1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places
January 3, 2019 8:52 AM   Subscribe

"When I started this harebrained experiment in January 2018, to visit and report on the Times’s entire 52 Places to Go in 2018 list, I thought that by stop 48, for sure, I’d be the Wonder Woman of travel... What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned? is a question I often get. I always answer, “That people are fundamentally good around the world.” You see, it was a dream job. It’s just that my idea of what made this dream job dreamy has changed so much." Jada Yuan recaps a year on the road for the New York Times.

(Oddly enough, Jada Yuan previously, on dinner with Bill Murray.)
posted by RedOrGreen (18 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is nice and well-written, but lately I feel disgruntled with the idea of self-discovery through world travel. It has a huge cost in CO2 terms, in a time we should consider a state of emergency. As much as it broadens the spiritual horizons of the well-heeled (oh boy), it also valorizes the notion of the world as a playground for said well-heeled. Most of the insights from world travel that I’ve read from my fellow first-worlders are in various shades of self-infatuation, with the locals as supporting characters.

Maybe Ms. Yuan’s missives from the trip are exceptions. I hope so. But I’m still uneasy about the whole idea.
posted by argybarg at 9:35 AM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I can only imagine the burnout. I did an "If it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" backpacking trip through Europe on a summer break in college over two months, and the thought of seeing one more goddamn cathedral made my stomach turn. By the end, I could basically only tolerate contemporary art museums without having an allergic reaction and it's affected my design preferences to this day.

A new place every week for a year? Jesus.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is nice and well-written, but lately I feel disgruntled with the idea of self-discovery through world travel.

What, you want me to eat, pray, and love here?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:47 AM on January 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


I thought this was going to be depressing because I can't afford to travel for a while, but I really enjoyed it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


This is nice and well-written, but lately I feel disgruntled with the idea of self-discovery through world travel. It has a huge cost in CO2 terms, in a time we should consider a state of emergency.

From the article:
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned? is a question I often get. I always answer, “That people are fundamentally good around the world.”

We are also in a state of emergency because not enough people realize this.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:17 AM on January 3, 2019 [22 favorites]


I did some traveling and saw good and bad. Some very nice people capable of doing terrible things, or participating in terrible systems. Some great generosity and some real prejudice, often mixed into the same slurry.

I don’t know. Perhaps we can ameliorate people’s prejudices in some less costly and self-indulgent way.
posted by argybarg at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I quit my job at the end of 2008 and backpacked around the planet for a year. I also did a 6 month motorcycle trip in 2012.

As far reading and writing about these trips, I find logistics stories are boring without exception. Even the wild experiences you had getting around Cambodia, or whatever, of which I have a bunch. The interpersonal stories are the only thing I find interesting, because the space and means for organically developing them within regular modern living has been choked out of our culture over the centuries, whereas on trips like this they are the air you breathe. That is the value of these trips, and the only thing of value in life for that matter.

Certainly in America at least we frame politics in terms of hierarchies and status more than anything, and each person brings a varying ability to get around this both on such trips and in interpreting people's experiences of these trips like we are doing here. Of course it's a privilege, a CO2 disaster, and crazy that people living in poverty have to cook your food and make your bed for 50 cents a day. But I am 100% ok with having had the privilege of spending a year doing what felt like "human things on human terms" instead of staying within a decades long framework of a daily routine and finding relief where I can with limited energy left over for what really matters. I wish everyone could have that experience. I'm a flawed person who still struggles to maintain relationships but my gosh that trip really helped me with how to live. And for me it did take the piss out of privileging material wealth over human wealth.

Burnout is its own privilege too. Getting to a place where your body is in fact ready to go back to long term friends and a daily routine is the natural sign that you're done. Like leotrotsky I'm done with Europe's big touristy things forever - when I travel now I might spend an hour at a few museums over the course of a one week trip but that's just an excuse to get me over to a neighborhood I can wonder around for the rest of the day.
posted by MillMan at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


The interpersonal stories are the only thing I find interesting, because the space and means for organically developing them within regular modern living has been choked out of our culture over the centuries, whereas on trips like this they are the air you breathe.

I absolutely talk to more strangers while traveling than I do at home. I don't know what it is - maybe I have fewer inhibitions when I know I'll never see someone again once the trip is over?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


When reading travel writers, I always first check out what they say about places I know well. In this case, that was Iceland, where Jada Yuan was joined by Lucas Peterson, who writes the column Frugal Traveler. They did a good job, which makes me trust what she has to say about places I don't know (though it makes me wonder, like every travel piece about Iceland ever, why no one recommends buying food from groceries and making packed lunches).

