One of travel's greatest gifts is that it has the potential to drastically change your perspective. It broadens your scope and gives you inklings of possibilities you may not have imagined and sparks the fire of ideas you may never have considered. More often than not, travel offers a chance for you to move outside of yourself and see beyond your own biases and preferences - that is, if you allow it to.
You see, travel almost always involves confronting one or more of your fears. It could simply be fear of the unknown, or fear of being on the road or in the air, fear of different people or different cultures, fear of being ignorant or standing out like a sore thumb...or, just fear of fear. And, in this age of global terror, racial violence, religious hatred, factionalism, fascism and what seems like a break down of basic humanity, it is no surprise that people are more likely to want to hunker down and stay put instead of going out into the world to make connections. We would rather cling to clear-cut identities and ideologies that keep us looking inward, instead of exploring and expanding outward. But it is precisely because we are living in an age of fear and disruption that we MUST confront what's most scary in order to build the kind of relationships that will end up sustaining us.
I was talking to a young woman the other day who asked some very deep, philosophical questions. "Why did God create so many different countries, and peoples and languages? Wouldn't it have been easier for all of us to be the same?" My answer was that creating us as different tribes and groups so that we may know each other and learn from each other was one of the most God's most merciful acts.
We only overcome what ails us when we find out more about each other. We only fully understand ourselves when we step OUTSIDE of ourselves and try to wear the shoes of the other. We are able to gain full compassion for the struggles and hardships of our own people when we can connect them to the struggles of our brothers and sisters around the globe.
For many, travel is just seen as a luxury or privilege that fancy people with money indulge so they can show off. To the contrary, travel can and should be incorporated into the life of anyone who has wondered about her place in the world or who has wanted to see himself outside the confines of the box he has known most of his life. For oppressed people, travel can be a form of liberation. For people on the other side of privilege, travel can a step on the road to developing true empathy and understanding for others. Whatever your circumstances, there is an opportunity to absorb travel's great gifts.
Fear not, keep calm and travel!
Stay tuned for the next Zen Travel blog post for ideas how to prepare for an international trip by learning about different cultures within your own town or city.