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Musings on Travel in General

Monday, December 8th, 2008

(This is reposted from my non-travel personal blog at

If you know me, you know that I want to see the world. You know that I devote quite a bit of my time, energy, and money to getting to experience new places. I just wanted to share some thoughts & quotes about travel in general today.

Idea #1:

I see travel as the one of the most important ways of expanding human beings’ understanding of each other. Through travel we discover humility, love, friendship, passion and ourselves.

-Kirsten Cargill

I don’t actually know who this person is, but I love what she has to say (the quote came in one of my Why Go emails). I agree 100%. Understanding each other, and the world, is vitally important to humanity. There are things we simply cannot learn from books, things we must experience ourselves, in both a small, personal sense, and in a big picture sense.

How can we ever expect to fix the big problems if we don’t understand each other on a personal level? How can we expect to fix international problems without an understanding of how these problems came to be? This sort of understanding includes culture and religion and history and politics–some things you can learn from books–and also a personal understanding of how people think, which is something that cannot fully be learned from a textbook.

In support of that, I have another quote from Why Go:

Travel is the key of the life time. I’ve never figured out anything without being there.

–Jeffrey Sachs

Yes! And thanks to these people for articulating my feelings so much better than I am able to. As much as I love to read about different parts of the world, to read about life, I know that it is really no substitute for the understanding that comes with experience.

Idea #2:

Is travel selfish? I’ve been accused of hypocrisy because I want to help people but I also want to travel. I don’t think that this is hypocritical. Certainly, there is a selfish way to travel. Staying in an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, never leaving your poolside chair and trashy magazines, is selfish. But it is also not what I think of as genuine travel, because you could just as easily do it at home (except the weather wouldn’t be as nice for most of us). It is vacation. Which, I suppose, has its place, but it is not what I am talking about when I say “travel.”

Travel is about understanding the world. It’s about opening our eyes to what is really going on. It’s about experiences that make us better people, experiences that we’d never have at home. And with these experiences, with this understanding, we should get some feeling of social responsibility. We see things happening abroad that would never happen at home, and we should all make it part of our goals to help everyone have food, clean water, education, healthcare–the things that many of us take for granted.

Of course, ignorant “help” can exacerbate a problem. To genuinely help, a thorough understanding of the situation is necessary. And this goes back to idea #1–this is not something you can learn from a textbook or television documentary.

Idea #3:

Is meeting an individual traveler the peace process in itself?

–Susan Hack

Peace is something else which must come from understanding and experience. Peace must also happen on an individual level as well as a larger-scale political level.

Hate and prejudice come from ignorance. People hate whatever group (illegal Mexican immigrants, Muslims, whatever) because they fail to understand them as people. There is also ignorance of the situation–not understanding, for example, that radical Islamists do not represent the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims–but I believe that a lot of it comes from a lack of experience and understanding of individuals.

When we connect on an individual level with people different from ourselves, we are dispelling our prejudices, conscious or not, against other people. It is much easier to hate an ambiguous ethnic or religious group than it is to hate a person. Travel allows us to step outside of our comfort zones and connect with so many different people from different places, different faiths, and different cultures–connections we would not make at home. Of course, the internet makes more connections possible, but it still lacks the immediate realism of a face-to-face connection.

The Final Idea:

There is no substitute for actual experiences. Travel is a collection of experiences that lead to understanding that is impossible from the comfort of home. Travel is a series of connections that allow for even more unique understanding. Understanding is the key to solving our problems, on a personal level and on a global level. Thus, travel is a necessity.

Asheville, NC (Or: Appreciating Home)

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

I have lived in Asheville, North Carolina for twelve, thirteen years. Well, outside the city itself, in a more rural community, but it’s the closest thing that can be called a city. Downtown is nice, but not that big. Other than that four-or-five-block radius, I’ve never really found much to enjoy about the place I consider home.

Today, though, I walked to the grocery store and back. It’s about forty minutes each way, but I don’t drive, and I didn’t really mind today because it’s a beautiful day outside. The sky is blue and cloudless, flowers are starting to bloom, trees are starting to come back to life. The breeze smells of clean linen and dirt and, closer to the highway, car exhaust. Outside, I love the feeling of the new spring breeze on my skin, and the sounds that surround me on days like this: birds sing, dogs bark, animals rustle the leaves unseen, and there’s always the distant sound of laughter, of cars going by, and of lawn mowers (people like to mow their lawns here).

None of that is anything new. Why am I writing this, then? Because I never really appreciated it before. I am always dreaming of being somewhere else, and if you’re reading travel blogs, there’s a decent chance you’re the same way. But today, on my walk, I realized how gorgeous and beautiful and peaceful it can be here. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to travel the world, but it means maybe I can appreciate home a little more, in the same way I would anyplace else. Maybe this isn’t the worst place to be.