26 November 2013

Traveling Distances and Cultural Capital

So I just realized recently that I didn't travel that much this year, as opposed to last year. Well, I did and I didn't. I was checking my FlightMemory statistics and noticed that I didn't fly too much this year. It's already November, and I only flew about 11,700 miles this year. This is just one-third compared to how much I flew last year; in 2012, I flew a total of 30,207 miles, almost three times as much as I did this year. However, surprisingly though, I felt like I traveled more this year, and saw more places. This then made me realize that distance isn't always the factor.

See, last year, I had been based in Buffalo for the first half of the year, and while I was still in Buffalo, I went to Portland, Oregon as well as to Guatemala in January; I went to Germany in February; I went to New York City in March; I went to Los Angeles in May, and finally, I moved to Berlin in September. There were 2 round-trip trans-Atlantic flights, plus 2 round-trip flights that spanned the North American continent. This definitely racked up miles for me, earning me Silver Status in Star Alliance for the very first time.

This year, however, I felt like I still traveled a lot; I went to Baden-W├╝rttemberg in January, in the Netherlands in February, in Luxembourg and Belgium in March, in Bulgaria in April, in Spain in May, in North Rhine-Westphalia in June, in Georgia and Armenia in August, in Belgium again in September. However, I didn't really do a long-haul flight. The longest I have traveled was the stretch from Berlin to Yerevan via Vienna. Hence, even though I went to plenty of destinations, I didn't have a long stretch to earn me lots of mileage the way I did last year. So, I guess distance isn't really the only factor in determining whether you'd be out of your element or not.

Now this brings me to thinking about Americans and the way they travel. See, for most people, Americans included, people plan on where to travel by considering the distance between the origin and the destination. I suppose everything else being equal, there is a higher probability of visiting a location that is closer than a location that is far. However, due to the fact that the United States is a huge country, this makes it such that most American travel doesn't increase their own cultural capital. In other words, most short-haul and close destinations for most Americans would be domestic destinations, and in being so, it does not present cultural challenges with respect to whether it is forcing them to be outside their shell or not.

See, let's say you're someone living in Chicago, a city that is somewhere close to the USA's midpoint. If you take a flight that is an hour and a half, you'll definitely end up still within the USA, unless you head north, and therefore you will enter Canada. If you put probabilities into the equation, one could probably say that the probability of a destination being visited decreases as the distance of the destination from the origin increases. Hence, most of the destinations that Americans will visit will be domestic destinations.

This is very different from the European situation. I am living in Berlin. Poland, which has a totally different language, is just one hour away from me by train. I can reach Paris and Prague and Budapest and other cities with different languages within two hours of flying time. Hence, if one is in Europe, then destinations that have a high probability of being visited by virtue of being proximal to the origin already has enough cultural differences, that people who do travel here have an easier time increasing their cultural capital.

So yes, this blog post is about cultural capital, and how I perceive typical Americans to be a little lacking in them. Of course I know that there are other factors why this might be the case, but travel is definitely one of them. I know friends who teach in college, who encounter students who think that Dutch is the name of the people who come from Denmark. Americans really suck at world geography, and somehow, I think that it is partly due to the fact that their country is just too big.

I don't know, I am not saying that Americans do not travel; I have met a lot of interesting Americans on the road. However, if one can devise a method of seeing how much the average American travels, and compare it with how much the average German travels, or the average Dutch travels, then perhaps I think one can still see that the average American doesn't travel as much. Of course, they do travel the same, when you consider distance, but if you consider travel as a function of increasing cultural capital, as a function of getting out of one's comfort zone, then I think Americans are lacking in this respect. It's partly because in order to do so, they have to travel great distances away from home.

What a pity, when there is a huge world waiting to be discovered, and yet people don't do it, simply because the closest different world is far, due to the fact that the closest international border is hundreds of miles away.

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