Also, the piece about Iceland turned out to be interestingly meta, because Yuan and Peterson discuss what it's like to be a travel writer. It really brings home the loneliness of the job. I'm a writer myself, and I like traveling, but I don't think I would ever want to be a travel writer. It's a strange kind of nomadic hermitry, and I'm neither much of a nomad nor a hermit.
posted by Kattullus at 12:16 PM on January 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I like what she says about safety - it rings true to me, as a woman who pretty much only travels alone.
“Was there ever a time you felt unsafe?” a friend asked me recently. The answer was no, not like I have been in the past, when I escaped attackers in my Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood or on a trip to France; and also, “Always.”

Caution as a solo female traveler is healthy; blind fear is not. I find that for me the best system is to always remember that I am a tourist. It’s good to know what people who live in a place have to say about safety, but also realize that the rules that apply to them, who know where they are going, and can blend in, don’t apply to me.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:19 PM on January 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


though it makes me wonder, like every travel piece about Iceland ever, why no one recommends buying food from groceries and making packed lunches

Compared to, say, those in the rest of Western Europe, Icelandic grocery stores aren't particularly cheap! Nor crazy accessible once you're out of Reykjavik.
posted by praemunire at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2019


Also:

As much as it broadens the spiritual horizons of the well-heeled

Spend quality time around a lot of people who have never been out of their country and you will realize how important it is for most people to take a plunge into an environment where everything is done differently, yet the people seem basically normal and okay. It is one of the most fundamentally essential insights for a democratic citizen in the twenty-first century, and it is clearly utterly beyond a significant portion of our country's voters.

Also, let me just gesture again to the fact that the vast majority of CO2 burden is generated by industry, not individuals, so it behooves one to think carefully about judging others for their individual CO2 burdens. (All of transport made up 14% of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010. Individual flights for pleasure can't be more than a drop in that bucket.)
posted by praemunire at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2019 [24 favorites]


I don't know what it is - maybe I have fewer inhibitions when I know I'll never see someone again once the trip is over?

This one made me think a lot during and after, because socializing had never felt remotely as natural or doable as it did on my trip, even with my typical struggles still present, because, well, it's still me interacting. Several items in the hostel context cover most of it for me - 1) I'm introverted but I was forced to be outgoing as a solo traveler, 2) both parties were usually in a happy place and therefore more open to interaction, 3) both parties had the shared experience of the trip to get the conversation going. And in the context of interacting with locals, I was a novelty in many parts of the world, which makes people more likely to approach.

you will realize how important it is for most people to take a plunge into an environment where everything is done differently

I ended up traveling with a group of 7 others through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia for a month and toward the end in Cambodia we were in a situation where getting to the hostel two miles away took an hour of information gathering and negotiation, and one of the guys in the group from Austria finally broke and screamed, "WHY CAN'T THINGS JUST WORK HERE!?" We got there just fine. I'm sure the experience has served him well since then.
posted by MillMan at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


praemunire: Compared to, say, those in the rest of Western Europe, Icelandic grocery stores aren't particularly cheap! Nor crazy accessible once you're out of Reykjavik.

True, but every village has at least one grocery store where you can pick up basics. It's going to be a lot cheaper than eating at the overpriced (even to Icelanders) restaurants that are near touristy areas. Also, if you pack a lunch you can eat surrounded by the absurd nature, and also afford yourself an extra hour (or two) for sightseeing. Yuan and Peterson aren't exaggerating when they say that there's something spectacular around every bend in the road.
posted by Kattullus at 1:53 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also, let me just gesture again to the fact that the vast majority of CO2 burden is generated by industry, not individuals

I really don't get why people get caught up with this distinction between individual and industry. For example, a long haul flight return trip causes warming equal to 2-3 tonnes of CO2e per person (this includes radiative forcing). Is that caused by "industry" or by the "individual"? Let's say you eat a serving of beef. Was the CO2e emissions caused by the "industry" or by the "individual"? Ultimately everything is driven by the individual, not the industry - we don't have fleets of empty planes flying long haul routes for no reason, and we don't have farmers raising cows and then burying them instead of selling them for no reason. Demand drives the supply of goods - you can't push on a piece of string. I can't just set up a long haul flight to some deserted island in the Pacific and create demand for it.

