Travelling is usually associated with a holiday and having fun, which is fair enough. But it can also help (or challenge) you to change your perspective about the world we live in. Here are a few travel experiences that will shake your belief system.
The mighty nature
I would say this is the easiest and most beautiful thing to explore. Nature is so amazing, but we often forget about it, being focused on our daily life.
The desert shows you that there can be nothing. Everywhere you look, there is nothing. If you imagine for a second that you don’t have a local/guide by your side, it’s scary. The desert is this immense nothingness that eats everything alive. He likes it quiet, deadly quiet.
You get a similar feeling from hiking a volcano. While you drag your legs through the ashes, you notice the only thing “alive” in there is the boiling lava. But yes, he likes it hot.
It’s countless examples, it can be the jungle, a peak of a mountain or the depths of the ocean. Anything that makes you realize how amazing nature is and how small and fragile human life is.
Bonus points if you go there by yourself.
Cultural awareness can be cultivated and my recommendation is to take it step by step. Start with a trip to another region in your country, then other countries in your continent, then other continents. Start with cities and touristy places and then less touristy to remote ones.
If you focus on what you want and what you expect, things get a bit nasty. Some cultures have very different ways of organising and thinking. It works for them. You go there and apply your culture’s logic to their culture. Brain says: “Oops, unexpected error”. And if you travel independently, well, nobody cares what your brain says. If you travel as part of an organised group, someone is paid to pretend he cares about your culture shock and to make it smoother.
The less open minded one is, the heavier the cultural shock. The way you experience a different culture is mostly up to how you think about it. It’s all about perspectives. It’s not easy to get over the cultural shock, but it gets better with practice.
The fascinating thing about this is that if you take it step by step, focusing your mind on understanding and not judging, you don’t realize when your perception changes. When I first went to Africa, in 2013, I was so ignorant it’s embarrassing now. Fast forward, me in China, 2018, taking a local bus between villages like it’s the easiest thing. With a bit of practice, of course.
When I go to explore a different culture, I think that “I’m here to learn. I’m here to observe and understand.” It makes me feel comfortable and confident with the unknown. It’s unknown because I have yet to understand it, and that’s ok. We use words like “weird” or “strange” to describe something that we don’t understand. That’s it: We don’t get it. These words describe what we think, not what the object is.
Many of us see poverty on tv or movies, which is hard enough to watch. It makes us sad or emotional for a moment, so we reach for the tv control to stop it. We also think of poverty as a whole, but it actually has many levels. There is poverty in each country, but we can’t really perceive how far it can go.
I went to Kenya. Some people in Romania asked me: “Why are you going to Africa? We have poverty in Romania!”. Well, take that level and make it twice as worse. And that’s not even the worst. At some point, I saw a place that was all covered in garbage. You couldn’t see the ground or something else, just piles of garbage. I just couldn’t believe that was real. I asked the driver if I can go out, and he told me not to, because I couldn’t handle the smell.
I was still puzzled about how this place even exists when I saw someone going out of a hole in one of the piles. That was a “house”. It was in the far, he was walking on this borderless white thick garbage layer, looking for something. But I soon lost him, between the many garbage mountains. My brain went from the shocking “This is not real, this can’t be true.” to the hopeless “Why? Why do people get to live there?”. The most frustrating part: this is all man-made.
That was the most disturbing image of poverty I’ve experienced. I know it was just observing from the comfort of a car, but that was as much as I could take at that time. It was not even intentional, I was travelling from Tsavo National Park to Mombasa, looking by the window. And then it hit me.
If you think extreme poverty is a man-made hell, wait till you see a war zone. Of course, I wouldn’t encourage you to go into an active conflict, because it’s way too unsafe. The experiences I mention are about triggering a different perspective, not putting you in physical danger.
The closest way is to live it through the stories of the ones who experience it. I lived in Israel for one year, when I was 21-22. Most locals around my age were still in the mandatory army service. It was heart-breaking to listen to their stories of how they saw their childhood friends dying or they barely escaped death themselves.
And then, I wait for the bus with this very old lady who tells me how life was under British command (before the Arab-Israeli conflict started. Yes, there was a time). She basically lived all the wars I was reading about in history books.
One day I was listening to a lecture at the university. The teacher was incredibly calm, explaining how nuclear bombs work. He was talking about targets and casualties in the most logical way, with no emotion. He held a high position in the army and then retired.
Another day, I was listening to a speech somewhere in Palestine/West Bank, on a side road, under the shade of one of the few trees around. An informal leader was raising awareness about his people’s situation. His words were full of emotion, telling a group of foreigners how they live and how unfair it is.
The more you try to understand a conflict of war proportions, the blurrier the lines get. It’s incredibly mad, yet so common. The more you try to make sense of it, the more confusing it gets. You start to see the edges and power of human emotions or lack of emotions.
And no, reading the news is not the same.
Are you up for it?