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Travel to make peace

Blending of Cultures

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Is travel an inherently selfish indulgence or a vehicle to bring about world peace? The travel and tourism industry is huge, and in 2010 over 940 million people traveled outside their own country as tourists and generated $919 billion dollars in global revenue.

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That is a lot opportunity for both mischief and genuine interaction. So the question comes back to: is the opening of borders leading to greater understanding or a hardening of stereotypes?

I’ve been on the road for the past 12 years, both teaching children and working in international development. I’ve been a traveler, a tourist, an expat, and an undocumented worker (yup). In all this time I’ve become convinced of the power that travel has on people, both good and bad.

The Bad in Travel

Yes, let’s get this out of the way. Bad things happen when bad people travel. But, then again, bad things happen when bad people stay at home too. I’ve seen women exploited for sex by humanitarian workers, international police, and drunk college kids.

I’ve seen kids trafficked and begging on the streets, usually by internationals who only care about money.

I’ve seen rude Americans, drunk Brits, demeaning Australians, paranoid Japanese, and threatening Indians. I’ve seen poor people yelled at in restaurants because a cook messed up. I’ve seen people yell at taxi drivers who don’t understand their language. I see people trying desperately to make another country just like their own. Usually they get angry when the other side doesn’t understand they are “doing things wrong.”

These are all shades of the negative side of travel, but also the human condition. Are you depressed yet?

The Good in Travel

Despite seeing all the lousy things that humans do to each other I still feel that travel is making a positive impact on the world. Anyone who travels finds their belief system and world view challenged almost immediately. When you see desperate, stupid poverty (the kind where kids die from lack of food) there is nothing that you can do but help. Or at least start to appreciate everything you have and begin to share it.

Travel is experiential education. You learn by doing. Sometimes you make mistakes, and when you are away from your support system those mistakes tend to have bigger consequences. This can lead to more responsible actions, an opened mind, and tolerance.

One of the worst diseases spreading through our modern world is a lack of tolerance. Partisan bickering, sensationalism in the news, and the desire to gain political points through an “Us” vs “Them” mentality. All this does is lead to isolationism and a lack of tolerance in views, thoughts and expressions.

Travel can be the cure to intolerance. Bad people may travel. Stupid people may travel. But each time they do my bet is they are forced to think a little bit harder than if they stayed home.

How to Save the World

I have been involved in a lot international development projects, in peacebuilding initiatives, employment generation, women’s empowerment, etc etc. But all the things that have made a difference in my life have come from two simple things given freely by a few extraordinary people in my life:



Saving the world can be a daunting undertaking. But I guarantee that if each of those 940 million annual travelers show kindness and gave some time to the people around them, the world would be a better place. Just be kind to the person next to you. It really is that simple.

I heard the internet pioneer Chris Brogan say recently (paraphrased):

We are living through a revolution. When the revolution is over what will you have accomplished? Now is not the time to try to earn $$ on cheap tricks and scams but to build something lasting, transformational and that makes an impact.

I think his statement holds true just as much for the breaking down of borders through the internet as it does the liberalization of travel.

Can travel make the world a better place? Share your thoughts below.

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46 Responses to “Can Travel Make the World a Better Place?”

  1. I agree, travel is broadening, educational and brings people together. However, some people (people I personally know and love) don’t want their minds expanded or their viewpoints challenged! I feel for them but don’t know how to change their negative opinion of travelling.

  2. Nice blog it gives some useful information about traveling! awesome…
    delhi-bedandbreakfast´s recent [type] ..Conquer the real estate market with Realtr WordPress theme

  3. VickyNo Gravatar says:

    Really interesting article – thank you. Eugh, it makes me sick to think of people exploiting and shouting at people in different countries just because they think their money makes them better than them. People should travel to expand their mind, not inflict their small mind on others.
    Vicky´s recent [type] ..“I’m Not Rich, But I’ve Had a Rich Life”

  4. ShortRoadToNo Gravatar says:

    I haven’t done a lot of traveling outside of the U.S. But I did spend some time in Mexico. It really opened my eyes to how good we have it here in this country.

  5. MollyNo Gravatar says:

    Love this quoted from above: “One of the worst diseases spreading through our modern world is a lack of tolerance. Partisan bickering, sensationalism in the news, and the desire to gain political points through an “Us” vs “Them” mentality. All this does is lead to isolationism and a lack of tolerance in views, thoughts and expressions.”

