My next round of travel outside the borders of the USA isn’t all that far away so I’ve started reading a little about the countries where I’ll be. I always find travel more interesting if I know a little history of places I’m going, know some of the characters who have shaped that history and also to see what contemporary things are happening in the region. I do this reading not to alleviate the unknowns before venturing off on my own to an unfamiliar place, but more to accumulate even more questions so I can truly travel with a broadened sense of wonderment and curiosity. My curiosity when related to travel could probably be clinically diagnosed as “hopeless”.
This “hopeless curiosity” thing isn’t all that new for me really. In fact, it started developing at a very young age.
When I’d go visit my grandparents as a kid, one of the things I remember most was the giant bookcase they had with basically every National Geographic issue ever published. Having access to that ocean of yellow magazines gracing those shelves was like giving me the keys to a world of adventure. And you better believe I had no qualms whatsoever with taking those keys and stomping the accelerator.
The typical scenario was I’d read a few articles then strike out for the woods to imagine I was in those exotic places, meeting exotic peoples, eating crazy foods and doing all kinds of adventurous things. When it came time to come inside for the day, I’d pick up another couple of issues, crawl into my blanket fort (which typically encompassed about 80% of the living room) and bury myself in even more adventures. Sure, my friends and I would have grand adventures of our own in the desert surrounding our community, but seeing all those different faces and cultures and reading about faraway places was doing nothing but planting mutant seeds of curiosity to a bigger world I couldn’t wait to go explore.
I’ve since been extremely fortunate to have gone roaming about the planet from time to time and to have experienced firsthand a lot of those places I once only dreamed about. I feel even more fortunate that sowing those early seeds of adventure helped give me the right tools to travel independently and not be afraid to strike out on my own without the need of tour guides or group dynamics. That’s not to say I’m not scared from time to time, but I’ve never been too afraid to buy the ticket and just go figure it out.
One difference from today and when I was a kid is that I no longer share my dreams of travel and adventure so freely amongst the people I know. I have a small group of likeminded friends who I share with, but for the most part I keep my planning, emotions and feelings regarding my travels to myself. This is for the simple reason that so many people have become terrified of other cultures and adventurous travel and will do nothing but tell me why I shouldn’t be going. I blame a lot of this on media sources who generalize other cultures into narrow categories and spread fear amongst the masses.
Seeing a woman in a hijab thirty years ago was a source of exoticism, mystery and beauty. Today it carries an unfortunate stigma and an erroneous correlation to terror. The word Africa use to mean exotic animals, safaris, ancient tribal customs, mind-blowing landscapes and now all I hear is terrorism in Somalia, Libya, etc. — when all those beautiful landscapes are still there and 99.9% of the population is still welcoming to those willing to come. Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos…undoubtedly some of the most beautiful places on earth with some of the most astonishingly beautiful people who ever lived are still senselessly feared due to a war fought before many of today’s potential travelers were even born. All those places once highlighted in the pages of National Geographic as epicenters of adventure and mystery are being executed by fear mongering media sources. This makes me sadder than I can ever explain.
Part of the good fortune I mentioned above is that by traveling to off the beaten path places, I’ve blindly eschewed all these stigmas and been able to formulate my own opinions through experience rather than through hearsay and speculation. I’ve traveled extensively in places where Islam, the sad target of so much hate these days, is the predominate religion. Not once, and I mean not even once, has anyone ever treated with me anything but complete and utter respect — always welcoming me into their homes and making sure my travels were satisfactory. Native cultures of South America, same. Hindi regions of South Asia, same. Anywhere in Europe, same. Southeast Asia, same. Mexico, same. Korea, same.
Have I been uncomfortable? Yeah. But I’ve been scared and uncomfortable more here in the US than anywhere else I’ve been. There are mean people everywhere. Would I myself ever want to be categorized with the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy or a Ted Kazinski just because they were Americans and so am I? That’s stupid. So why in the world would I think that everyone in another country would be like a few rogue bozos who happen to speak their language? That’s baseless fear and I refuse to let that dictate how I perceive this world. I believe with all my heart that people the world round are basically kind and caring and I want to go meet them.
Thank you National Geographic (the old kind, not the new ad laden offshoot versions) for giving me those seeds of travel and adventure at such an early age. I’m happy those seeds have bloomed and I can move around without all that baseless fear and truly experience the beautiful places and people of this world you’ve introduced me to.
Ready to write the next chapter in my journal…
Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, paddle long, live big.