Traveling means the world to me. That might sound cliché, but traveling shapes who we are. It shapes who we will become. Through traveling, we are able to experience things that we would not dream of in our own hometowns our home countries.
I would not be who I am today if I had not been blessed with the opportunity to see the various parts of the world that I have seen. My life has been shaped by moving, touring, and sightseeing. It has been shaped by living abroad, studying abroad, getting to know people from all over the globe… from people who are living in poverty to wealthy business executives. I have been blessed to be able to experience living in resorts abroad as well as with one of the most amazing families in Mexico. All of these experiences have impacted who I am as a person and how I travel.
Today, I want to talk about the privilege that we have; that I have. That is the privilege of travel. Often times we can forget that traveling is not something that everyone gets to do. Some people dream of seeing the world… some people live for seeing the world. We all have that one friend who seems to be able to go off and do whatever they please whenever and however they want. They are uploading photos to Instagram, twitter, Facebook you name it. You see their idealized life and that perfect holiday shot. To most people I know, I am that friend. I have been put into a situation that I have taken advantage of where for the last few years I have been able to travel at the expense of a multibillion dollar organization. I have also worked for a time to save money and it had always been my dream to travel across the world… so I worked towards that goal.
Before moving to Egypt-for university, the thought of obtaining a visa (for your passport) never crossed my mind. The US passport allows us to enter somewhere around 147 countries without a visa and many of those that do require a visa just require us to pay a small fee upon entering the country… no biggie right? Well, that can’t be said for the vast majority of the rest of the world. People don’t just have the right to wake up one morning and say, “Hey! I think I’ll fly to Denmark!” (That was my thought one morning in November of 2014.) It can take weeks even months (and a fair bit of cash) for the visa process and more times than not, people are denied entry to neighboring countries. This is something that we as Americans or Canadians or anyone from the “civilized west” take for granted. We don’t even give it a second thought.
It is our privilege that allows us to experience another country…another culture; even if it is just for a few days at a time. Since I have begun traveling I have had the continued urge to keep going. To seek out new places that would challenge my lifestyle. To challenge my way of thinking… to give me a better understanding of the people who inhabit the earth. While I have an intense underlying feeling of nationalism and pride in the United States and a gratefulness to the country that gives me certain freedoms around the globe, I am eager to learn about the world we live in. I am eager to see how other people live. How they are affected by greed, corruption, violence… how the influence of the United States takes a toll on their own country. I am interested to see what it is like to live a life where the freedoms we are so accustomed to in America are missing.
I recently had a conversation with a traveler who seems to have a passion for travel, yet they have no understanding of the world that they are seeing. They criticize those who don’t travel, those who don’t have the means, those who don’t have the desire, and those who are “content.” It really got me thinking- as they were from Europe and I myself being from North America- how we take for granted everyday our ability of mobility and freedom of movement. For people who travel a lot, we tend to find ourselves with mixed emotions and feelings of not belonging, not fitting in to our home anymore, our families stop understanding us, they stop asking about our trips. They don’t tend to care as much as we do. Life for them is what is right in front of their eyes. I find that the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality takes control if you are the one who leaves for your journey across the world. Whether you go for a month or two or for a year or more, no one will care about your journey as much as you… except maybe fellow travelers who share that feeling of loneliness with you.
Nevertheless, we go for it anyway. We seek out that next destination. We take that next flight. We do what we can to fill our sense of addiction. But we do it without giving thought to what it is really like for the people in the country that we are guests in. That is all we are when we travel… we are guests.
It is our responsibility as travelers to use our privilege for more than going to get wasted at the first bar that crosses our paths… It is our responsibility to leave the country we visit in as good or better condition than we found it. This is true with anything we borrow; we are borrowing the resources of the country we may visit. We are there to experience the culture of that land. We are there to interact with the locals… to learn from them. To gain insight into their lives. When I travel, I don’t travel to just see all the tourist sites. I don’t travel to hit up all the bars I can. I don’t aim to meet as many western tourists as possible. It is not my goal to just hang out and party with Americans and Europeans. My goal when I travel is to dig into the culture. To learn about the government affairs… to see how corruption effects the daily lives of those I come in contact with.
It is my goal to see what we as the developed world can do to make a real difference…not just throw money at the problem. It is my goal to make the voices of those who we tend to forget about heard. It is my goal to bring attention to those people who are hurting. Who are unable to fend for themselves. While I do like to holiday just for the sake of holiday…. That is not what I do when I move to a new place for an extended period of time.
Next time you take a holiday, think about the place you are going… whether it be in South America, Asia, some part of Europe… Take a minute to think about it. Think about the people who you will come in contact with. Before criticizing their way of life or thinking about how little they have… or thinking they ought to go see the rest of the world so they can be more like the developed world… Think about the fact that your favorite destination is probably plagued with corruption, greed, poverty, and even slavery.
Think about the people who welcome you into their country and cater to your every demand. Think about how you treat the lowly door man, the people who cook your food, the people who run your hostel or hotel. Just take a moment and think about the lives of these people from their perspective. You may think they live in paradise…. But let’s be real. The world is not a nice place. It is filled with violence, instability, and hatred.
It is because of this that I travel. It is because I want to understand how people are feeling, how they are living… how they survive. I travel because I am a privileged American. I travel because I want to use my privilege to make the world a better place.
Why do you travel?