I’m 50 countries in now, and to me that’s nothing. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what I’d like to see, do, taste, hear, and feel. Folks keep telling me that I will be done soon. But what they don’t know is that it’s like drugs. I’m in too deep now, and there’s no going back. But I’ve been doing some reflecting. I had never even stepped foot on a plane until the ripe ole age of twenty-one. Here are the EIGHT things that travel has taught me in the last seven years.
The Value of Informal Education
Disclaimer, I work in education. And I like it. Clearly I think that formal schooling is important but it’s merely a training. School prepares you up for how to teach yourself, how to gather information, how to formulate opinions. The most important things to learn will never be found in books, as invaluable as books are. The print might be present upon the pages, but the print won’t soak into the reader’s brain. The most important education comes from experience. Learning is a life long process, and I’m not done yet. I know that I never will be.
Tribalism Prevents Us From Connecting to Each Other
Clans have warred since the beginning of time. Human nature dictates that we like to “be around” people who are like us. Think about your favorite sports team. It’s a bit fun to hate the fans of your rival, huh? I personally would truly turn down the opportunity to go out to lunch with alumni of The University of Alabama. Their football team is better than mine. We have nothing in common. Right?
Once I had a Panamanian tell me that she didn’t like Venezuelans. Really? You’ve met them all and you didn’t like a single one of em? Small thinking. And the only way to get over it is through exposure.
The more that I have observed, the more that I’ve noticed that people find arbitrary things to identify with. Perhaps we identify with a nationality, class, race, or an idea like freedom. We tattoo ourselves with images and plaster our bumpers with indicators that we want others to know about us. But the only thing that makes us different is that we are really all the same. It’s an important idea to consider, especially at a time when we’re considering building infamous walls. But the idea really isn’t even a new one. In 1987, Ronald Reagan gave the infamous speech, “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!” Thirty one years later and our president is the one wanting to build the thing . . .
In the end human identity is a construct of the mind. We identify with that which we choose.
Creativity is Important
The very first thing that totalitarian governments usually do is nix the intellectuals, the artists, the teachers, the writers, any intelligentsias with any sort of political sway are usually banished or killed. The Soviet Union followed this pattern and they are still paying for it. Twenty seven years later, and the culinary food scene is still stale. There are only a couple of ways to prepare potatoes and beets. And they’re needing some new ideas.
The Cost of “Progress” and How It’s Usually About Conquest and Power
What really shocked me about Costa Rica was how developed it was. There was hardly anything wild left. The animals were put into fenced reserves. Tourists were bused in by the swaths and payed to see them kept like zoo animals. All of this was disguised by the terms “conservation“. But I was thinking of the green thing, money.
Costa Rica isn’t a colony. There’s no foreign power there officially holding control. But big business and resorts are choking the very thing that the tourists initially came to see, the natural beauty.
The idea of “progress” has been used to defend the expansion of empires for centuries. The British felt good about expanding their empire into Asia because it was moving their country forward. Belgium was built on the backs of African slaves. London and Brussels are both beautiful places.
The concept can even be seen on a micro level. What’s more important, to conserve and preserve what we’ve already got? Or to worry about becoming bigger and more powerful that we already are? What is progress, really?
To Question Authority
“Who said?” The question now comes to my mind frequently.
“Who said?” . . .
“Who said you should load up all of these Jews and kill them?” I thought as I looked down into the snow at the final destination, at the end of the rail in Auschwitz.
“Who said these people were lesser than you?” I thought as I looked down into the river in Bosnia, thinking about the Srpska men committing genocide. I thought about it being stained red with the blood of villagers downstream and how frightened their neighbors must have been.
“How did they convince you to do what you did?”
“Who said it was the right thing to do?”
“Didn’t you think for yourself?”
Time is the ultimate earthly judge of character. It begs us to take a step back, to try to take an objective perspective with a level head, to question our own motives, and make the best choices available at the time.
The Importance of Money without Obsession
You have to manage your money to travel extensively. Period. Opportunities usually cost time and money.
But last year I met a Russian traveler who slept in a tent while trouncing from the bottom of South America to Belize. He’d averaged about $250 a month over his two year course. He worked as he went. And he intended to get all the way around the world.
I’ve lived on both sides of the fence: I’ve been a snot nosed kid without the means for a plane ticket. But I’ve also been a queen for a day in a five star colonial hotel, in a land where the dollar stretched farther than I could even imagine. Man servants dressed funny, carrying plates of macaroons, catering to my every whim. Both situations felt uncomfortable. And neither one gave me what I needed.
At some point the experience becomes more essential than the money.
People Are Themselves, Not Stereotypes, and Certainly Not their Governments
I understood the message that United States Government conveyed loud and clear. I shouldn’t be friends with Communists. But then I went to Cuba and I became friends with a warm, hospitable, and seemingly free family in Havana.
I’ve had countless conversations with people the world over. The general masses, the Average Joes, are usually good willed, kind, welcoming, friendly, and safe, regardless of political climate or foreign relations.
How to Identify with Others Without Being Like Them, and Then Not
At home, in Denver, I admired the designs in the dark blue booth fabric in a Moroccan restaurant. The owner of the establishment approached and tried to educate us on Tagines as we reviewed the menu. We smiled and told him that we were familiar with the typical Moroccan stew. We were craving Tagines. We had tried to make them at home without the slightest success, and that we had driven an hour to eat at his (tiny) establishment.
That cracked him open. He went on about how he was from Fez. “Oh, you’ve been to Fez?” He called over his shoulder to tell his boys. They were surprised. His youngest son, maybe twelve, took off his apron as he walked out of the kitchen. It sparked a conversation.
I noticed a Quran stowed in the booth.
Here was a man who was absolutely different than me. Different nationality. Different ethnicity. Different religion. Different gender. Different Age. And I left feeling totally connected to the guy, excited to go back to eat again, admiring him for passing down his culinary art to his boys.
A day prior I attended a party. I stood uncomfortable in a room full of strangers. “Did you see my new Coach bag?” , a brunette excitedly entered from the kitchen.
“If you ever die I want to inherit all of your purses”, her friend replied.
They then looked to me to comment on how nice the bag was, holding it up. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I didn’t have a single thing to contribute. The conversation continued without me. Here they were. Same nationality. Same ethnicity. Same religion. Same gender. Same age. And I couldn’t be further from connecting with them, about anything.
Elenor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”. I’d like to add in that even simpler minds discuss Coach bags.
So when you see me, when I get home from Ireland, talk to me about something important. Tell me about something going on in your life or some issue out in the world. Comment on my social media about something thought provoking. The meaningless ramblings of incessant words that are entirely meaningless is making naturally curious and fun loving people like myself draw closer inward than ever before. I want you to teach me something.