THIS I BELIEVE
I believe in Travel. I believe travel experiences teach us lessons that cannot be learned in other ways, ultimately increasing ones’ cultural depth and understanding, thus making the traveler a better person.
I am by no means an expert at travel, but I continue develop my travel skills and expand my horizons to as many destinations as time and money afford. Over the years, I have managed to visit about 30 countries on five continents. Although it can be very difficult and sometimes impossible, I try very hard to immerse myself in the local culture, blend in and live as the locals live. I strive to be a traveler, not a tourist.
Years ago, my first trip overseas to Ireland opened my eyes to pride in nationalism of other countries. I was fascinated with the seemingly idyllic laid-back lifestyles of the family oriented, pub addicted and soccer crazy residents as they lived seemingly happy lives in this incredibly beautiful country. It was my first recognition that the United States was not the be all and end all of the World. The lesson–there are many lifestyles, some perhaps better than ours.
On another trip to Europe, my stereotypical view of the rudeness French people was blown away at touring the countryside. I would say bonjour, fumble some French words, and soon these wonderfully warm people would open up a dialogue in English. Could it be that it was not that the French people were rude, but rather the typical rushed English-speaking American tourist? The lesson—you are treated as you treat others.
I found South Africa to be one of the most enlightening and interesting countries I have experienced. Seeing the aftermath of Apartheid, the vast poverty stricken townships, and the extremes of haves and have nots, I realized how lucky we are here in the United States. I remember opening a door to help a black cleaning lady sweep a floor and her look of absolute astonishment at my helpful gesture. I took great pride when she, after a few moments, said “Oh you are not from here-you must be an American”. Soon we were conversing about each other’s lives very different lives. Crossing the border from South Africa to Lesotho you enter a country that avoided the oppression of Apartheid. The people and countryside look much the same but the racial tensions and attitudes magically change at the border as the Lesotho people see you as an equal. The lesson—we are all a product of our environment.
Sometimes the travel lesson can be very disturbing. I was in China, being driven down a road, near dusk in a cold rain when we saw a young man lying in the middle of the road. He had just been hit by a car. His tattered clothes told me he was poor. Rolling over you could see he was in pain. Yet everybody just drove around him. Nobody stopped to even pull him out of the road. Upon questioning our guide we were told “ he was wet and cold and was going to die tonight anyway”. The lesson—some cultures do not put a high value on a human life.
These are just a few examples of how travel has increased my depth of understanding of the World. The travel lessons continue as I continue to travel. Yes, I believe in travel. I plan to keep traveling. I think everybody should travel.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.