I’ve been a Sci-Fi fan my entire life, and at some point when I was younger, it occurred to me that the only way the human race would ever get along is if we encountered a hostile alien species that threatened our existence or way of life. Confronted with an alien looking… alien, I’m convinced that people of different races and backgrounds would suddenly start feeling like one big family!
Short of an alien invasion, the next best way to put xenophobia to rest is to travel. And after last week’s events, this is more important than ever.
So, keeping in mind who is about to become president of the USA, here are seven reasons why I think everyone should travel, especially people who are being elected into public offices.
1. Not being afraid of people who are different
I suspect there must be some sort of evolutionary explanation to this “tribe” mentality that so many people have. Perhaps staying away from people whom you didn’t know and who looked different served a purpose in prehistoric times. It could even have been a survival tactic.
Nowadays however, most people you meet are not out to rob you or kill you. They mostly go about their lives just like you do, trying to make the most of what they have, and being there for their family and friends. We all strive to stay healthy by having access to food, water and shelter. And we all try to be happy.
People may look different, sound different, even have different beliefs and ways of solving problems, but the vast majority are decent human beings who are quite happy to welcome visitors to their country.
In the end, travelling makes you realize that we are more alike than we are different.
2. Seeing different ways of doing things and looking at the world
Travel can be really enlightening and provide great “Ah-Ha” moments. How about working to live instead of living to work? How about knowing that your extended family will take care of you if you need help? How about putting mayo on fries instead of ketchup? Or eating insects as a good source of proteins?
There are a myriad ways to solve daily problems, and people have developed methods that fit best with their climate, culture, and resources. Drinking hot water from a thermos actually feels pretty good in the damp Hong Kong winter.
3. Realizing that gender equality is far from a done deal
We’ve made great progress in gender equality in the developed world over the last few decades, and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.
As soon as you start travelling to third world countries though, you quickly realize that in most of the world, little has changed in centuries, even millennia. In some parts, girls are still not allowed to go to school, are considered a burden, are married young, have too many children, are not allowed to work, or sometimes even drive, or just be independent. And that’s assuming they were allowed to be born in the first place!
We have a long long way to go before the whole world sees gender equality. Never get complacent.
4. Finding out the scope of environmental issues
Here in the West we recycle, try to save energy, buy electric cars, and eat organic food. We are the minority. In most of the world, people still throw garbage and raw sewage into lakes and rivers, cut down forests, hunt endangered animals, burn their trash in their front yard, and drive buses that run on diesel.
People are still dying from water-borne illnesses, and forced to do dangerous jobs in unhealthy environments like mines, or sweat shops.
Sometimes I despair how we will ever save this planet. We have to move forward, not backward!
5. Gaining self-confidence
I think self-confidence is one of the most attractive traits in a person. And travelling to foreign lands where you don’t know anyone, especially by yourself, is sure to make you a more self-confident and resourceful person.
Self-confident people do not feel the need to bring down other people to make themselves feel better. Bullies have low self-confidence.
6. Learning… about everything
It’s almost impossible to travel and not learn something. At a minimum, you’ll be able to find countries on a map. Geography, history, religion, architecture, art, anthropology, natural sciences: you can learn things about a variety of topics, in context, just by going to a museum, taking a tour, or talking to locals.
What I find the most enlightening is discovering how things in one part of the world are linked to things in another. Or gaining insight into a topic by putting together various knowledge tidbits gathered in different countries, like the pieces of a giant puzzle.
7. Because it’s fun!
Honestly, in the end, most of us travel because it’s fun! Even though we reap all of the above benefits and insight by getting out of our home country and seeing what’s out there, we mostly do it because it brings us pleasure.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had to travel to at least one country very different from their own as part of their education before they turned 21? A lot more young people are able to go abroad as part of an exchange or school project nowadays, but I would bet the majority still end up staying put and growing into adults that know very little beyond what’s in their own backyard.
(I apologize if this post was a little somber. I’ve just been feeling in a somber mood this week.)