You can learn a lot from reading a book, watching a movie, listening to stories, and everyday scenarios, but nothing teaches you in quite the same way that experience does. No matter how many books and news articles you read about the history and culture of South Africa, how many documentaries you watch about savannahs and apartheid, how many friends tell you stories about seeing wild lions up close or driving past townships, there is no way for your brain to fully understand any of that information in a fully relatable way. This is a scientific fact – we trust information best when we are the ones who have experienced it. Today, in the 21st century, with advents of technology like Google and Netflix, we have incredible access to information in ways that have never been seen before in human history. Information has always been for the elite and powerful. But in this age of incredible democratic access to information, we as a society seem to be increasingly confused about what to believe and sources are more controversial than ever. What better source of information could you get than your own two eyes? It is unprecedented how connected the globalized world we live in truly is, yet an outdated mentality of hatred and fear still prevails. People, especially Americans as we have come to see in this current administration, pull further back into their shells and perpetuate these prejudices that anything foreign must be scary and evil.
But we should not be pulling back from each other; in fact, as technology allows us as a human race to get closer we should be embracing each other more and more. But human nature tells people to resist that which they do not understand and if the only information they have ever received tells them of the horrors of the world, it is not wholly surprising that they would feel threatened. We comprehend the world only as we can perceive it. That is why travel is, more than ever, so incredibly invaluable.
What better source of information could you get than your own two eyes?
It is hard to feel hatred towards a society after living amongst its people for any extended period of time. Maybe you are not going to up and move to Morocco and live with the desert Bedouin nomads, sure, but allowing yourself the chance to see the world from their perspective humanizes them in a way that is only possible through experience. Creatives and media outlets have long grappled with ways to make people understand the devastations of the world, how to make someone care about something happening halfway across the globe and likely having no effect on his or her day-to-day life. I once took an entire class on the ethics of documentary photography and the ways that photographers try to bring back as much information as possible to the First World, further humanizing the situations on another level than the limits of black and white text. Yet outrage over an image too rarely spurs any sort of a reaction.
But imagine if you had visited those nomads in Morocco, you had befriended a Bedouin man and his family, they had cooked you dinner and shown you their tents and camels. They taught you how to tie a headscarf and you all laughed and joked amongst each other. You would see just how alike you are to these people, how if you had been born amongst the sands of the Sahara you easily could be sitting where they are, conversing with the group of American students about some silly story you heard just the other day. Then, if you heard of a civil war in Algeria, you might think twice knowing that your Moroccan friends lived all too close to the border. Travel has the incredible effect of orienting you and relating you to the rest of the world.
As a student studying sustainability, I have to point out how it is more important than ever that the human race look past its differences and work together for a solution to what will be a threat to our entire species.
Prejudice is a direct result of ignorance and it is impossible to overcome prejudice without a change in perspective.
Travel, and broadening your horizons and trying new things and meeting new people, gives you so many opportunities for alternative perspectives. And when you learn from those experiences, everyone benefits. Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” If we hope to face the environmental catastrophes that human society has created, we need to change the way we think.
We are so incredibly lucky that travel is so accessible to us in the west – global travel at the scale that we now have access to has never in all of human history been so simple.
Even if you cannot afford a plane ticket, buy a train ticket; if you cannot afford a train ticket, buy a bus ticket; if you cannot afford a bus ticket, get in a car and drive somewhere or walk around the corner to that new Moroccan restaurant you have been too nervous to try and order a tajine.
You might even befriend some Moroccans, even without sleeping in a tent. Travel does not have to be big and extravagant (though if you have the opportunity for that, by all means, do not say no!). Just be willing and open-minded enough to allow yourself the opportunity that travel, no matter how big or small, brings you. That is what I have been telling myself since I was younger and why I will continue to prioritize travel above most other things in my life.
I would much rather take a few trips than live in a big fancy house or buy an expensive car. Material things only get you so much, but the experience of travel gets you so much more.
**Photo caption: Yes, that’s me riding a camel in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. No, I did not closely befriend any Bedouins, but the sentiment still stands.
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