I am often surprised by the questions people ask when they discover that I write travel articles. The main question is usual enough, “Where’s the most exotic place you have ever been?” My answer changes all the time, but whatever I say, the follow up question becomes, “Wasn’t that scary” or “Weren’t you afraid?” The question implies there is some sort of boogey man lurking about in foreign countries (like I describe in Death by Sandanista). They lean back from me a little as if I have some disease. The good news is that there is no such thing as a bad question.
So here is my answer. Most every place I have ever been to has plants and animals and people. The plants, even in a rain forest, are just a bunch of plants and not worth being afraid of visiting.
The animals in most places keep to themselves and have their own busy lives, just like us, although some insects can be a nuisance. However, bug repellents, mosquito nets, and medications (basic precautions) will eliminate most of the potential aggravation.
That leaves me with people. People around the world are mostly just like us. They are frequently as curious, uninformed and sometimes apprehensive about me as I am about them. However, most have places to go too – just like the animals – and don’t have the time to mess with me. Of course, some people do mess with others and horrible things can happen – but it is really unlikely. So I try to travel with a sense of wonder about the people, attractions and history I experience.
This is the reason why I wanted to create a “live” section on this site, even though it is by far the most difficult to talk about.
“Live” is the most difficult to present, because people are complicated and all so different from each other. It is also easy for our minor differences to get in the way of our knowing each other. This is what I hope to discuss and ultimately overcome. It will be in the “live” section that I will talk about ideas that go beyond travel and have effected me in a personal way. I view “live” as where the art of travel and writing about it have manifested in my life. It is the deeper philosophy on leading a happier (I will explain this shortly), more compassionate life.
Does travel lead to happiness? For me, it does. Travel has helped me understand many perspectives beyond what I know. I grew up in a mostly White, American society that rarely admitted mistakes. Traveling the world, outside of what I grew up with, showed me different, and sometimes better ways, to see life. So “yes,” travel does lead to happiness, and “but…”
The “yes” part is simple. The more I travel and learn about different people and their cultures, the less I fear people I haven’t met yet. I have learned that most people, regardless of religious and cultural beliefs, tend to want the same things for themselves and their families: safety and security – just like me. I know this from experience and it has made me happier. It is the “but” part that creates a challenge. When I come back from a destination that people assume is unsafe, I have to explain why the place is safe and worth visiting. Sometimes it is challenging to explain my experience and the different points of view I have seen.
I feel a sense of obligation to spread a positive message about travel, different people and experiencing other philosophies as non-scary — and as a good life changing experience, even to those who have had bad travel moments. There is a ton of work to do. Fortunately, the work does not make me less happy. However, it means is that I have to be transparent as a writer, editor and traveler to let the discussion begin, which is scary.
Photos of Strangers in Japan and Nicaragua by Devin Galaudet