I actually get this question quite often – why am I exploring distant countries when I haven’t seen many parts of my own country?
It’s a very valid question. There is so much of the good ole U.S. of A. that I haven’t seen. I really do want to explore it – especially our many, absolutely breathtaking national parks. So why does this question bug me?
After some contemplation, I’ve realized why it annoys me, and why I don’t think we should discourage people from traveling the world, even when they haven’t explored their own country. Here’s why I think traveling the world is always a good idea, if you’re fortunate enough to have the means and you have the desire, no matter how much of your own country you’ve seen.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
First, let me get this out of the way. I know that our country is absolutely massive, and we’re not the only ones (lookin at you, Russia, Canada, China, Australia…etc.). So yes, our country is very diverse. For some, say, Midwesterners, going to the South may be a completely new experience, or going to the West Coast may seem like another world. And I totally applaud everyone who seeks these new experiences – I’m not trying to demean these in any way.
And sure – California is very different from Kentucky. I get that. I do think that seeing your own country is important – I’m not trying to take anything way from that, or say it’s not special or not worth it. To go even further, I do understand that some people have absolutely no desire to leave their home town. To each his own. Do what makes you happy. You do you, baby. Etc., etc. But since this is a travel blog, meant to inspire you…
Here’s what I do want to say.
As an American, going to a new region of the U.S. is nothing like going to, say, Tokyo. The people will look more or less the same. Sure, the accents may be different, but the language is the same. You may not be able to easily navigate public transportation (oh wait, does the U.S. even have public transportation?), but you will be able to easily get help, whether it’s from a fellow American or from your trusty Google maps (since yes, you likely will still have cell phone service, or at least will be able to find wifi). In a different, foreign country? Not so much. Or at least, it’s definitely not guaranteed.
I believe that getting out of your comfort zone is important. The rest of this post will be mostly about this idea – in terms of international travel. At the very least, traveling to a foreign country surrounds you with new people, which leads me to the next point…
Learn to Respect Different Cultures & Promote Trust
I can say with confidence that there is no where in the United States like Cairo. And, probably as a result of that, I felt pretty darn uncomfortable from the moment we began walking around that hectic city. But you know what? Every single person we met was incredibly kind. Most people even went out of their way to welcome us to their country and thank us for coming. And even though most people dressed very differently from what I’m used to, I stopped focusing on that after a while and didn’t even notice it by the end.
Not only will you learn to respect people who aren’t like you, but you’ll also realize that all humans are, deep down, the same. We all want to be loved. We all want to be heard and respected. And I don’t think you can truly learn this until you go to a place where everyone is totally different from you (and you are, essentially, the black sheep).
I truly believe in this Mark Twain quote:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, to bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
And guess what? The idea that traveling to foreign countries makes you have a more trusting, charitable view of humanity is scientifically supported, so bam. Key idea: the places have to be unfamiliar and different. I’m not saying that traveling is the only way to annihilate prejudice. Actually it’s the very opposite – there are many other ways you can better yourself as a human. But traveling to foreign lands certainly helps.
Still not convinced?
Here’s a little anecdote for ya. When we were in Palau, we had a lot of great conversations with Baba, the friendly guy who ran the hostel we stayed in. While he is very well-traveled, his family has never traveled outside of Palau to other Pacific Islands. He explained that they have a preconceived idea of what each island and its inhabitants are like. He said he’s tried to explain to his relatives that he’s been to these islands, and their ideas aren’t accurate, but they refuse to believe him, even though he’s the only one with first-hand experience. Sound familiar?
Recognize Your Privilege
Yes, if you can travel the world, you are privileged. Incredibly privileged. And this is okay. But I think many people could do with a healthy dose of a reality check. I strongly believe that if more people traveled the world, they’d be more grateful for what they have. And gratitude is key for improving happiness. And happiness makes the world a better place. (Yes, I love logic.)
Maybe all you’ll get from your experience is gratitude – and that is totally okay. But maybe you’ll go a step farther and want to give to those less fortunate. Regardless, I don’t believe you can travel around the world and come back without having a fresh outlook on life. Before our RTW trip, I took so much for granted; traveling has forever changed me.
Side note: this is one of my favorite blog posts ever, written by Oneika: Stop pretending everyone can travel
Gain a Fresh Perspective
This goes hand in hand with the previous one, but what the hell, I’m going to drive the point home.
Sure, a vacation in another state is great and has many benefits. But I’m certain it will never make you feel the way that driving around Africa will. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, Uganda made me feel things deep in my soul that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. Maybe it was seeing so many people, with so much “less” (material possessions) than I have, who have such a zest for life; such a genuine happiness I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced.
As Karen Blixen wrote in her memoir Out of Africa, “There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne – bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.”
Let me repeat that – a heartfelt gratitude for being alive. Maybe this strikes a chord with me because, as I said above, I took so much for granted before I took this year to travel. Or maybe it’s because, ever since I was a teenager, I had a gnawing feeling that something was missing. An emptiness that I couldn’t quite place took hold of my life and didn’t let go until I made the decision to travel to foreign (and sometimes “scary”) places.
And while this could be the total cliché of “finding myself” while traveling, I don’t think it is – I still don’t exactly know who I am or what I want to do with my life. But at least now I’m becoming aware of all the good I have in my life. I’m learning to be grateful for all the blessings I have. I’m truly understanding that material “things” don’t bring happiness, but real, meaningful relationships do.
Awareness of Global Issues
I’ve always told myself I care about the environment, but if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve never taken action to really “go green” or help save our planet. That changed when I started seeing a devastating pattern of destruction in every single destination to which we’ve traveled, whether its lack of recycling (this, plus the advent of way too much plastic makes for disaster), deforestation, or air pollution. Now I’m becoming increasingly passionate about stopping the scarily fast progress of global climate change.
Let me be clear – this is not enjoyable. It’s not fun to travel and feel sick to your stomach about the grotesque build up of trash in a river. It’s not comfortable when you drive past town after town that burns their trash and plastics by the side of the road. And it’s heart-wrenching when you find out most of the jellyfish in jellyfish lake died.
But it is eye-opening. You can’t ignore it. You can’t claim it isn’t real. Because you see it with your own eyes. You experience it first-hand. And if you’re like me, it will permanently affect you and inspire you to take action.
Side note: if you want an easy way to save our planet, check out Before The Floods website. They offer some ideas, as well as some petitions that literally take a few seconds to sign online!
Stimulate the Economy
Let’s say you
are super cold-hearted don’t get any of this sentimental stuff from traveling to foreign places. If nothing else, traveling to developing countries can really help their economies, which can give people (and animals, if you do it correctly) a better quality of life. I know our tour operators in both Cairo and Uganda expressed their sincere gratitude for exploring their country and asked us to encourage our friends to do the same.
Do you disagree with my sentiments? Think I got way too personal with this one? Let me know!