Medium 9781780643991

Transformative Travel in a Mobile World

By: Lean, G.
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This book presents the re-theorisation of travel and transformation. It explores the factors that influence the behaviours of a traveller, how these become entwined in experiences and how travel experiences continue on a travellerÕs return. It uses the notion of transformation to redevelop the temporal and spatial boundaries of physical travel, develop a model for unpacking transformation and to look at new methods in the exploration of travel research.

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1: Mobilizing Travel and Transformation

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1

Mobilizing Travel and

Transformation

It was only upon my return that I realised how distant I had been in West

Africa. It didn’t cross my mind as I discarded my itinerary to spend Christmas with Johanna. Nothing clicked when I gave into desire and covered my original

7-week ‘approved’ route in 3 weeks in order to travel to Mali. I didn’t think twice about ignoring government advice to complete an overnight trek into the Sahara with a Tuareg family who spoke not a word of English. Goat urine dripping through the ceiling on an 18-hour bus journey to Bamako was tolerable. Travelling into ‘off-limits’ Côte d’Ivoire seemed rational. Discovering I was one of only a few foreigners in recent years to cross the remote north-western border of Manankoro into rebel-held northern Côte d’Ivoire didn’t stop me squeezing onto the back seat of a medium-sized car with four others for the

12-hour gauntlet run of rebel checkpoints. These all became part of a performance of travel where my role as researcher was all but forgotten as I became embroiled in the very topic I had come to Africa to investigate. In the moment, at least, it seemed I had been transformed by travel.

 

Story I: Nicole

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Story I

Nicole

Pseudonym:

Nicole

Age:

18–24 (in July 2005)

Sex:

Female

Residence:

Australia

Birthplace:

England (left at the age of 3 years)

Occupation: �Project coordinator for a small not-for-profit organization that coordinates the placement of volunteers internationally (in July 2005)

Education: �Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Sciences majoring in psychology, sociology and social policy (in July 2005)1

20 June 2005

I travelled to Thailand. Firstly, I arrived in Bangkok and went straight to Khoa San Road, as it was the ‘backpacking hub’. I didn’t really like it, but took a few photos. When I got them developed I was stunned to realise there was not a single sign in the photo that wasn’t in English. Some adventure huh? Anyway, did some shopping and just sort of noticed that in all the markets there were Thai people buying Levi’s and westerners buying

Thai-fisherman pants – pretty funny. I bought three pairs of Thai fisherman pants. I also noticed beggars – blind beggars, child beggars, crippled beggars, old beggars – lots of beggars.

 

2: Investigating Transformative Travel – A Mobile, Embodied and Sensual Approach

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2

Investigating Transformative

Travel – A Mobile, Embodied and Sensual Approach

The link between travel and transformation is one that often goes unquestioned.

This is understandable given that, as established in the previous chapter, humans are immersed in stories and representations of travel as an agent of transformation from birth.1 When this theme has been the subject of research, it has often been with a specific agenda in mind, for example a desire to determine: the benefits of study abroad programmes (and how these ‘positives’ can be enhanced), or whether volunteer tourism can develop social mindedness or if tourism can foster peaceful relations between different nationalities/cultures. The pragmatic focus of these studies has often resulted in the deployment of positivist and rationalist approaches

(concepts, methods, analytical lenses etc.) to determine whether specific groups are affected in particular ways by certain types of physical travel experiences.2 While these studies provide insights into their specific areas of inquiry, their limited scope sees them contributing little to a general understanding of travel and transformation as a socio-cultural phenomenon. And it is this broad overview of the theme that is required for appropriate conceptual lenses and methods to be determined.

 

Story II: Andrew

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Story II

Andrew

Pseudonym:

Age:

Sex:

Residence:

Occupation:

Andrew

35–49 (June 2005)

Male

Australia

Military engineer (June 2005)

6 June 2005

1. Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands: Many separate short holiday trips, mostly resort accommodation (late 1980s to mid 1990s). No real effect – too familiar and too many connections with Australia.

2. Papua New Guinea: Short work trip, military accommodation on active service

(2001). No real effect – too short, no immersion and too like my South Pacific experiences (apart from the violence).

