You may have noticed that this is a travel journal. It’s a nice place to read about a particularly stunning temple in India or browse decent photography of architecture in Venice. But my favorite entires, the ones I come back to long after the trip has ended, are about the intersection of a place in the world and a moment in time. That intersection affects my mood, my perspective. It colors the entire experience and makes it singular.
This journal is not overtly political, but politics shape the trip as they do for every traveler. From daydreaming to detailed planning, politics informs our decisions. In 2009 an AFAR magazine article about Damascus inspired our trip to Syria. Far from gracing magazine covers, some of the most beautiful places (ie. Palmyra, parts of Aleppo) that we visited on that trip don’t even exist anymore. On the other hand, few would consider visting Mostar, Bosnia in the ’90s or Hanoi, Vietnam in the ’60s and we found these places to be welcoming and beautiful, as most modern travelers do.
The fact is that travel is political. It’s a willingness to step outside your bubble and see things from an outside perspective. It fosters empathy. It fills in the blanks of the unknown, which can seem scary and threatening in their very “unknowness.”
Protectionism and isolationism may seem safe and cozy, but travel allows you to see the bigger picture. That creating winners and losers, locally or globally, fosters instability, which in turn creates insecurity. This attitude forces the stunning, breathtaking, educational places in the world back behind the veil. It keeps those who are different from us, the ones we need to interact with and understand the most, in the shady and scary unknown. And that keeps us afraid and the cycle continues.
My first trip coincided with George W Bush’s presidency and a general shame of our standing in the world. Talk about a world apology tour! The prevailing advice for a world traveler in 2005 was to wear a Canadian flag on your backpack and hope for the best. But I was heartened to discover that, unlike many Americans, people around the world had little trouble distinguishing between a country’s government and its citzens. After this election, as I sit here in our AirB&B apartment in Kyoto discouraged and embarrassed, I hope this continues to be true.
But here’s the thing: once I finish my coffee and this rant I will open the door to this apartment and step outside. The shopkeeper on the corner will bow as we pass. The older ladies, perfect in their hair and makeup, with admire my daughter. The Buddhist temples will be timeless and grounding. The shrines will be confounding. The food will be bizarre and delicious. Each moment will be unique and travel will start to heal, as it always does.