As I approach that big 5-0 birthday, I think I’m getting more and more philosophical about life – and more importantly how much my life has changed in the last decade. Travel has played a huge roll in those changes, travel and the loss of my mom. However, the loss of my mom is more recent and those changes are different, and very deep. But, travel…well let’s just say when I took that fateful first trip abroad to Spain at the ripe old age of 39, it really became my mantra for my 40’s and truly defined me as a 40-something.
I admit that I’ve been a pretty liberal, open-minded thinker since my college days. But, when I went overseas that first time, it truly dawned on me that people are people – no matter where you live. Human beings have the same basic needs. And every time I traveled to a new place – a city or village, a region or an entirely different country – I saw the same human needs everywhere I went. I didn’t see skin colors, or religions, or languages. I saw people. People who need clean air to breathe. People in need of clean water to drink. People in need of healthy food to eat. People in need of a roof over their heads. People who love. People who want to be loved. I saw smiles and heard laughter. I felt kindred spirits.
Travel teaches this. Travel pulls down the barriers. Travel knocks down the walls that divide us. Travel integrates us. Travel reminds us of our “humanness”. And, I think now, more than ever, we need to travel. We need to explore new lands. We need to meet new people. We need to hear other languages. We need to eat interesting food. We need to experience different cultures. But mostly, we need to be reminded of the fact that we are all humans. We need to be reminded that we are not a New Yorker, or a Californian or Southerner, or an American…but that we are a human being. Trust me, most of the people in this world – be it a German, a Kenyan, an Iranian, a Chinese or a Peruvian – do not hate America or Americans. They may not always like our leaders or our politics. Let’s face it, many of us get pretty pissed off at our leaders and are tired of the politics in this country. But, if you visit another country, and think of yourself as a kind of informal ambassador for the US, put your “best foot forward”, smile, be kind, know a few words of the local language (even if you butcher the hell out of the pronunciation), and follow local customs and be respectful, they’ll love you. And do you know why? Because they’ll see you as a human being. Not as an American. They will see themselves in you.
So as you look forward to 2016, what are your travel plans? Do you dream of going to a far off land, but are not sure how you would be received as an American? Travel would be the best thing you could do for our country right now, not to mention for yourself. You would show that we are not afraid. You would let the locals know that Americans are generous, kind-hearted and open to learning about their culture, their life. Think about it – don’t you love it when someone from another country asks you about your life – your family, your job, your friends, how you live? This would be a chance to reciprocate. What a wonderful gift – to learn about how a person lives in say, Morocco or Greece or Cambodia or Chile. To break down barriers and walls and get down to that humanness. I guarantee this will be what you remember most about your trip. And the best part – you just might make a new friend!