3. United States of America: Numerous solo work trips as fire-fighter (big city, rural and middle-America), local accommodation fully immersed in local culture (late 1990s).

Appreciation of the value and importance of our welfare system and the importance of a worldly approach to news and current affairs. Reinforced my views on consumerism.

So familiar and yet so different!

4. New Zealand: Many work and holiday trips of various lengths, local, hotel and military accommodation (1980 til present). No real effect – too familiar and too many connections with Australia.

 

3: ‘Before’

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3

‘Before’

I vividly remember the day I booked my trip to East Timor. It was 22 November

2005, 2 weeks after submitting my undergraduate research (Honours) thesis

(the study that marked the first stage of my investigation of travel and transformation). The day didn’t start well. In the morning I found myself huddled on the floor, a physical and emotional wreck. It had been a tough year. I had enjoyed my first degree and had decided to complete a year-long research degree in

2005. Determined to give it my all, I began 2 months before the official start of the academic year. Even the best made plans go astray and, only 2 days into my literature review, I was offered a 3-month contract with Tourism New South

Wales – the state government tourism agency. Although I had doubts about balancing two full-time pursuits, the opportunity was too good to turn down.

My 3-month contract turned into 4 months, and months ended up becoming a full year. By the time I submitted my bound contribution to knowledge, I was exhausted. The wheels fell off shortly after.

 

Story III: Tegan

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Story III

Tegan

Pseudonym:

Age:

Sex:

Birthplace  /

Residence:

Occupation:

Tegan

35–49 (July 2005)

Female

Canada

University researcher (biology) – (July 2005)

7 June 2005

I first travelled long term (more than one month) when I was in my early twenties. Since then, I have taken similar trips alone whenever the money and time are right.

My most ‘transformative’ trip was a three month leave of absence to travel in

Southeast Asia in 2003 when I was 33 years old. I started in Hong Kong, which I had previously visited before reunification with China, and then circled through Thailand,

Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I split my time equally between cities and small towns/ villages to get a good balance.

In Laos, I was happy to see such a diversity of different tribal groups interacting in the market towns. On the flip-side, it was distressing to see that the tribal people were often malnourished and unhealthy looking, while the city Lao and the Han Chinese business owners seemed to be doing very well. I heard rumours from NGO workers that the Lao government had involuntarily sterilised women from tribal groups whenever they had to visit hospitals for emergency treatment.

 

4: Travels through Mobile Spaces, Places and Landscapes – A Sensual Essay

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4

Travels through Mobile Spaces,

Places and Landscapes –

A Sensual Essay

The challenge of investigating complexity opens the door for creative approaches. As argued in Chapter 2, when physical travel and transformation are no longer conceptualised using an out-dated, sedentarist paradigm of travel/ tourism, but viewed instead as mobile, sensual and embodied, the investigation of these complex socio-cultural phenomena requires innovation. This entails not only suitable methods of data collection, but also techniques for successfully analysing, re/presenting and communicating the rich and multifaceted experiences, stories and voices uncovered. Up until this point, the book has addressed the latter by including participant stories between each chapter, along with incorporating a short personal vignette at the start of Chapter 3. The present chapter takes this experimentation a step further by utilizing a sensual essay, comprising visual material, captions and travel narratives, to explore the encounters and interactions that physical travel enables with/in mobile spaces, places and landscapes (along with their affective/effective consequences).

 

Story IV: Carita

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Story IV

Carita

Pseudonym:

Age:

Sex:

Birthplace:

Residence:

Occupation:

Carita

35–49 (July 2007)

Female

Finland

Finland

Tour operator (general manager of her own company) (July 2007)

17 April 2007

After travelling independently in Eastern and Southern Africa on many occasions during

1989–2000, I was offered the opportunity to spend time and live with an Indigenous

(Maasai) community in Kenya in 2001. Although I had been quite environmentally aware (having completed a Masters of Science in Environmental Conservation) and considered myself an open-minded person, the time (about two months) spent living with those people changed my life. At first I was treated with curiosity and felt like the centre of their attention, but very soon this faded and I could observe and appreciate the way of life. During the day I would take long walks with my local guide, learning about the nature and Maasai way of life, at night I would sit around the campfire, listening to their songs and talking. I learned about their daily chores, the part religion and tradition plays in their everyday lives. The dignity with which they treated each other, the quiet resolution of especially the women, the sense of ageless tradition surrounding me left a lasting impression on me. While I was there I took it all as natural, but after returning to my western culture I felt like something in me had been profoundly changed.

