I read an interesting article by Ben Groundwater at Traveller this week (side note: he's quickly becoming one of my favourite travel writers. Even when I don't agree with him, he makes me think.) about why Australians travel. Obviously there are as many reasons as there are individuals doing it and we can't lump all Australians in one homogeneous pack - but it does seem as though there are some cultural factors at work in the tidal wave of Aussies that can be found throwing themselves with wild abandon against hostels, churches, hiking trails, museums, drinking establishments and marketplaces (did someone just say ... markets?!) the world over at any given moment in time.
According to Ben, we are know for our travelling habits and are arguably among the most prolific travellers of the nations. My anecdotal research supports his theory; I haven't been many places where I haven't come across the telltale signs of a fellow Aussie - the boardies in the middle of a European square, the thongs flapping along the Great Wall, the unmistakable drawl standing out from the crowd in any airport you care to mention. It's so common to find a fellow Australian travelling in the same corner of the world that we don't even need to make a point of it; in fact not making a deal is kind of an unwritten Aussie rule.
So why is it that we are punching well above our population weight in the travel stakes? Ben has a few theories, including being our geographic location so far away from the rest of the world, our generous leave entitlements, our financial cushiness and our immigrant history, which has resulted in distant relatives posited all over the world. But ultimately, he suggests, our desire to travel is actually more about the lingering feeling that Australia isn't quite as good as other places - particularly the European "motherland".
If you are anything like me, you will immediately recoil at that suggestion. It goes against our "anything you can do, we can do just as good, eh", go-the-underdog, eschewing of all things hierarchical, Aussie nature. And yet. We've all been part of those travel conversations about how lucky we have it in Australia compared to those poor developing countries in Asia and how the gastronomical delights to be had in Europe just can't be found at home and how at least we don't have cheese in a can like in the US. And they are all valid points, and perhaps it's just human nature to compare. Or is it? Do Swedish and Kenyan and Ecuadorian travellers feel the need to weigh every travel experience against an ever-present counterweight of home? Perhaps some of our international wanderlusters can tell me (since we are now shipping internationally!!)! In Australia at least, it seems we are hell bent on figuring out where we rank.
So maybe Ben is right. Maybe two centuries after colonisation we are still a bit preoccupied with an Aussie cultural cringe and the fear that we don't quite measure up. But you know what? We actually do. I've just been to Europe and a fair few other places over the years. And really, when it comes to food and the arts and pretty much anything else, Australia can well and truly hold it's own. So maybe it's time to let go of our fixation with comparison and just concentrate on appreciation of the things that make every place awesome in its own way.
Are you with me?! Let us know what you think!