When I started exploring the world nearly 12 months ago now, a primary concern of mine was finding a way to travel with a “purpose”. My primary aim was to meet new people and put myself into new, unfamiliar situations, but I felt as though I needed to do something more meaningful along the way. What I have now realized is that, whenever we travel, and whether we are aware of it or not, we are traveling with a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is clearly defined, such as delivering soccer balls to children in poverty, and sometimes that purpose is a bit more abstract, such as a basic desire to help whenever and wherever possible. And sometimes, so we think, the purpose is nothing more than to enjoy ourselves. I have come to believe that, no matter our goals or reasons for travel, there is always a purpose that goes beyond ourselves.
To the bones, I believe that travel promotes peace
Inherent in travel is the automatic assumption of the role of ambassador for our country. The way we present ourselves, the way we treat those we meet, the way we respond in patience-testing situations, these all reflect upon our country, our culture and our people. Essential to living up to our role as ambassadors is an active mind – one that is eager to learn and that is willing to explore all ideas and cultures with an unbiased approach.
This whole being an ambassador thing isn’t a responsibility that we willingly accept. It is placed upon us the moment we board the plane regardless of if we feel worthy of carrying that burden. Celebrities, sports stars, singers. They are role models whether they want to be or not. Go ahead and throw travelers in that mix. Maybe people don’t look up to us in the same way, but they do make judgements based on our actions. Because I am an American, let’s talk about this in an American context. Not everybody has the greatest opinion of America. Shocking, I know. To many people around the world, our actions are viewed as arrogant, assuming, short-sighted and cynical. Americans become those actions.
The ill-advised political decision, the hateful movie that makes a world-wide scene – these come to represent America, and therefore Americans. I have seen firsthand how the same person who would greet a Canadian with a big smile will give an American a gruff hello and an untrusting eye. Instead of responding in a similar manner, this is our chance to change their entire mindset. If we reply in kind, if we offer them a pat on the shoulder and a compliment about their beautiful country, we can change how they have always thought about (and were always going to think about) Americans.
As travelers, when meeting somebody, anybody, we should take it upon ourselves to listen to them and to learn from them. If we take the time to learn from somebody, we are naturally treating them with respect. We shouldn’t feel the need to push any particular viewpoint or aspect of our own culture, we simply must to open our ears, our minds and our hearts. The more one travels, the more one becomes aware and conscious of the impressions that they create, even in the briefest of conversations or the most fleeting of glances.
If travelers always treat people with the type of respect that shows we are willing to learn, the world will be better off. I recently read the following quote: “To the bones, I believe that travel promotes peace”. If we approach travel like we should, aware of the fact that we are ambassadors for our country, then peace, in my idealistic mind, is the only logical outcome.