125 countries into this beautiful world of ours, I offer an observation that will ring trite to those who can also boast about how thick your passport is – the more you know, the more you find out how little you actually know. From social etiquette to social history, travel is the ultimate eye-opener, a perpetual source of those “coming of age” moments that define who you are as a person. Something happens, usually gradually but sometimes rapidly, when we travel that forever obliterates so many of the convenient constructs that the form the basis of our infant worldviews.
What do I mean by travel? People travel in many different ways and I am not inclined to assert that my style of travel is superior in a relative or absolute sense to others. But to me, travel is about experiencing life in the shoes of others. That can be on airplanes or in luxury hotels. That can be in orphanages or refugee camps. The best travel is often the unpredictable, the incredible – or horrifying – unforeseen revelations that forever indent your memory.
I’d like to think that my journey is just beginning, but I have lived 30 years and seen so much already. From active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to cold wars of a divided Korea and the lingering sectarian struggle in Northern Ireland, I have seen that humanity seems programmed to live in disharmony. From opulent royal residences to the slums of Mumbai, SoWeTo, and Rio de Janiero, I have seen the great disparity of wealth and resources that breeds resentment and eventually rebellion. From the killing fields of Pol Pot to the concentration camp of Dachau to prison cells on Robben Island, I have seen that when humans suppress their humanity, the limits of their destructive power are virtually limitless.
But travel shows you something else. From the Iranian man who showed me what it means to be hospitable to experiencing the sealing of a deal during a Chinese business dinner to the unbelievable acts of kindness from a Palestinian family in Nazareth, travel shows that the human potential is great. I am not one to argue that humans are inherently good but corrupted by culture and religion. On the contrary, I think that humans tend to be pretty lousy to one another by default. But when you experience the miracle of kindness from a stranger, you do have to marvel at the common graces that transcend all cultural and racial barriers.
And almost all of this has happened in the last decade. It was 2006 when I took my first real trip outside the USA, flying to Germany and spending about a month driving around the great European continent. What an eye opener. I stepped out of the car in Krefeld, Germany only to be greeted by a rotund German woman cursing me out as she pedaled past. I was standing in the bike lane. Another lady questioned why I had not signed the back of my credit card. “We don’t do that in America,” I responded. “This isn’t America”, was her wry response. From learning cultural norms to the idiosyncrasies of various nations (like watching Donald Duck on Christmas Eve in Sweden) I have been humbled far more times than most experience in a lifetime. And I’m all the richer because of it.
Travel is the quintessential textbook on the frailty and richness of life. Ancient texts may provide a better rubric for daily living, but there is nothing as vivid as the real-life experiences that characterize stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing the world in all its delicious complexness.
This project seeks to bring the richness of travel to life, through a compelling series of essays and narratives that will form an intimate journal on the way travel has changed my life. My goal is to inspire you to take your own journeys, going beyond your comfort zone to experience a world that will fill your emotions with joy, fear, sorrow, shame, and hope.