I don’t typically post multiple times during the week, but I just read an opinion piece by one of my favorite travel guides – Rick Steves – that really spoke to me.
Despite his hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, Rick received a negative comment on one of his recent social posts describing his European travels. In essence, the commenter implied that with all of the troubling news in the world right now about the earthquake in Nepal, the riots in Baltimore, and beyond, Rick Steves’ entertaining and educational posts about his latest European excursions seemed “out of touch.”
I could not disagree more. Luckily, Rick felt the same way, and approached his public reply with his typical open-minded and inspiring prose.
“Traveling thoughtfully, especially in challenging times, is one of the best ways to put current events in perspective. It forces you to see that global victims of poverty and natural disasters aren’t just faceless statistics in a newspaper, but humans. You can’t help but feel empathy. In my travels, I’ve stood on the steps of sacred temples in Kathmandu, Nepal, bowed my head, and said “namaste” to people — perhaps some of the very same people who are now homeless and whose temples are now rubble.”
While I have not yet been to Nepal, the message behind his words resonated to my core.
I grew up in a fairly wealthy suburb of Chicago, but at certain points during my teenage years my family could not afford vacations. I lived in a sheltered and ethnically homogeneous community, and I rarely traveled outside of it. I was certain that all of my peers were better off than myself, since my only exposure to other kids enduring true hardships was via the news. Apart from what I saw in the media, I was completely disconnected with the rest of the world.
So, when my folks signed me up to go on my first mission trip to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in south-central North Dakota with my church at age fifteen, I had no idea how much a trip devoted to volunteer work would give back to myself as well. I saw first-hand what it looked like to grow up in real poverty, and to be angry at another culture who overtook your land.
While I understand that the struggles and strife on Native American reservations are not in the news as often as the conflicts in Israel, that volunteer experience as a teenager has since helped me put those types of clashes into perspective. Meeting and learning from people who had different backgrounds than my own helped me learn what meaningful travel is all about.
In the article, Rick Steves continues on to say, “When people question how I can enjoy a great vacation while horrible things are happening, I say, “Sure, horrible things are happening. But what good does staying home do, especially when I find being on the road gives me a better understanding of the challenges our society will be confronting for a long time to come and help me better respond?”
Humans around the world face many challenges. That said, I firmly believe we (as a collective) will learn fastest by seeing first-hand how other cultures would approach problems differently than our own. In essence, the experiences we gain from traveling will enable us to find solutions together…as global citizens.
Through traveling as frequently as I can, following other travel bloggers, and writing original travel content, I hope to help both myself and my readers bridge our personal cultural divides and broaden our perspectives. In this way, we will never be “out of touch.”