I hope there comes a day when a generation of Americans understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of their country. A multicultural understanding and the ongoing exchange of ideas is imperative to a world that is becoming smaller and smaller through globalization and access to the Internet.
I wish more people would travel.
Traveling will change you like little else can. It will drop you in places that will force you to care for issues bigger than yourself. You will begin to understand that the world is both a very large place, and a very small one.
It’s important that we venture beyond the safety of our own family, and friends, and culture, and race, and experience that which is different - and that which remains constant. You will be amazed and uplifted by what you see, but you will also gain a newfound respect for pain and suffering, when you see that two-thirds of the world struggle simply to get food and water. Spending time in a poorer place helps teach you to never to take anything for granted.
Traveling will introduce you to difference and diversity firsthand and enable you to recognize - and then dismiss - those stereotypes you may have held about people you’ve never even met before. It will teach you how much you do not understand, and that knowledge will keep you curious and open to new experiences.
There were times during my travels that I felt lost because I didn’t have access to Internet, or air conditioning, or even running water. There have been times when I’ve been woken up by mosquitoes, or bedbugs, or scary ass spiders. And I vividly remember all those bumpy bus rides where I thought we would crash on small winding roads where often times we arrived at the wrong place or broke down suddenly in remote areas. This temporary lack of convenience, predictability (and, on occasion, sleep) forced me to surrender any previously held notions that I could control what was going on in the world around me: a notion both terrifying, and profoundly unburdening at the same time.
Traveling will give you the opportunity to befriend people who hold different religious and political views than yourself; people who have had different life experiences, who have different hopes, and who are happy with different things. I believe that you can learn more from those with a different opinion than you can from those with the same, a situation that is mostly nonexistent in people’s lives where everyone around you is the same age, of the same belief system, and from the same socio-economic circle.
But traveling didn’t just teach me to appreciate what I had, it also made me rethink why I had it in the first place. I realized that much of what I thought was a necessity was, in fact, a luxury that I had been given, and not earned. It wasn’t long before I not only realized how easily I could survive with much less, but that in many cases, I preferred it.
I also learned that it wasn’t just the beautiful landscapes, or the famous monuments, or the stunning beaches that made my travels worth it. Instead, most of the time, it was the people that I interacted with that had the greatest impact on me. Discovering that my most precious travel moments came from these more personal and simpler moments instead of the grandiose, materialistic ones made me understand that living contently actually required very little.
The things that I once thought I “took for granted,” I now rethought taking them at all.
Traveling made me realize that the “advantages” I had previously thought I had over others, were not always viewed as advantages by everyone else. There were many people who preferred what they had and where they lived to what I had, and where I lived. Rick Steves, the famous travel writer, expressed similar thoughts in an interview once, “It’s a very powerful Eureka! moment when you’re traveling: to realize that people don’t have the American dream. They’ve got their own dream. And that’s not a bad thing.”
These were important lessons for me to learn in the midst of making important life decisions. I valued this wide range of perspectives and found that they helped me make better choices for myself. And it was reassuring to know that I had been in strange situations with few resources or comforts, and I was still okay.
You'll find that the more travelers you meet, the more you’ll realize they often don’t define themselves by their degrees, or by their careers, or by their wealth - unlike so many people in our society. And you may come to define yourself by who you want to be, and by the passions you have, and by the dreams you're chasing. You may come to relish that you now live in a world free of expectations, and that to most, you are doing the unthinkable.
What you learn from traveling, about our shared humanity, will also hopefully translate into a sense of responsible and global citizenship – a commitment to do a little bit more and to make the world a little bit better. That’s something I think we could all use a little more of these days.
It was Miriam Bears who once said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”