Travel as a Political Act

November 24th, 2009

Kim and his blues. Kim and his blues

Kim and I have always been travelers, before we met each other, and together for the past 30 something years. 

In fact, the day I met Kim, back in 1978, he told me about his recent travels to South America with his friends (and now mine), Jim  and Bob.  He told me all about going to Colombia and staying with Bob’s family, then on to Peru, where he stayed with a family in the jungle for a week.  His stories, more than even his gorgeous blue eyes, are what kept me coming back. 

The Most Important Things I’ve Learned

I can tell you that many of the most important things I’ve learned in life have come during travel – from my first experience in Morocco at 18, to an amazing trip to post-war Nicaragua in 1990, to a day in the war museum in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2005. 

My eyes have been opened, time and time again, to the essential differences between us, as well as the essential sameness of us all.  When at home in the U.S., it is difficult to know the water I swim in, but when away, I am forced to look outside my own fishbowl, and also to look back to it from the outside in.  In short, I see the world, and my place in it, very differently for having actually seen the world.

My experiences interacting with the world outside the United States have shaped my views on nearly everything, make me who I am, and, I think, make me a far more compassionate, tolerant, and, hopefully, wise person. 

Conscious Travel

Of course, I’m not a Sheraton/Intercontinental Hotel kind of person.  I’m not much of a cruise goer, and all-inclusive resort participant.  Kim and I like to find our own hotels, small and out of the way.  We stay in pensiones, we even stay in youth hostels (at our age!).  It’s fun.  We like to dine around the corner, off the main square tourist haunts.  We take buses and taxis and trains.  We walk a lot.  We talk to people everywhere – locals and other travelers alike.  

We make lots of mistakes, get ourselves into trouble, get lost, and make lots and lots of friends.  In the risk is the adventure.  One of the things we love most about travel is the constant feeling of being off-balance.  We’re always looking and wondering what’s going on, and what things mean. 

We try to read as much as we can about where we’re visiting, so that we have some kind of historical and cultural context to put things into.  Every trip, even if it is to a beautiful beach, is about learning something. 

We have always tried to be conscious travelers, as it makes our experience far richer, and we have always opined that if more people in the U.S. would travel, we would have very different policies, both foreign and domestic. 

Read This Book!

Yesterday, I finished reading an excellent book by Rick Steves, the travel writer.  Called Travel as a Political Act, he has managed to articulate exactly how I feel about being a conscious traveler, and the value it brings to my life, my country, and my world.  He, and I, urge you to travel more, travel widely, travel consciously, and travel reflectively. 

What a better world we would have if we could all see that our similarities and differences are merely the front and the back of the same hand.  What a better world if we would use what we know about the world to inform our political and personal choices, and not pretend that our own fishbowl is the only one there is.

There can be no argument, all travel is a political act.  Let’s be very careful what politics we espouse with that act.  Let’s be very careful to make it count in the way we want it to count.  Let’s use it to make this a better, safer, more peaceful and just world.

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