 

5: ‘During’

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5

‘During’

While all travellers embark upon unique journeys, there is also a common experience of corporeal travel; we travel as conscious, social and sensual entities, physically placing ourselves in ‘new’ geographical locations (although to varying degrees). By physically removing ourselves from the locations in which our complex, multifaceted selves have taken shape (albeit a fluid, ever-changing, grey shape), corporeal travel has the potential to alter those factors – social relationships, interactions, roles, routines, performances, materialities, symbols, sensualities, spaces, places, landscapes, etc. – that have established our being, which may in turn lead to transformation/s, whether momentary or long-lasting. There is a need, however, for caution in generalizing the possibility of transformation through physical travel. While individuals remove themselves bodily from particular places, in an increasingly mobile and connected world, elements that reinforce certain ways of being may continue to be available/present during one’s travels.

 

Story V: Evelyn

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Story V

Evelyn

Pseudonym:

Age:

Sex:

Residence:

Birthplace:

Occupation:

Education:

Evelyn

50–64 (June 2005)

Female

USA

USA

Registered nurse (June 2005)

Nurse’s training and massage therapy

14 June 2005

Met the friendliest most wonderful people while sailing Windjammer starting in 1991.

I have never seen persons work as hard as the crew members did during my vacation.

All the while with a smile and pleasantry next to none. It also in some ways caused me to be a little more judgemental when it comes to persons who make welfare a way of life instead of what it is intended, a helping hand to improving your lot in life not a way of life. The West Indians I met never seemed to expect a hand out. Many work for years away from husbands, wives and children to send money home to maintain and improve the lifestyle in which they live. Try expecting many welfare recipients in the States to even apply or look for work let alone earn what is allotted by the system. This is not a racial issue but goes for anyone who uses the system without giving something in return.

 

6: ‘After’

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6

‘After’

After returning from Cambodia and Laos, I was at a loss. I arrived home late on a Wednesday evening and spent the night at my brother’s place in the city so that I could head to work early in the morning. I finally made my way home by train the following evening. What was usually an hour-long journey became seriously delayed. Struggling with the idea of going home, on top of coping with a faulty transport system in a supposedly developed country, I walked to an unoccupied part of the carriage, filled an empty water bottle with a healthy portion of duty-free gin and proceeded to inebriate myself. I could vaguely make out the guard and driver offering alternative explanations for the delay as

I sat listening to music. The guard believed there was a gas leak on the northern line. The driver insisted there was a fatality on the western line. They continued this back and forth intermittently for half an hour, with increasingly terse explanations, as we crawled along the tracks. I turned the volume of my music up and at some stage caught one of them apologizing as they had been incorrect. I struggled to make sense of any of this. I refused to be picked up from the train station and eventually arrived home on the bus. Everything in my house seemed different: cleaner, sharper, bolder.

 

Afterword

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Afterword

Transformative Travel in a Mobile World

Given this book’s focus on mobilities, I thought it would be fitting to avoid writing a formal conclusion. The book is not the be-all and end-all. Rather, it is an observation of a particular framing of transformative travel conducted at a specific moment in time and based upon a unique set of data I have collected over the last 10 years. The stories will continue, the themes will evolve and paradigms will shift. A conclusion also risked unnecessary repetition of arguments and findings already made at length throughout the chapters, and which

I have published elsewhere (see, in particular, Lean et al. (2014c) on the future of research on this theme and possible reinterpretations of the notion of transformation). That said, I also thought it necessary to reflect briefly upon what the various illustrations and analyses throughout the book might tell us about the nature of transformative travel in a modern, mobile world.

At its core, transformation is linked to encounters with the ‘unfamiliar’.

 

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