Travel is the ultimate teacher and here’s why.
1) Foreign exploration reminds you that there is a bigger plan to all of this, one that is more monumental than our comparatively atom-sized brains can fathom. A trillion-gazillion other things, processes, occurrences, events, meet-cutes, robberies, deaths, weddings, business meetings, classroom sessions, birthday parties, beatings are going on at this very moment in this ever-expanding universe, and you are involved with embarrassingly little of these trillion-gazillion things, events, people, places, inanimate and animate, on this earth and off. There’s a lot going on here. I can feel it, and travel makes you see it.
a) Not to say that we aren’t interconnected with everything and everyone in existence (chaos theory and other philosophical abstracts), but I am speaking about a person’s natural tendency to assume the role of center of the universe. This makes sense. It’s with your own eyes you’re absorbing and perceiving, and it’s hard to think about flood victims in Bangladesh when you have your own shit to deal with. Not to say that people don’t think about Bangladeshi flood victims, but realistically speaking, self-absorbing tendencies prevail more often than not.
2) Travel humbles you. It makes you realize that regardless of the wars and genocides and divisions and problems that are born from the clash of humans and our cultures, borders, interests, and catastrophic technology of our own creation, the term ‘human condition’ clumps all seven billion of us into two neat words for a reason. And this is because we are all going through life, not knowing every joy or trial that awaits us around the bend, but going through it anyway, together, in both relative ease and hardship. Because that’s the second thing travel has taught me, and that’s that the world is full of good people and people who have suffered like you have. Everywhere, irrespective of race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, there are good people to meet, to laugh with, to learn from and to love. And it’s also humbling to know that disease, pain, and misfortune are blind to all the aforementioned classifications of identification. Misfortune is the greatest equalizer of them all.
a) For the sake of simplicity and my own sanity, I will not delve into human nature and the reasons why good people sometimes do bad things (ex. that pickpocket in Nairobi probably wants to feed his family). But I know that the opposite is also possible. Why not? Humanity and its behavior is fluid, complicated, nonsensical, and probably the hardest thing in the world to effectively categorize, study, and then communicate eloquently in a way that the majority of people would understand, second to the plot of Lost.
3) While good people can be found everywhere and in great numbers, humans are also capable of unspeakable cruelties. I need not go further, but I might as well. This fundamental contradiction may lie within us as individuals and it relies on a certain setting for the cruelty to be unleashed, like a hardened soldier in battle, or this contradiction can be viewed on a human-to-human basis, all of us the same species, more or less similarly evolved, and yet some of us murder and some of us are incapable of hurting a single living thing, like Ted Bundy and Mother Teresa. They both have coexisted on this earth. Such anomalies make me wonder. And then my head starts to hurt.
a) This is where travel teaches you about common sense, street smarts, and trusting instincts. Skills that are arguably more valuable than anything that can be learned in a classroom. Why? Because your life and wellbeing are on the line and when something so precious is at risk, it is then that people get to know themselves best. It’s one thing to speculate about a dangerous situation and say what you would do, but completely another to be standing there with a knife at your throat. And then you come away alive and well, less likely to take something as fragile as life for granted, with a great story under your belt and a brief glimpse into the core of your character.
I feel like these ideas are all painfully obvious but wholly overlooked. It’s easy to forget the bigger picture, and yet the shark keeps swimming. Overall, these teachings have made me a better traveler and a better person. More understanding of human motivations, more accepting and empathetic of people and their ways, more open-minded, more patient, but not less confused. The more you travel, the smarter you will become and the more confused you will be. Because the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. It’s easy to become confused when you think about everything that’s actually going on, in your life and out of it. Tall order. Sometimes it is easier to acknowledge that thinking about the bigger picture is strenuous and frustrating work and never leads to anything conclusive. Sometimes it’s easier to be happy with the little but immediate things. Which is why I’m going to go back to my Irish hot chocolate, How I Met Your Mother reruns, and listening to Princess of China on repeat.
EDIT – In perfect conjunction with the previous sentiments: What a Fucking Year. Numbers 1, 12, 25, 27, 30, 33, and 44 get me everytime