“There is no faster path to peace than people getting to know other cultures and other people,” said G Adventures CEO, Bruce Poon Tip, at a conference I recently attended. The seminar, titled “The Noble Purpose of Blogging,” discussed sustainability in travel. Mr. Poon Tip continuously referred to travel writing and tourism as a movement, and throughout his presentation, cited different reasons to support sustainable travel organizations. When he made this particular assertion, however, it really struck a chord with me.
This statement startled me initially because it was something I hadn’t really considered with regards to my own travels. Of course, I knew that travel is an educational experience, but I had never thought of it as a movement, a revolution. But after mulling over it, I realized that the reason this short statement had such a heavy impact on me was because of its widespread potential. If more people travel, then more people will have more knowledge about the world. It’s as simple as that.
While many people will cite alternative sources of social awareness, like viral video campaigns or books, the is no substitute for visiting a place first-hand. Sure, you could watch a video interview of a Mayan native who suffered through a civil war, but wouldn’t it be so much more valuable if you could speak to him or her in person, asking them questions that truly interest you? Wouldn’t you rather see a breathtaking landscape in person, rather than on a computer screen?
These are the obvious benefits of travel, the intrinsic ones. Most people want to travel because there is something or somewhere they want to see. But what about its effect on the world at large? Well, as you probably know, education paves the road to sustainability and solidarity. And while travel is not a classroom lecture or a textbook, it is the most valuable form of education. It is a unique opportunity to learn through all of your senses and immerse yourself in a foreign place. Exploration created the opportunities to see first hand the beauties – as well as the issues – present in our world. And these experiences should plant within you an emotion, or a passion, which cannot be born in any other way. And it is this spark of inspiration that drives global development and, ultimately, change.
For me, some of the best experiences that I have had while traveling have been comprised of two components: interaction with locals and the exchange of cultures. Building stoves for families in Guatemala, teaching local Filipino children how to take photographs, chatting with college students outside of temples in Hong Kong, letting strangers from Prague play my ukulele – these are all different travel stories that have taught me the importance of reaching out to people and accepting them unconditionally. Instead of looking upon these experiences merely as memories, I see them as pieces that mold and shape my lifelong education and my widening perspective. My horizons are forever broadening, and I attribute this growth almost entirely to the time I have spent in new and unfamiliar places. Humanity is such a beautiful thing, quite possibly more beautiful than any landscape or landmark, and learning through travel certainly brings out its most vibrant qualities.
What resonates with me the most was just one word of Mr. Poon Tip’s statement – “peace.” If we want to pave the path to global peace, we need to have a vision of what we would want that to look like. We need to learn not only how to coexist, but also how to cooperate and collaborate. We need a world of individuals who place tolerance and awareness at a high priority, and who want to preserve the unique cultures and traditions that make up this vastly colorful Earth. One of the easiest, most valuable, and most meaningful ways to ignite this spark is through sustainable tourism and travel.
The final question boils down to this: do you really want to make a difference in this world? If so, then take every and any opportunity to get out there and travel. Explore. Learn about a culture or a place that’s not your own. Meet locals and ask them their stories. Live differently than you have before. Make seeing unfamiliar places a priority and stand by it.
The more you travel and learn from those experiences, the more you will understand the realities and issues in the world around us. And this cultivation of knowledge, tolerance, and awareness, however small or large, is the first step to fostering sustainable change in our ever-evolving world.
Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Leave your comments and we can start the conversation.