Hello my Virtual Travel Buddies. This is not the article I’d planned on publishing today. I’d planned to tell you about my latest adventures in Vancouver, Canada, and maybe give you an idea of a non-traditional activity to enjoy while visiting a destination. That will have to wait. Instead, I’d like to talk about the importance of travel.
Last night, the magical city of Paris was viciously attacked. This came one day after a terrorist bombing in the city of Beirut. There is no acceptable explanation for this and any civilized society would condemn the murders. And as much as we’d like to say, “This couldn’t happen in my neighborhood,” the truth is, it could. Perhaps it will be an attack by extremists, or maybe the situation will be different. Maybe it will be a mentally disturbed kid bringing a gun to school to take his revenge against bullies, and your child is caught in the cross-fire. Or it could be someone walking into your neighborhood pharmacy and killing only two people during a robbery. I say ‘only two people’ yet, if your spouse, your sister, your child, or your parent is one of those two, it will make no difference to you whether it was a mass terrorist attack or a drug-crazed gunman. The loss is the same.
Knowing this, you have a decision to make; will you keep your child from going to school? Will you lock yourself in your house and order your prescriptions over the internet in order to avoid possible danger? Yes, doing this could save your life. But what kind of life will it be? I say the same holds true with travel.
Maya Angelou said, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
When I was heading to Vietnam this summer, I had concerns about what they might think of this American. After all, the war we Americans know as the Vietnam War, is known as the American Invasion over there. From their view, and even in many others’ opinions, this is more accurate. And, with museums and memorials telling some truth, and much propaganda, it would be surprising to me if the Vietnamese people were at all nice, let alone friendly and welcoming. Yet, for the most part, that is what I found. Sure, there were some bad apples who chose to cheat me, perhaps because I’m white and it’s assumed I’m rich, or, perhaps it’s because they’ll cheat anyone. But that’s the point. You’ll find these people everywhere. Even in your hometown.
If you travel with an open mind, you will learn the whys behind people’s views and actions. You’ll learn that, in Germany, it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust; and the law is enforced. In Hungary, it’s illegal to show the swastika. I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t seen the police approach a man with the symbol (and a line drawn through it) on a sign during a protest in Budapest. Did you know that the swastika is actually an ancient Asian symbol meaning ‘well-being’ and ‘good fortune’? Sure you could Google it. But would you even think to do so if you hadn’t traveled and seen the symbol on jewelry and hotels?
Martin Yan said, “People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.” Many people in India don’t travel; they simply don’t have money. All they know of America is what they see on TV. They see Donald Trump, they see Kardashians, they see reports on shootings. It’s understandable that they think Americans are all rich and everybody has a gun. Most do not have a global view as they only see what’s in front of them.
There are closed-minded Americans who might say, “Hey, if they don’t want to know about me, I don’t want to know about them.” To those people I say, grow up. You say that America is a great country so go, travel, be a positive example of what you want them to know about America. If we don’t travel, all they’ll know is what they see on TV. And, in some places, what’s shown on TV is subject to government approval. We know that we are not our government, and neither are most citizens of other countries.
Through travel, we learn about other cultures, and allow them to learn about us. We also have the great opportunity to learn about ourselves. We may even find out that we have our own prejudices and preconceptions. Just as we may think our culture, laws, or way of life is better than others, we must understand that this is what most cultures believe about their own. Only through travel can we truly understand what everyone has to contribute.
Often, I’m asked, “What did you do to prepare for this trip in terms of self-defense courses and safety?” Yet, when I was in Europe I was told by a few people that they were afraid to come to the U.S. as “everyone walks around the streets with guns.” Why do we always assume that it’s more dangerous ‘over there’?
So do not be afraid. Be aware, be open, be a good example, and be courageous. I’m not afraid of traveling. I’m more afraid of a world in which we don’t travel.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” — Plato.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” — James Michener
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
**Title Quote – John Berryman