In the past decade, travel publishers have become much more active in promoting ideas like environmental and cultural conservation. Guides, for example, now routinely warn readers against attractions, such as poorly run safaris or trained-animal acts, that put wildlife at risk, or against activities that could compromise forests, mountains, or barrier reefs. The results have been promising.
It’s not such a huge step to imagine someday that future travel articles might bake into the cake a subtle (or not so subtle) promotion of democratic practices and human rights as well. I’m not sure how it would all work, but it’s conceivable.
As for boycotting destinations or blacking them out – intentionally or not – I still believe that’s simply the wrong way to go (leaving out travel to countries that promote grievous crimes like genocide or human-trafficking). As they say, travelers visit people, not governments, and the potential benefits of travel, including seeing, learning and making friends, outweigh, for me, the possible hazards. And the converse is often true as well: not going simply strengthens the hand of bad actors. I see no good reason to skip travel to Russia (or Cuba, Belarus, Iran, or almost anywhere else) if that’s where your heart takes you.
I’ve written before about the gap not just between rural and urban, between city mouse and country mouse, but between people who travel routinely and people who don’t. I’m not talking about CAN’T, I’m talking about don’t, like they have the money and ability and sit right in their houses doing jack, who act like going to a new grocery store makes them Shackleton at the Pole. The people who say Europe is a commie shithole and won’t drive anywhere outside their subdivision, you know them all.
And the reason that gap is important isn’t that everyone MUST see Paris or whatever, it’s that traveling exposes you to your own prejudices and limitations, and demonstrates that you are willing to face them. On honeymoon in Ireland, I discovered I was married to mealtimes and also kind of hypoglycemic. At work in Jordan, I realized I was reckless (as I followed a strange man down an unfamiliar side street in a country where I did not speak the language because he’d promised to show me something like that’s not how all kidnappings start) and tended to spend money stupidly on the road. In Paris my tin ear for languages reared its ugly head, and in Jamaica I learned I was very, very sheltered when it came to beach nudity and marijuana.
Forget overseas; in Napa I learned I liked wine and in New York I learned not to drink with 22-year-olds and in Kansas City I lost my way in a snowstorm and in New Orleans I ate hog balls and saw the Blessed Virgin and somewhere in the back of my mind there’s a memory of riding up a mountain in Wyoming in a truck with my father that never fails to make me smile.
Travel also teaches you what you won’t face, what you can’t change, and what you love about where you’ve chosen to be. Even if it’s the next town over, you come back to yours knowing its distinctions, and hopefully knowing it’s where you belong.
And as I was reading Mark’s piece up there, I was thinking about what I’d have missed if I hadn’t gone those places. It’s not just about “where your heart takes you,” it’s about what you bring back. There are ways to travel more ethically than not, making sure your money stays local for example, and ways to stay safe wherever you are. But you can always find reasons not to go somewhere, and those reasons are always sad and lonely, because everywhere has faces you haven’t seen and all of them are necessary and all of them are God, even the ones that are monsters.