    I agree completely and wish more folks had/have your view though think many if not most who are in the travel blogging/writing profession share these sentiments. I know I do.

    Re-posting on my FB page:

  6. I also believe that travel helps to make the world a better place. It is a great way to reduce the barriers and distances between us, and develop more tolerance and understanding.
    Financial God´s recent [type] ..Happy New Year!

  7. We absolutely believe and hope that travel can and will make the world a better place. In fact, it’s the very principle upon which our site (with its tagline “Saving the planet, one story at a time”) is based. If the answer is no, we’re screwed… LOL

  8. RobNo Gravatar says:

    Quote: “One of the worst diseases spreading through our modern world is a lack of tolerance” << This is so true, and I find those that travel at the end of the day are a bit more tolerant of others… as the "others" have been tolerant of travelers..

  9. Plain and simple, the travel is only as good as the traveler.

  10. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    I agree that many people are having a lack of tolerance for different cultures, fueled by biased media reports and insensitive online comments. Travel will allow one to truly experience other cultures and see for oneself how other societies actually function. Only then can tolerance and appreciation be cultivated.

  11. I absolutely believe that travel can make the world a better place. I grew up in a super small town in rural Oregon and had such a narrow world-view because that’s all I knew. When I left for college and then eventually began traveling full-time, my mind just exploded! I became so much more tolerant, understanding, inquisitive, and compassionate…. because I discovered first-hand that the world was so much larger than just my little piece of it.

    There are some people who don’t have the same reaction to travel (they approach it with a sense of entitlement and treat other cultures with disrespect), but I (maybe too optimistically) think those people are in the minority.

    But putting those people aside, I think travel creates more compassionate and understanding individuals… who will hopefully in turn contribute something to make the world a little more compassionate and understanding. :)
    Technosyncratic Travel´s recent [type] ..Drugs & Grunge: Another Side of Berlin

  12. Wai TsuiNo Gravatar says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Todd. There’re always good and bad in everything we do. How we make of traveling depends on how we perceive the place and the people we’re visiting. The process can be educational and transformational. I believe if the 940 million travelers each year all learn to pay due respect to other cultures and their people, our world truly will be a much better place.

  13. DavidNo Gravatar says:

    Ok, I’m going to try not sound like a broken record, but I think this is one of the differences between travel and tourism.

    - Travelers go to places to learn about them, take the time to meet people, learn about other cultures, accept to have their views and habits challenged.
    - Tourists just want to go to places they already “know” (or think they know) to see things that are already famous, just because this is what people do these days, and they too want to be able to say “I’ve been there.”

    During my almost 5 years in Paris (well, and my 31 years in France total) I have seen tons of both (although there are definitely more tourists than travelers in Paris), and yeah, as a local, I can say that the only positive thing I have to say about tourists is that they bring money, but that’s pretty much it.
    Travelers on the other hand, not only do become better people from their experiences abroad, but help locals become better people too, as both widen their world views and become less prejudiced about “the Other.” (tourists? they make people more prejudiced)
    David´s recent [type] ..Paris from the Sacré-Coeur

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      How did I know that the French guy (from Paris no less) would put down tourists ;) So I guess my question to you David is: do tourists do more harm than good? Yes, they bring money, but do they also perpetuate a hardening of stereotypes? I come from a very touristy area of the US and us locals hate the tourists that invade our town each summer. We make fun of them, date them for just the summer ;) , and let them turn our economy. But at the end of the day, is the problem us locals, or the tourists who are coming?

      • DavidNo Gravatar says:

        First of all, I’m not from Paris, never forget that. ;-)
        And yes, tourists are the number one cause of perpetuation of stereotypes (starting with all French people are from Paris).

        Also, I make a difference between tourists and vacationers.
        I don’t hate vacationers and yes, they’re good for the local economy.
        Tourists are not even that good for the local economy, they’re only good for the local touristy economy.
        David´s recent [type] ..Paris from the Sacré-Coeur

        • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

          Sorry, I didn’t mean say you were from Paris :) So, vacationer vs tourist vs traveler vs XXXXXXX Sounds like we have a nice definition show down. This is always one of those definitional issues that are always different for each person. For me vacationers and tourists are the same. Or at least they can be the same :) Just depends…I guess.

