good things and bad things
Also..it depends on the point of view, no? We may see it as the Golden Age now - but that's from our one single side. There are many more things to take into perspective, and I'm sure thay haven't all been - for all we know, we may really be in the Dusty Age and not know it. But it's hard to take everything into perspective sometimes - there's so much information, and it's a very large world.
I suppose it doesn't matter whether or not we're in the Golden Age or not - it all fluctuates, anyway - as long as people have the will and curiousity to learn about other parts of the world, it'll all keep going. That's the key, isn't it?
The world economy as a whole under the influence of the wto and imf are moving towards more economic globalization, with more flow of money, goods and labour between countries. Borders are becoming less significant. After the collapse of the soviet union, all countries are to some degree dependent on the global market, and the strings attached to wto membership and support makes it near impossible for a country to close its borders economically, and also for tourism.
Safety you never know about, there can always be new wars which makes certain areas unsafe for travel. Some also fear the "clash of civilizations" where the hostility between the west and arab world could make the middle east unsafe for westerners, but personally i think the clash is hyped out of proportions.
What concerns me more is that the world might become a duller place. I remember being in thailand with my parents when I was 10. It was my first time outside europe where i live. We did a trek in northern thailand and after walking the entire day we came to a small village where we would spend the night. The village was the kind with houses made of bamboo and electricity in only a few houses. I found everything excotic and super exciting, far away from civilization, a totally different world from what i grew up in. I remember being almost disapointed when we went to a small cafe/local meeting point of some kind. In the corner there was a tv with an american movie on. Dubbed, but still. It was kind of like an eye opener to me. These people watch the same movies as me, get some of the same cultural input.
Its already happening, and in 100 years maybe the cultural differences will be no bigger than between for example belgium and germany(relatively small).
Sometimes i also think that travelling must have been more exciting back in the old days. My father went to south america in 1967. To get to machu pichu he had to walk for hours, and when he got there there were absolutely no people there. Not a single tourist or souvenir seller. From what i hear today its crowded with guided tours and sellers. Must have been a totally different experience back then. The feeling of seeing something untouched not many else had seen.
I dont know the details, its possible that there were a road leading up to machu pichu also back then, but nothing like the tourist industry these days.
\What concerns me more is that the world might become a duller place. I remember being in thailand with my parents when I was 10. It was my first time outside europe where i live. We did a trek in northern thailand and after walking the entire day we came to a small village where we would spend the night. The village was the kind with houses made of bamboo and electricity in only a few houses. I found everything excotic and super exciting, far away from civilization, a totally different world from what i grew up in. I remember being almost disapointed when we went to a small cafe/local meeting point of some kind. In the corner there was a tv with an american movie on. Dubbed, but still. It was kind of like an eye opener to me. These people watch the same movies as me, get some of the same cultural input.
Interesting point. I agree with that, at least to a point. As tourism becomes more prevalent, I do think that places that used to be "off the beaten path" become more common place. it is a pisser to arrive at some place and see Steven Seagel kicking some dudes ass dubbed in Swahili. That being said, I have in the past said that I don't think we should keep pre-industrial age cultures back in the stone age just because we want a place that is "authentic." Who are we to tell anyone that they shouldn't have TV and movies? They may not have come up with the concept of Hollywood, but in all honest neither did you or did I, therefore why should we get the benefit of High School Musical 2 and deny that for the bushmen of Madagascar?
Anyway, I guess I wonder if, given the riots that are occurring due to food shortages right now, are the places that we might be inclined to travel now going to be very different in 10 years than they are now?
In fact, one could argue that the "golden age" of travel was in the past, back when travel wasn't available to any Westerner with a credit card and an internet connection. Perhaps we have entered a "Tin Age" of travel right now, where we find when we are on the road that we run into more foreigners that locals. Perhaps that as the US economy crashes, as stability in 3rd world nations moves towards instability, as the price of oil rises and the price of food rises... Perhaps all that will stop all the "casual" travellers from hitting the road, and leave those who are really intense about travel.
Perhaps the "Golden Age" is yet to come, at least for those who want to be "off the beaten path."