March 6, 2017

Day 1235 – The norm

I have been on the road for three and a half years now and for me it is part of my life.  I, like many others, have normalised travelling and essentially embraced it. Yet, I am only too aware that travelling is not deemed as normal for some people in society.  Recently, I went for a job interview and when the CEO of the organisation learnt how long I had been travelling for, she asked what I was running from.  I have had had this question before from other backpackers. I don’t see myself as running to be honest.  If anything, I see myself running towards something as a opposed to from something. Yes, when I first started my trip, back in October 2013, I was desperate to leave but even then I, I wasn’t running. My plan was to volunteer in an orphanage for three months and to then come back. I carried on because travelling became addictive, fun and most importantly, normal for me. Certainly, prior to leaving, I viewed travelling as something amazing but not something I would embark upon.

More often than not, I also have fellow backpackers or friends ask when am I going to come back and live a normal life. The implication being that travelling is not normal and time spent away is more a holiday or a break which will inevitably end.  The idea being that travelling consists of realities which are not normal somehow.  This also doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, I understand where these people are coming from but I do not agree or accept this argument. Travelling for many of us is living, living and embracing new cultures and cities everyday. It is something that makes one feel alive and it is exhilarating. I lived and worked in Paraguay for ten months, during which time, I had a normal job and a flatmate.  I then lived and worked in Australia for one year where again I had a job and friends and flatmates. If this wasn’t living then I don’t know what is.  My experiences were real as were my feelings and all the hurdles.
I have had some people say I’m living the dream. Another interesting perspective because this implies that travellers like myself are doing something so amazing, something that others only dream about and yet it is a reality for me and others. We all have dreams and many dream to travel, to explore the unknown, have amazing adventures and road-trips. I feel that travelling or backpacking through a continent doesn’t just have to be a dream, it can be a reality for many others. Yes, money is a factor plus family and pets and boy/girlfriends but this aside, travelling the globe is not a alien or unheard of concept.  Unfortunately, travelling is not yet a norm for many cultures or communities and thus, not acceptable or encouraged. For some, it is still unknown and many people fear the unknown, as did I. The only way to overcome our fears is to face them.
It is socially acceptable and normal to date for many cultures. It is social convention to get married or to live together with your partner. Social norm also dictates that we should have children and invest in our children’s future. It is also a given that we will invest time and money in a property of our own. All of this is accepted as normal and has been for years. Why? Well, as society has evolved, people have normalised these experiences. Dating was not normal back in the day in the Indian culture. My parents certainly didn’t date but this was normal for their generation and time. This want or need to get married has been prominent in society for quite some time but people getting married in the UK has plummeted.  There are various arguments for this but essentially some people simply do not want to get married.  With regards to children, again, statistics show that fewer women are having children in the UK and those of whom who are having children do so when they are older.
It was normal and accepted that men were breadwinners and women the housekeeper. Women typically did all the household chores and reared children and men provided for the family. Thankfully gender roles have developed considerably and it is now normal for both men and women to work. There is extensive media coverage that dictates what is acceptable or more normal for a man and for a woman. We are surrounded by images that set a benchmark of what is normal for a woman and for a man. For example, we have few images of women with short hair or women covered in tattoos or piercing in mainstream advertisements. We now have a whole range of grooming products for men which is accepted and encouraged by big brands because men also need to invest in their looks apparently. There are very few images of women with no make-up on bill boards or television. Alicia Keys made a statement not to wear make-up and continues to embrace this look but she is one of the very few who does.
The point I’m trying to highlight is that we as society decide what is normal. There is and never will be a set definition. It was socially acceptable for children to go up and clean chimney’s during the Victorian era but this would cause outage in London today. How we view children in today’s society is constantly changing. On the one hand, children are perceived as vulnerable and thus, in need of protection and care. Yet, on the other hand, children are viewed as a threat to society and thus, need to be held accountable for their behaviour and punished. The criminal age of responsibility in England is ten years old. One can not vote, drive or get married but one is deemed responsible at the age of ten. Despite campaigns, children continue to be stripped searched when in custody which has been criticised by some as institutionalised child abuse. Such matters are controversy but not at the forefront of society and receive little media coverage.
What we deem and accept as normal is socially constructed by society, media, politics, religion along with other influences. We then incorporate many of these ideas and they become a social norm. Yes, these social norms are disputed at times and some of us have a different idea about what is acceptable. I question social norms and whilst I don’t always follow them, it is not easy. Turning thirty last year made me think about what social convention dictates and how I was so far from achieving any of it. I am no closer to getting married, having children or buying a house. I have yet to learn how to become immune to what others think and to not let it effect me. Some people are more tolerant or understanding if they meet a man who has been on the road for over three years and certainly, it is more acceptable for both men and women in Western society then in the Indian culture. I hope one day that travelling becomes so normal and accepted in society. I hope it is encouraged and supported by family members from all cultures. And, above all, I hope we aspire generations to come to turn their dream of travelling into a reality.