I recently wrapped up a series of tips from my book (on Medium) for anyone who dreams of spending extended time abroad. The goal of sharing these tips was to offer support and encouragement, knowing what a big deal it is to pivot one’s life and jump into a whole new culture. Making such a bold decision brings up so many doubts and questions, but I want people to realize it’s a viable and valuable thing to do.
However, there’s a question that never crossed my mind when my family was contemplating our big Italian adventure several years ago: Does travel of this magnitude pose a moral or ethical dilemma? I find myself grappling with that question now, and I’m of two minds:
On the one hand I see deep or extended travel as a way to help the world heal. I’m not referring to conventional, consumeristic tourism, which tends to treat foreign lands like some kind of Disney World museum. Instead, I advocate for travel that’s immersive whenever possible, focused on building a relationship with a culture over extended time.
The deeper travel I’m for is about living among fellow humans in distant parts of the world, so that we see ourselves in the “other” and vice versa. It’s about becoming a global citizen — a perspective that’s needed for all of us and for the planet itself.
On the other hand…
There’s part of me that knows the healing of our world starts where we are. We shouldn’t have to “escape” to different parts of the planet to foster connection with humanity nor to stimulate our lives. Furthermore, I can’t ignore the privilege I have, in being able to advocate for an epic adventure to another country during a time when so many people are struggling.
There’s also the planetary health factor that’s come into sharper focus since my family did our year abroad: Now is not the time to add to the collective carbon footprint.
Reconciling two realities
These conflicting perspectives begin to reconcile when I reflect on a fundamental truth: Current societal structures are not doing their job to support humanity as a whole, except to serve a tiny minority. Things need to change big time if we are all to survive and thrive.
This is where I often feel stuck. After all, what can individuals do to change massive, overarching societal structures? It’s like when my computer glitches or freezes, and the only thing I know to do is Unplug and Reboot. But I don’t know how we can reboot the entire planet. (Maybe it almost happened with the Covid pandemic, but that’s another story…)
Rebooting *can* work on an individual level though. And when enough individuals unplug and reboot I do believe that humanity can begin to function better. Or at the very least, growing numbers of us will see issues and potential solutions more clearly — and that kind of clarity rubs off on people.
L: Images from ©Home Studio, ©Clkr-Free-Vector Images from Pixabay, R: also ©alphaspirit — all via Canva.com
Which Brings Me Back to Deep Travel:
Our year in Genoa, Italy was a forced (and welcome) unplugging and a rebooting: we uprooted ourselves from our home, broke our routine, and landed in strikingly different surroundings. And when you have nothing familiar to cling to, your actual thought patterns begin to change. The way you’ve been conditioned to live your life dissolves and then evolves anew.
In a fundamental way, the longer you’re away from your familiar home and culture, the more you start seeing through the eyes of a child again. That “reboot” paves the way to grow up again — differently, even better. A radical change in everything outside of you can’t help but to prompt a radical change inside of you.
And if deep or extended travel is not possible or desirable, then perhaps it’s possible to find ways to reboot at home by breaking up your routine or changing your scenery. Think of it as micro-level deep travel. Because when enough elements of your external world are changed up, how can it not prompt a similar internal change? And when enough of us change on the inside, then the world we all experience will change.
And here’s where the grappling of my moral dilemma about travel comes home to rest. The question mustn’t be “Should we or shouldn’t we travel?” but rather “How should we travel?” And for me, the answer is “with a commitment toward needed change.”
That means that whether we’re globetrotting for a time, or doing metaphorical “globetrotting” (i.e., shaking up one’s world at home), we do so with intention:
Build bridges with fellow humans instead of shoring up your own status.
Learn new things about the world so you can teach others what you learn.
Fall in love with a new aspect of life and spread the joy.
Get in touch with your intuition and be courageous in speaking your truth.
Become better at listening, even as you shield yourself from toxic attitudes.
Nurture your imagination and your creative energy more than your reactive energy.
Spend more time appreciating nature and embrace a greener footprint.
Invite ideas to form for how our world might become a better one — and share them.
All of this is about imagining a better way of being on the planet and planting seeds for change.
In the interest of following my own suggestions, here is one idea that bubbled up from my time abroad:
L: Photo of Haystack Rock by Author; R: Photo by ©undefinedundefined from Getty Images — created via Canva.com
The idea depicted above came to me when I lived in Italy and noticed a North/South divisiveness in the country, much like we experience in the United States. Such division is compounded by the same rural/urban divide noticed in every country I’ve ever visited.
So imagine if there could be an increased understanding between cultures (whether regionally within a country, or across borders) while also celebrating the things that make each culture unique. I can imagine it, and it’s a big part of why I advocate for deep travel and the kind of intentionality I’m describing in this post.
What about you? What vision do you have for a better world that has been sparked by your travels?
A disconnection from your own culture offers more than a desired escape. It’s an opportunity to nurture your identity as a global citizen and spread a subtle reminder that everyone else is a global citizen too.
At some level I think every traveler knows this: deep down we’re all interconnected and we travel to find those points of connection.
So the question “To travel or not to travel?” is too binary for the 21st century. Humans have always been journeyers. It’s in our DNA and that won’t change. Rather, it comes down to how we travel — whether it’s within our communities, or across the continents.
And I suggest that we travel deeply, with a sense of purpose and a vision toward a better future for the planet we journey upon.
This is how we change the world.