An Economic Balance | Travel + Locality

If there’s one theme from this summer, it’s that not all deep thoughts come like epiphanies.

I spent all but one single weekend away from home this summer, and I could feel that I had grown and learned, but there was no ah-ha moment in all 12 weeks spent traveling. It was only through discussing other topics that I realized I was drawing on the knowledge I had gained on my journeys. Ironically, or perfectly so, the first insight I had was just how much of a privilege traveling is.

Yes, most of us have considered that traveling costs money and requires time off work which means it’s for those privileged enough to have those things – and yes, having those is a privilege once you consider the 7 billion people outside the U.S. or the 50 million Americans living in poverty. But the privilege of travel is deeper; like most things I deal with these days, it’s systemic.

The scene with which these thoughts first came perfectly match the ideas. Hannah and I were in a parking garage in Santa Monica waiting for Tiffany to get her VISA from the Finnish consulate – the entire reason we’d driven all the way from Oregon to SoCal at all. I was sitting on the roof writing whatever came to mind and smiling at curious folks parking so they could go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. One old woman had strips of glitter in her hair and looked so pleased to see us mid-road trip. However, most held looks of confusion concealing envy, that we were transient and hanging out on car roofs while they were at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

I thought about a world where everyone travels. It’s a novel idea, privy to Millennials who throw around the word wanderlust and imagine themselves riding vintage motorcycles into the sunset and away from their problems. I’m keen to the idea myself, but cautious because of my blossoming value for a sense of place, community, and being indigenous to somewhere – in an economic, social and environmental sense.

Logistically, in our own travels, we needed things we couldn’t carry with us like food and gas. Someone needed to transport gas from a refinery to the stations, and someone needed to maintain the roads, and change the oil in our cars which also had to be manufactured. These things that we take for granted developed out of a necessity at some point in time; that’s how business works. You identify a need and then sell something to fill that need. The economics of the world around us seems inherent, but it’s really just arbitrary, created by humans in response to something else humans created. Our reality is so fabricated, built on layer upon man-made layer, that a good or service that’s actually inherent to how the natural world works seems like a novelty: think rainwater catchment vs. complicated utility services or shaving your legs vs. letting your body do what it obviously was made to do regardless of social constructs that aren’t even 100 years old.

I imagined a world without cars, gas, and big asphalt roads. People walked and rode horses. It was great but we were still hungry and you can’t pull a giant garden along with you; it’s simply too heavy. So there could be gardens along all travel routes as the whole world travels around. But if nobody takes a route for a month and the gardens don’t get watered – because all folks passing by are required to maintain the gardens in exchange for the food they get – then that garden doesn’t produce and people starve.

At some point, our humanity, our most basic needs of water, food, shelter, and air place limits on us. Our human nature demands some degree of locality. If there are travelers there must be those who do not travel.

It could work. There are multiple systems already in my head for it, one acknowledging that some people don’t even want to travel. However, as it stands, all we can do is be grateful for our own ability to travel, and be gracious to those along the way who make it possible.

#economics #blog

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© 2020 by Jesse Pettibone