Because you get to travel, it is important that you do.
There are signs that we, as a people, are more fractured than ever before. No, I’m not just talking about Americans who are worn, weary and wound up after a two-year presidential election, but also about people around the world who find it hard to step outside of their comfort zone and walk a mile in the shoes of their fellow humans.
Like America, Canada has recently had a polarizing election of their own, and Great Britain has its Brexit referendum threatening to tear apart much of a delicate social fabric. All of Europe, in fact, seems incredibly split not only from one another, but also from within. Add to that East-West tensions and old Cold War feelings bubbling to the surface and one begins to wonder what in the world we can possibly do to combat all of this ill will and animosity.
President Barack Obama famously made his giant leap to the national political scene with a speech at the Democratic National Convention where he made the argument that we are not a collection of blue states or red states, but the United States of America. Cynically, we can reject that notion as now-proven false thanks to the last 18-or-so months of Trump vs. Hillary, or we can actually attempt to do something about it.
Like Michael Jackson once said, start with the man in the mirror.
Regardless of who you are or what you believe, you must realize that there is more to life than people that look like you, act like you and more than what exists on your television (or computer) screen. I don’t care if you’re reading this sitting on a subway in Brooklyn or while taking a break in a lunch room in rural Alabama. I don’t care if you’re red or blue, black, white or brown, old or young, millennial or boomer, rich or poor, leave or remain or any other way you might classify yourself.
Travel…it starts with you.
Some of the most amazing, beautiful people I’ve met have had little in common with how I grew up or the values of where I live. Growing up, I was a midwestern, liberal, white picket fence, lower middle-class boy but made some of my most cherished memories in places like Queens, downtown Detroit and the rural Atlanta suburbs. In college, I lived in one of the whitest towns in America (not hyperbole) and I know live in a Floridian melting pot which isn’t quite as deep south as Northern Florida or quite as ethnically diverse as South Florida.
At times, it feels like a getaway for Long Islanders, but then other times, the accents I hear aren’t the New York Burroughs and New Jersey clashing together but a handful of different Caribbean islands.
Thanks to my job, I’ve met some of the most beautiful people from Jamaica, Canada, New York City, California, Los Cabos and a dozen other places. I’ve found hundreds of ways to contrast us, but always infinitely more ways that unite us—even if it’s just a love of good food, good drink, good times and great laughs.
Following Thanksgiving, we’ll dive into the season where everyone from the Peanuts’ Linus to Michael Bolton start talking about “Peace on Earth.” Instead of aiming for such a lofty goal here in 2016 when that seems so far away, how about we simply work on “Understanding on Earth.”
We travel because we love to. We travel because we get to. We travel because it is fun. All of these things are true, but try traveling not just because you can, but because you should. Pick on spot on the map that looks most foreign to you, and go. Pick a place that irks you because it’s full of “those people” that don’t think like you. When you get there, find the beauty in not only the place, but the people as well. Maybe see the why in what they hold dear and do it without trying to talk anyone into seeing things your way.
The world has never been so interconnected and globally accessible. Yet, we are embracing seclusion or polarization—crowded around our smart phones and social media network echo chambers—like never before.
The only cure is travel: travel with an open mind and travel with a purpose.
It’s not about changing your mind or changing who you are. Instead, if we can all learn to value the people a little more regardless of what we think about their ideas, we can start to mend some of the wounds we all seem to be feeling these days.