travel as a means to understand…


Last week, I was thinking about our summer travel plans. We like to try something different now and then, we like to learn things about different places…

And then, the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, and all sorts of downstream follow-up violence and terrorism, took place.

Which gets me thinking: sure, there’s a good amount of this terrorism that can’t be stopped. Some groups of people will always be violent toward other groups of people. But what can we do–namely, on our homefront, to encourage acceptance and understanding of those different from us? Note that we do not have to agree with those different from us. We merely need to understand their viewpoint, which will hopefully avoid violent acts of terrorism.

We subscribe to the philosophy of travel writer and host Rick Steves, who often quotes Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” So many of us get embroiled in bitter arguments with someone online that you’d never have in person. I recommend that you go and meet the person–their culture-and put a face to their opinion. It gives so much greater understanding, so that maybe the great divide will shrink… and we will be less inclined to violently lash out.

In doing what we do–by no means do we travel out of a sense of duty. It’s all very interesting to us! In 2008, we traveled to former Eastern Bloc countries for the first time, and spoke with some people who lived under the Soviet regime. Talking to people who lived during that time is so much different than reading a history book… or, dare I say, reading someone’s blog.

So I give you all this challenge: skip Disneyland this year (ticket prices will kill you anyway) and try more challenging travel, that pushes your brain a little. Talk to the locals. See how they live everyday life differently. Go to a grocery store in Latvia (which isn’t that different–I found the ones in Sweden to be more different than ours). And, one day at a time, one person at a time, maybe we can reduce terrorism, both at home and abroad.

Oh, travel plans for the summer, that’s how the post all started. I don’t know how finances and projects will work out, but I’m eyeing a few weeks in the Balkans, namely Bosnia. (It’s a country still straddled by three religions… currently at peace, but only for the past 20 years. I’d love to see how that’s delicately balanced.)

3 Responses to “travel as a means to understand…”

  1. 1 Steve Yool

    Great wisdom in these comments! I was traveling in Greece, and the cab driver asked: ‘Do you know many Americans hold passports?’ I guessed 25%. He said ‘NO! 15%! so how could the majority of Americans ever understand other cultures!?’ Your advice matters a lot. Thank you.

    • So true. Here, we live less than 150 miles from the Canadian border, and still, it’s barely a higher percentage of people who have passports. Sad. True that travel costs money, but I just reprioritize (no smart phone, I don’t go out that often, I don’t buy things…)

      Especially as the internet expands and expands… more people will think they understand another culture because they read about it on a website, or saw a movie about it. Not the same. I have lots of international students where I teach, and I embrace getting to know them. đŸ™‚ Rather than thinking of them as “different”, I try to understand.

      As I wrote this post, however, I figured that the people who’d say “good answer!” would be those who already travel. Preaching to the choir. Hopefully I’ll make at least one convert–if I do, my work is done.

  2. I just reread this post my Nomadic Matt, which addresses some of the similar points…

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