This is me with kids from Zambales. While I don't remember their names anymore, I will always remember how they made me smile :)
So you're thinking about traveling?
Traveling certainly isn't for everyone. I know people who would rather stay home, read a book or watch television, and that's perfectly fine. While there are those who call no single place home and are game for any sort of exploration and travel. I for one am inspired by this blogger wanderingearl. He has been a full time traveler for over 12 years. The idea of traveling continuously for 12 straight years was unimaginable to me at first. But reading through his blog, I understood why he'd do it. To a certain extent I know how Earl feels when he travels. I get how awesome it can be to put yourself in an unfamiliar place, in a world that's truly different from your safe haven back home.
So for those asking why one should travel, I share with you my personal answers based on experience and the stories of friends who also enjoy hopping from one place to another. Although, one must note that by travel, I do not just mean international travel. Travelling can also be within your country or even city where you can always discover the most unexpected things in the oddest of corners.
1. Get to know YOU.
I used to picture my self as a rough, rugged manly man who won't mind sleeping on dirt and climbing up mountains while drinking beer. This was of course all in my head. When I actually got the chance to travel away from home, I learned I was none of those things. It was during my volunteer year when I was sent to a small town in the South of the Philippines to teach English to a small school where most of the students were children of farmers. The town rested on the foot of a mountain. There was no cellphone signal and we had to sleep on the most uncomfortable beds. There was no running water so each morning we had to wake up extra early to get water from a deep well. Yes, yes, I cried during those first few weeks.
Travel gives you the opportunity to learn things about yourself by being placed in an unfamiliar situation. Things you might never have discovered if you had stayed in the comfort of your home. In an unfamiliar setting, you are forced to react in new ways to unexpected challenges, you never thought possible. The first time I came to New York, I was deeply frightened. I got lost in the subway numerous times. I clung to all my important possessions whenever I would walk down the streets. I realized that inside I was truly a tropical island boy. However, beyond that I realized that while I had many fears, I also had the strength needed to overcome each challenge, which leads us to ...
This was taken in Quezon, where I got to work with a diverse group.
2. Level up!
Because travelling to unfamiliar places will bring in new challenges, you are given the chance to learn new skills, to be stronger, to be more unafraid. While I was truly disheartened and suffering during the first few weeks of my volunteer year, I learned to adapt. I gained enough energy to wake up at 5 in the morning to get water from the deep well. I learned to love the local food. I was forced to learn how to ride a bike so that I can move around the bario to buy supplies more easily and more quickly.
In NYC I learned to navigate through the complexity of the subway system, although I must admit I still get lost every now and then. In the Bronx, I gained a new set of skills (i.e be alert, bring a long umbrella for defense, walk confidently etc,) , which helped me survived a year without getting mugged at night.
Remember, what doesn't kill will only make you stronger. The trick is, to stay alive:)
3. Get to know the World.
I remember several weeks ago, a photo of a Muslim woman shaking hands with the Philippine President made it to the front page of the country's most popular broad sheet. The caption read "Security Risk?" The caption alone is enough to justify the anger and criticism that followed. But the fact that the woman was there for diplomatic reasons, made it even more offensive. It revealed an ugly bias against Muslims in general - a bias that projects an image of Muslim's as a violent people, a security risk.
Whoever is at fault for letting that caption make its way to the front page should do some travelling. Travel is a great way to discover the world, to learn more about its very diverse people. Here in Cairo for example, women are more conservative and men cannot simply touch them in an affectionate way, and in many cases, touch them at all, since that would be disrespectful. Yet the men, compared to other cultures, seem to show more affection towards each other. It is normal to see men with arms linked together while walking. It is common for men to kiss the cheeks of another man as a form of greeting.
These are some of the friends I've made in NYC.If the editor of that broadsheet had travelled to a Muslim country, or even to the south of the Philippines, he'd find out that Muslim culture and Islam is not synonymous with violence. He would find out that rebellion among Muslims are rarely connected to their religion. If he had traveled, he might realize that the percentage of Muslims who are deemed "security risks" is insignificant.
There is so much to learn about the world. So many food to drive your taste buds crazy, so many new sites to see, so many new things to experience. Even the experience of a different language can tell you so many things about a particular place and its people. In the Philippines, we have over 20 words for rice and its different iterations because it is part of the people's daily life.
World Peace. Cheesy? Sure. But it's true you know, travel can be your contribution to bringing about world peace. Travel broadens one's perspective. It allows us to truly understand people by experiencing their context even if only for a while.
Beyond the appreciation of diversity, we realize through travel, that while people are different, we are also, more importantly, the same. And ain't this understanding key to world peace.:)
So whether you're thinking about going to that street you've never been to before or to a country you've never heard of, I tell you, just go. Travel. Discover. Change.
What are you waiting for? Pack those bags and leave! For your sake and for the sake of the world :))