Avoid Ugly Americanism-be a conscience traveler
by Sara Jordan
In the modern age, travel is almost as natural as breathing. A lot of us do it before taking our first gulps of air, as parents negotiate their lives on the road, in the sky, on the sea or by rail.
Citizens in other countries often cross borders, but only about 20% of Americans hold a current passport. The low level of awareness that Americans have about the places and peoples beyond her borders has far reaching implications for the entire global community. Like it or not, when we travel abroad, we represent a nation of individuals whose collective decisions impact the social, environmental, political and economic landscapes of other nations. Through mindful travel, we can shrink economic and cultural gaps in our shared world.
This might mean something different in Europe than in Africa. In France, do we purchase the morning croissant and coffee from the local baker or from the multinational franchise that now occupies every other street corner? In Indonesia, are handicrafts bargained for fairly and from the people who will most benefit? In Israel, do we take an interest in the living history as well as the ancient? Do we sit only on a gas guzzling tour bus and see the sites from behind glass, or get out to walk and talk with the people who live in the land? Do we venture outside the Caribbean resort to engage with the people whose coastline was disfigured to accommodate tourists? Do we pay attention to the conditions of the laborers who make our Kenyan safari or Baltic cruise enjoyable?
One day last spring, I joined a group of Palestinian villagers in a non-violent protest against the separation system being constructed between Israel and Palestine. A villager explained to me that their message was to “stop building the wall, stop the Occupation, stop the land confiscation and imprisoning of the people.”
He handed me a document prepared for the international community, looked me directly in the eye and asked, “If we give this letter to the US or UN, will they read it, will they consider it?” My stomach turned. I felt helpless and had to tell him that I didn’t know.
I wanted to give him hope and promised that I could let people at home know what I had witnessed. “You are our hope. You are our voice for freedom,” he said. “The free people are our friends, but I don’t think the government is. If everyone wants to live better in the world, we have to solve the problem.”
Mindful travel begins at home. It is an awareness of the gifts and privileges that we enjoy, and of what we can share with others. It is understanding that all people have much to share, and that we can expand the boundaries of what is familiar to us by seeking to learn what is familiar to others.
Global citizenship and intentional connection through travel offer an alternative on a human scale to the narrow interests of nation states and the politics of fear that threaten to divide us. Done mindfully, travel is an opportunity to take a stand of faith in humankind and in ourselves as agents of change. u
Sara Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org ) has spent the past two years as an explorer on four continents. During this winter of respite and assimilation, she is writing and conducting workshops on travel, literature and citizenship.
Preparing to Leave
• Learn about the countries you plan to visit.
• Determine your budget to include a little extra to give back.
• Pack a small, personal gifts to leave with new friends.
• Learn a few words of the local language. Most important: please, thank you, hello. Also very helpful: What is this called? Can you help me, please? and the ever popular Do you speak English?
• Travel with minimum baggage — but make sure to pack laughter, a grateful heart and open eyes.
During the journey
• Support the local economy by staying in privately owned lodging, purchasing directly from artisans, eating fresh food and utilizing local transportation
• Ask questions—to increase mutual understanding; be willing to listen and share. (Pictures are great!) Also to ascertain the condition of service workers; speak up if something seems amiss.
• Bargain fairly — consider the seller.
• Pay attention to cultural cues and be respectful.
• Be willing to risk going outside your comfort zone.
• Use resources sparingly and minimize consumer waste.
• Let yourself be changed by your experience.
• Take time for reflection.
• Give yourself time to readjust — life may not look the same as when you left.
• Practice looking at familiar environments in new ways.
• Follow up on inspiration or ideas you may have had while traveling.
• Share your experience with others.
• Find out more about the cultures you have been introduced to.
• Maintain friendships with people you met on your journey.