There is a down side to travel.
You may be destined to be rich in many ways but cash poor. You could be infected with a disease to which there is no known antidote; the travel bug. Friends and family will be unsure if you are crazy or courageous.
Travel also gives you, a new way of thinking. Long held “truths” no longer seem true when viewed from a different culture, a different perspective.
A simple example is eating. Most New Zealanders are taught to eat with a knife and a fork. Knife, in the right hand, for cutting and the fork, in the left, for placing food in our mouth – in other words the “right” way.
However in other countries this is not the accepted ‘right’ way. In the USA the fork is in the left hand; in Thailand food is cut to bite-sized pieces in the preparation process and a spoon is used to eat, other Asian cultures use chop sticks, another country their right hand.
To each culture their way of eating is the ‘truth’. But what about other ‘truths’.
For instance, how women, children, the poor or old are treated in the country you plan to visit? It’s often strange or difficult to accept or understand why certain practises happen.
Why, for example, are women second class citizens or paid less than men? And what of the practise of genital mutilation; of children being deformed so they are more effective beggars; of women needing to be covered from head to toe? What too of the long-neck women of northern Thailand with their deformed bodies- will you go there?
When in foreign places I’ve learnt to silently accept the cultural, political or religious attitudes of that place. If I can’t do that, for my own peace of mind, I prefer not to go to that part of the world.
Travel is intensified living, nothing can be taken for granted. It’s like having a new pair of glasses, we see often things, and ourselves, more clearly.
Nothing is familiar, we are constantly aware of, or curious about, what is happening around us. We watch the interaction between people and try to decipher it. Body language is different from place to place and our previous knowledge of the rules of interaction no longer apply. And that’s one of the reasons why we travellers travel.
So, do broad-minded people travel or does travel make one broad-minded? I suspect one has to have a degree of broad-mindedness to step outside our comfort-zone to travel, then the process of travelling does the rest. Unfortunately it’s not like that for all travellers.
I’ve met people who do want things to be just the same as at home. They remain close-minded and ignore local beliefs and behaviours. Insensitive women bathing topless on Malaysian beaches say it doesn’t matter, ‘because this is a tourist place’ despite signs asking them to respect local customs and not remove their tops.
Attitudes and behaviours we indulge in at home are not always appropriate in another country no matter what I, or you, think about the local norms.
I was really amused at the hypocrisy of these same women being upset, horrified and angry, about a tour being run in a tourist region of India. Local men are offered trips to Goa to see topless western women – with a money-back guarantee if none seen.
A wonderful twist on us travellers who sometimes appear to use the world as a human zoo.
So the question “why travel” needs to be accompanied by asking what do you want from travel and what can you accept or ignore.
Choosing where to travel is just as important. There are as many places where topless bathing is fine or where its OK to photograph people as there are places not to do those things.
If you choose to go to different cultures, be prepared to change your behaviour and dress. That will help ensure you don’t come home with tales of being abused by offended people who believe your dress and behaviour is confirmation that ‘all western people’ are insensitive or sexually available.
So, having decided to let go of the safe and familiar, what is to be gained from travel?
Travel is alluring, it allows you to be exactly who you are at that time. As if a nom de voyage is given us and we respond to the circumstances instead of being circumscribed by our past or the expectations of people who know you.
Shedding our past as a snake sheds its skin: the same but different, our boundaries pushed. Inventing ourselves, not defined by others or our past – emotionally baggage-free – as if the centre of personal gravity changes. Thoughts and images of home change, diminish as memories are overlaid with new experiences.
Why travel? Why not! Traveller or tourist, armchair or plane, life will be richer rather than poorer, enriched not impoverished, colourful not dull.
However, the last word on travel must go to Rolf Waldo Emerson. who said, ‘Although we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must find it in ourselves or we find it not at all.’
check out my book about travel ( NOTE I am rich but cash poor)