Traveling opens new doors, encourages different thoughts, and creates a unique mindset. These are some of the few qualities that we’ve all heard that traveling can provide. But in an increasing globalized world, what does traveling really mean?
We now have the ease to travel by air, and find ourselves from one continent to the next in a lapse of a couple of hours. Sometimes it is even hard to grasp the idea of how it is that we travel such long distances. A person may have easily traveled to every single continent and not really know where each one is located on the world map. In other words, because the journey to travel has been altered, the benefits we usually relate the practice to may have altered as well. There is no longer that necessity to plan a route or even learn a different language in many cases. It is amazing how easy it has become to travel.
In Thailand for example, which is a county far from where I live in the United States, it is still feasible to get around by knowing English. People around the world are learning the language because there is a high demand for it. This does not mean however that the traveler cannot learn on his or her own will. Those who wish to gain the benefits that are related to the ancient concept of traveling can still do so through their voluntary will.
I have two very important experiences that are relevant to this observation. The first experience relates to the way in which my family raised me to become accustomed to traveling from one side of the Mexican American border to the next. My siblings and I were raised in a small town in the south of Texas, right on the border with Mexico. All of our relatives lived in Mexico, and to my parents benefit, it was always feasible for them to cross the border and visit their home. Our relatives lived and still live on the northern city of Monterrey. The Texan town where we lived, Brownsville, is only a 4-hour car ride away from Monterrey. The travel seemed long when I was a child, but as the years went by it became a normal thing to do. To cross the border, and answer the questions that the border patrollers in blue uniform asked us every time seemed natural to me. It seemed normal to me, to cross the border and immediately witness a drastic change of street organization, movement of people, the color of buildings, the language that was being spoken and even the kind of cars on the street. All this change was not an impact to me for most my life. As a child, I was too young to process the difference, and it was only until I became a teenager that I realized the significance it held. I thought to myself how obvious the differences between both countries were. Some realities are even hard to mention, but they are eye openers as well. Mexico is in fact a third world country, and it experiences the difficulties of one, such as corruption, lack of proper health care or proper urban planning and revitalization. On the other hand, it also contains a lively spirit. People seem happy with what they have. They live in simple homes, surrounded by streets without sidewalks and vegetation to decorate their neighborhoods, but there is a movement of children playing and adults socializing. There is a strong sense of community. When crossing the border into the US, some differences are also very obvious. The US is organized in many senses. The urban design and planning of towns clearly demonstrates it. The first apparent difference is the cleanliness of streets, the well maintained buildings, the proper care for highways and the rules implemented and respected when using them. On the other hand, there is a lack of some of the positive aspects that I could at times witness in Mexico. At home in the US, I always felt comfortable and very safe, but at the same time, I never really gave myself the chance to expose myself to anything. I never played on the streets or got to know my neighbors. My neighbors never got to know me either. It was a normal thing to arrive at home in Brownsville and choose to spend time uniquely inside the house.
This experience that I just described is a clear indicator on how the conclusions we can make about different countries can only seem apparent when experiencing them up close. It took me 24 years to realize this. It took me traveling by car for most weekends of my life, from one side of the Mexican American border to the next, to realize what the differences between both countries were. Traveling on an airplane, boat, or even a car can be easy. We can find ourselves in Japan at one moment, and in France a couple of hours later. Sometimes it takes us days to even realize we have moved to another continent in the world. It takes some sort of spiritual and mental dedication in order to completely embrace traveling and the benefits it can provide.
The second experience that is relevant to the observation I first mentioned dates back to the day that I first went on a cruise. My friends and I decided to go on a cruise some years ago. The experience was really impressive to me. We got on a boat and traveled to different countries around Central and South America. It was odd to me how such a large structure with hundreds of rooms, 2 pools, one nightclub and even a movie theater could float on water. We were all eating, sleeping, or tanning while we sailed south all the way from Miami to Colombia. We were fortunate to stop at different ports but unfortunate to only experience the places for some hours a day. The truth was that most people were just anxious to spend more time relaxing on the boat. Those people were probably not even sure where the boat was being directed to, but they equally had the chance to experience a completely different country if they wanted to. Instead, these people chose voluntarily not to. Traveling nowadays can be a way to relax, but the truth is that genuine traveling is not necessarily about relaxing, and it can actually be quite exhausting and stressful at times. Traveling can be described as a mission to discover something. But the bottom line here is, when has discovering anything been so easy? The journey is what makes it worth it.
Since I graduated from college, I have chosen to travel. I’ve lived in different countries my whole life, but today, as an adult I can say that I travel because I voluntarily choose to get to know different cultures into depth. I want to understand the expectations and actions that I have been surrounded by, through the experience of becoming acquainted with new ones. I want to see in a brighter light, the positive and negative aspects of my own cultures, when comparing them to others. I want to make significant conclusions about the lifestyles we choose to abide by, through the experience of getting to know those which some could never choose, simply because they never had the opportunity to get to know them. In other words, I want to be the traveler to voluntarily choose the positive aspects of other cultures while having the opportunity to come up close to them. I am setting myself on this mission to discover a new multicultural lifestyle, not just for my benefit, but also for those who live in a place that I might not even know about.