From an early age, travel has been an essential part of my life story. It has shaped how I think and informed my worldview. I grew up at the end of the Baby Boom generation when American middle-class culture was becoming the dominant force in the world. Most Americans rarely left the country and had become entrenched in the American mindset.
Today, globalization has had a profound impact on the entire world. Yet, many remain oblivious to the lifestyles, cultures, religions, and conditions outside the USA. We falsely assume that everyone is like us or would like to be us.
World travel is expensive, dangerous, and often unpleasant. Why would anyone choose to do it? An essential part of our growth as humans is to question our assumptions about us and others. This rarely happens when we are able to control our lives completely. But travel forces us to learn and question.
The primary benefit of travel is learning. Finding out about how other people live, shines a spotlight on our own lifestyle. When we see places first-hand there are always surprises. We naturally form assumptions about all kinds of things, yet interacting with other cultures forces us to question and rethink our beliefs.
When you travel you will gather stories. Adventures are a part of it. Learning to survive and thrive in a wide variety of circumstances gives greater confidence in every area of life. It tests our resilience and causes growth.
As a young child, our family took long car trips across the country. Every summer took us to a new place where my father would teach at a university. Sometimes these experiences were difficult but they were a key part of my growth. At age ten I lived in Greece where there was a military dictator ruling the country. I got to experience life in a police state that is quite common to many in the world.
Foreign travel was greatly reduced as we had a young family, due to both the difficult logistics and expense. But we found many ways to travel by car and continued to travel extensively throughout the US.
As the kids became teens we traveled with them to Europe, Asia, and South America. Each experience was different and taught unique lessons. Each of the kids have lived for a time outside the US, so the tradition continues in them.
There are many things that divide us into separate groups. It is natural to want to be with people who are just like us. If left unchecked, this turns into prejudice and a belief that all other groups are inferior. This is simply human nature. People fear those who are different.
Ultimately, every form of bigotry (based on race, gender, wealth, religion, language, and culture) comes from the fear of the unknown. We grow to believe that all others are evil and will hurt me if given a chance.
By interacting with real people and learning about the culture, we see that all humans struggle with the same types of issues. We get a chance to observe practices first-hand. We begin to appreciate diversity. At the same time we appreciate your own culture, because we see it through new eyes. Asking “Why?”, often leads to understanding.
We live in a dark time. There are many angry voices crying for greater levels of extremism and bigotry. These leaders are trying to establish themselves as the authorities within the church, government, and society as a whole.
The corrupted individuals are seeking out positions of influence and authority in every area. This is a dangerous time in our society. It is critical that we stand against those who would stoke the fires of fear and hatred. Becoming well-rounded in our thinking about cultures is a key way to address this threat.
These pockets are extremist ideals become like gangrene in an otherwise healthy body. They prey upon people's ignorance of the world and amplify fear to gain power. People who have experienced the world first-hand are less likely to be affected by these toxic individuals.
I believe that everyone should be forced out of their comfort zone and experience reality that is unlike their typical life at home. Lifestyles are often quite different on the other side of the world. When you interact with people who are unlike you, it changes your thinking.
It is not necessary to cross oceans to see a new world. There are places within a few miles of your home that you never visit. You don't go there because it is a different world and it is outside of your comfort zone.
It is populated by people that are different from you. They think different, act different, and have a different culture. Go as a visitor, a guest, an anthropologist, and a learner.
Every form of bigotry (based on race, gender, wealth, religion, language, and culture) comes from the fear of the unknown. Take the posture of a learner and be willing to confront prejudice in your own mind. Challenge assumptions and decide to change and grow.
What do you see that you wish you could emulate? What makes your skin crawl? What shame do you feel looking through the eyes of another and your own lifestyle? Asking these questions takes an enormous amount of courage, but it is worth it.
Life is naturally an adventure. Choosing to focus on travel makes it more so. You don't have to go far to look for places that will offer you new experiences. These make not be new places at all. It may be that you can seek out new experiences without ever leaving home.
Travel forces you out of your comfort zone but you can choose to learn and grow by simply looking for new opportunities. It is overcoming challenges and grappling with new social norms that causes growth. New food, new experiences, new people will lead to new ways of thinking about the world.
Spend a few minutes thinking about the experiences that have shaped your thinking today. What new adventures are you dreaming about?