Individual flights for pleasure can't be more than a drop in that bucket.

Computing an individual's CO2 emissions are tricky and the method is always up for debate, but air travel is certainly a significant part of it. First we need to get a sense of the dimensions we're dealing with.

If you total up each country's CO2 emissions and divide it by the number of people, you get 20 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in the US, and 10 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in the UK.

We could go further and say that these numbers for the US and UK are a huge understatement - because developed countries have effectively "offshored" CO2 emissions from production of goods to developing countries like China - the CO2 emissions associated with the production of say, an iPhone, gets counted as Chinese emissions, even though the designer and consumer of the good is American. In China, the figure is 5 tonnes of CO2 per person per year, and this is likely a large overstatement, because they are building goods for the rest of the world.

So on the face of it, a long haul flight generating 2-3 tonnes of CO2e is probably the single most intensive spike in CO2e pollution a person can engage in over a period of a single day of their year. Long haul flights have always been the single biggest line item on my CO2e emissions each year.
posted by xdvesper at 4:57 PM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really don't get why people get caught up with this distinction between individual and industry.

You don't? What would the total reduction in greenhouse gases have been if this person hadn't flown anywhere? Now, what would the total reduction in greenhouse gases be if, say, factories stopped burning coal?

Can you really not figure out the practical and moral differences here? Is the moral opprobrium you are publicly directing at the organizational units that produce nearly all the majority of the greenhouse gases proportionate to the harm caused, or is it just so much easier to blame those "overconsuming" individuals who, if they actually altered their behavior, would fix nothing?

Trying to blame individuals for "consuming badly" when the real harm is being done by corporations is a game for suckers and prudes.

If you total up each country's CO2 emissions and divide it by the number of people, you get 20 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in the US, and 10 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in the UK.

I'm sorry...are you under the impression that the average person is actually responsible for 10 or 20 tons of CO2 a year? Are you, for example, attributing a share of the gases put out by power generation to the poor people living near that plant and having their environment ruined by it?

a long haul flight generating 2-3 tonnes of CO2e is probably the single most intensive spike in CO2e pollution a person can engage in over a period of a single day of their year.

Even here, the numbers here wouldn't be quite so impressive if you divided that number up over the hundreds of passengers (and any cargo users), would it?

If, on your list of "things we need to do to save the planet," "getting people to give up flying for pleasure" isn't so far down as to be barely visible, you've lost the plot.
posted by praemunire at 9:45 PM on January 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


I applied to this job, because I am a migrant child of migrants who's spent most of their life on airplanes and this is pretty much my dream job. I'm not the Typical World Traveller either - being on a Bangladeshi passport for most of my life meant needing visas damn near everywhere (and never the easy ones too). It's never my face on these backpacker travelogues, but constant international travel is a staple in my family. It's cool that they picked a woman of colour for this, though I wonder if visa considerations were a part of it (I'm on a Malaysian passport now, which makes things heaps easier, but doesn't solve everything - Israel is still out of bounds for me, for example).

Reading through the article, it does strike me that my need for psychiatric medication would have been a hurdle. I have travelled with months' worth of meds before, but moving internationally can make this a major headache (I ran out of my meds suddenly while studying in the US, after ages of fruitless searching and student health insurance refusing to cover for anything, and it took a meltdown for me to be referred to county health services who got me signed on to Obamacare and free meds for the rest of my time there. Bless you Bay Area). Did Yuan have access to therapy while travelling, even via telemedicine?

Seeing Eurydice's name there took me by surprise (I worked on the Melbourne vigil for her). It made me think not just of being a femme travelling alone, but a visibly Other gender-non-conforming "are you a man or a woman???", and one who is queer to boot - I mean, I can sorta go stealth on the queerness because brown people apparently can't possibly be queer, but the risk is still there. Perhaps the fact that it's only a week each time would help me? Would the Indian train passengers be inclined to help me if I was in that same 'unreserved ticket' pickle, or would they think I got this because I look like I should understand the language? Would some regions be more welcoming than others? Would my Muslim country passport and Muslim country name make a difference?
posted by divabat at 11:28 PM on January 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Did Yuan have access to therapy while travelling, even via telemedicine?

Yes, she says she had weekly phone calls with her therapist.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:03 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


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