I recently read an article in TED Blog, that I found very interesting. It helped me learn and understand some things about myself and how to become a more thoughtful traveler. I couldn’t not share it with you because, for anyone who loves traveling, I think he’ll find this article very useful and somehow inspiring.
Many people travel just for fun, visiting only the touristic places, and they don’t even try to learn deeper the country they visit. I won’t say that this way of traveling is wrong but, personally, I think that traveling is much more than that! Basically, there’s a big difference between traveling to a place and vacationing there. Vacationing renders visions of relaxation and minimal effort, whereas traveling evokes thoughts of an adventure, where Wi-Fi Hotspots are few and far between.
Traveling is about learning yourself, while wandering through a new country, and it’s the best way to learn history: the past and the future of our world. Sometimes, when I wander in a foreign country, I feel like a little girl in the very first day in school. And it’s true! Our world offers to us so many things to learn! So, It’s a little bit pity for some people to be confined in touristic places and nothing more.
But, while you’re preparing yourself to learn some new things, you should learn about yourself first. Because our soul is like a field: you must prepare the soil before seeding. So, when life is short, why not to try learn as many as we can at the same time?
So, here are 4 ways to be a more thoughtful Traveler:
Learn some of the language!
It always useful to know at least a few words to help you get around. As linguist John McWhorter says:
«Why learn languages? If it isn’t going to change the way you think, what would the other reasons be? There are some. One of them is that if you want to imbibe a culture, if you want to drink it in, if you want to become part of it, then whether or not the language channels the culture – and that seems doubtful – if you want to imbibe the culture, you have to control to some degree the language that the culture happens to be conducted in. There’s no other way!»
Know some history!
History offers context: it explains why buildings look a certain way, how foods became staples, what specific clothing styles and patterns mean, and which locations hold significance. Generally, it’ll help you feel less lost as you wander through streets and interact with locals. As Amit Sood says:
«No one’s expecting you to become an expert overnight, or at all really. However, learning a few key facts about how an area, the people and their culture came to be demonstrates a basic level of respect. So, skim through articles online or check out a book at your local library prior to your trip.
Find out what life is like around the world. If you ever visit New York City, you might be interested to know what it looked like before it became a city… or you may even be shocked to discover, before you ride one, that camels aren’t originally from Middle East or the Horn of Africa at all!»
Familiarize yourself within a place’s history, culture, art and science and watch as your perspective of the world shifts just enough for things to take on a finer, clearer focus.
Read a book wherever you’re going!
As a bookworm, I always take a book with me when I go abroad. You may wonder why I do this, especially when I never managed to complete any of those books, but I do it for many reasons:
First of all, literary books give you a sense of the atmosphere of a place. It may help you to connect the new places you visit or the faces of new people you meet with fictional characters. And that makes the story of the book more enjoyable.
Secondly, as a solo traveler, I use the book for my safety, to keep me away from strangers. See, when you go to a coffee shop, It will be more difficult to be interrupted by someone when you seem to be busy or absorbed.
Thirdly, I always choose books which are about history and the civilization of that place. That helps me understood the style, the customs and the characteristics of the country’s inhabitants.
As writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says:
«Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. It helps to learn about the people and the customs of a place so you don’t go charging in there acting like you’ve just dropped into a different planet!»
Understand where you come from!
What does it mean to be from a place? For some, the answer is straight-forward and obvious. For others, the question isn’t as simple as it sounds. A thought experiment for yourself, as well as others you encounter while traveling is to ask «Where are you a local?» instead of «Where are you from?»
Taiye Selasi suggests an examination of life basics, which she calls the three “R’s“:
Rituals: «Think of your daily rituals, whatever they may be: making your coffee, driving to work, harvesting your crops, saying your prayers. What kind of rituals are these? Where do they occur? In what city or cities in the world do shopkeepers know your face?»
Relationships: «Think of your relationships, of the people who shape your days. To whom do you speak at least once a week? Be reasonable in your assessment; I’m not talking about your Facebook friends. I’m speaking of the people who shape your weekly emotional experience!»
Restrictions: «How we experience our locality depends in part on our restrictions. By restrictions, I mean, where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by racism, from feeling fully at home where you live? By Civil War, dysfunctional governance, economic inflation, from living in the locality where you had your rituals as a child? This is the least sexy of the R’s, less lyric than rituals and relationships, but the question takes us past “Where are you now?” to “Why aren’t you there, and why?»
«Take a piece of paper and put those three words on top of three columns, then try to fill those columns as honestly as you can!», Selasi says. «A very different picture of your life in local context, of your identity as a set of experiences, may emerge!»