Now, more than ever, I feel an urgency to travel. To see as much of the world as possible while I’m still able.
There was a time in the past decade when I longed to visit Syria. The narrow streets packed with little shops, delicious street food, tea stalls at every corner, and the sheer amount of history, made me long for the day I could finally experience the real thing. And if I wasn’t a teenager without money or means back then, I certainly would have! Now, when I finally do have the means, there is nothing left to see. The culture, the history, all wiped away senselessly.
I thought I had time. That I’d eventually get to it. I mean, it’s a country. It couldn’t just walk away.
But it did. Well out of reach.
Turkey is dangerously close to becoming unsafe, Arctic glaciers are melting and receding, countries are becoming more and more mistrusting of outsiders, and fascinating species are quickly becoming rare or extinct as they fall victim to human greed. Those are reasons enough to travel for me while hope still remains.
But those are also reasons to travel responsibly.
My point isn’t just that we should make a checklist and try to get to as many places as soon as we can. Travel for the sake of travel is redundant. But responsible travel can slow the pace at which we lose more of our world’s treasures to hate and destruction. We may probably end up making it to just a couple of places on the wish list, but the true travel state of mind is achieved by stepping out of our comfort zone, attempting to acknowledge the familiar in the strange and different, and most importantly, feeling a sense of preservation that only comes with appreciating the experience of traveling.
So how can we own responsibility when we travel? Here are a few things I find most important to achieve a travel state of mind.
1. Do your homework. Getting to travel means taking time from work and all the brain power required of our demanding jobs, but it also means your mind can now free up room to completely absorb the experience, be curious, and learn as much as you can about the people, language, and places you are visiting even before you get there. I recommend reading books as a way to understand the place or culture.
2. Don’t be you, just in a different place. Don’t carry your prejudices, your assumptions, your preconceived notions with you. Because if you do, you will return no different and no more enriched than you were before you got to your destination.
3. Make do with little. In the same vein as tip #2, don’t put your material life in a suitcase and carry it all with you. It can mean something as simple as making do with two pairs of footwear. Packing just enough allows you to appreciate what you have when you get back home and teaches resourcefulness when you are far away from the familiar.
4. Book responsibly. Know how trustworthy your tour operators are. Do they treat the environment and the wildlife with respect? Do they treat the people they hire fairly, especially when their employees belong to the local community? Use popular sites like TripAdvisor and other social media channels to assess the ethical standards that the tour operator upholds. And if you see something unsavory, speak up or share the experience so others don’t make the same mistake or better yet, can help do something about it.
5. Don’t make excuses. I consider myself extremely blessed to be able to afford time off from work or work remotely when I travel. Here in America, we have perhaps the worst vacation allowances, but even the little we do have is left on the table by more than half of all Americans. So for those of you who feel it is near impossible, plan your year well ahead of time. Start small by setting up a vacation savings fund that could be used for a far off place one day. But in the meantime, make the effort to visit nearby places that still transport you away from your routine. Yes it takes effort but even a weekend away can be really rewarding for the soul.
Traveling responsibly CAN make this world a less hateful place. Traveling is not about how far you go physically, but about how close you feel among people and places you thought were so different than you. Maybe, just maybe, these small actions we take can make the world a less hostile place for us and our posterity.
How do you achieve your travel state of mind? Share your thoughts with me.