          • DavidNo Gravatar says:

            Well, we are indeed falling into the pitfall of “definition show down” but hey, I’ll jump in with both feet anyway. ;-)
            - For me a vacationer is somebody who’s… well… on vacation. (duh) By that I mean, that they will spend one, two, three (possibly more) weeks at the same spot, where they may do some sightseeing, but they’ll mostly do things like going to the beach, hiking, bike riding, spending the afternoon reading a book and similar things (usually outdoorsy things, with a few cultural ones in the mix).
            - A tourist (according to me) is somebody who rarely spends more than just a few days in one spot. That spot is almost always a famous one, full of famous buildings, monuments, streets and whatnot. Touristy activities mostly consist if photographing famous locations, sometimes visiting them, but real quick, shopping in famous stores, eating in famous restaurants/neighborhoods, buying postcards and stupid T-shirts.

            Still taking France as an example. You won’t see many travelers or vacationers in Paris. And you won’t see many tourists in the South West. (note for non-European readers: while you’ve probably never heard nor cared about the French South-West before, it actually is one of the main destinations for Northern Europeans on vacation).
            David´s recent [type] ..Paris from the Sacré-Coeur

    • I think that’s a rather harsh stance to take against tourists. Yes, I get just as annoyed by hordes of clueless sight-seers getting in my way as the next person…. but haven’t we all been a tourist at some point or another? Even as full-time travelers, my partner and I are sometimes tourists as well.

      You also have the issue of gap-year travelers or backpackers that cruise the circuit and spend most of their time getting wasted. You don’t usually see backpackers being referred to as tourists, but I find that behavior more annoying than a family taking their two-weeks vacation in Paris to see the sights.

      Perhaps it’s just an issue of semantics, though, and you’re using “tourist” as an easy catch-all for the travelers who just get it all wrong? Anyhow, I think you’re condemning too many people with the way you’ve defined your categories.
      Technosyncratic Travel´s recent [type] ..Drugs & Grunge: Another Side of Berlin

      • DavidNo Gravatar says:

        Yes, I am harsh against tourists, and no, they’re not all bad in the sense that they don’t all do bad things. However, I don’t think you can learn about a place by being a tourist and simply go sight-see things you’ve already seen countless times on TV, the internet, pictures, etc. Seeing the thing “for real” won’t teach you more.
        It’s fine, if you just want a few days in an “exotic” place, but then don’t go tell everyone and their mother that the country is like this, and its people are like that and such.

        Sure, I only talk from experience, but when you hear 99% of idiotic things about your own country every time you read about it in a foreign language, it makes you think like that.

        Concerning backpackers, if their travels consist only in partying and getting wasted, I guess I’m lucky to haven’t run into many n my life (not for self: never go to Phuket and Goa)
        David´s recent [type] ..Paris from the Sacré-Coeur

        • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

          Oh, Phuket is not so bad…Ko PangNang (sp) has more idiots getting wasted (including myself back in 2001!).

          As for tourists vs travelers, I don’t think one is inherently better or worse than the other. I remember being told how rude New Yorkers were. I’m from New England and we LOVE talking trash about New York :) Then I went to NY and bumped into someone. I thought there would be a fight…instead they said sorry :) Stereotype busted, and I was only there for a weekend (so I was a tourist).

          I also know that all French are rude and from Paris :) TV tells me this. Just like all Americans live in California, have two cars, and hate French people. For me just getting out of the house and interacting in a different environment (short or long term) gives the potential to learn about another culture.

          I bet there are a ton of Americans who arrive in France ready to snap their photos and see pretty paintings. But they leave realizing how nice French people are. I’m sure the same French people who met them might also be convinced that well US tourists are bastards :) Our news media has done globalization a disservice by categorizing the world in easy sound bites. The world may have gotten smaller, but to actually get to know a country and a people you have to spend time there. And even then you can only speak about those few places you visited or lived.

  14. krantcentsNo Gravatar says:

    Travel gives us more of global perspective. My wife and I take a major overseas trip every other year. We love to travel and usually travel with friends.
    krantcents´s recent [type] ..Personal Best

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Great! You are a great example that we don’t have to travel continually to reap the rewards. Every so often is enough to gain a new perspective on life.

    • I agree. I love to travel and I do it for so many reasons, including keeping my perspective in check. I learn so much from the people I meet overseas and how they live life that I always come home a changed person.

  15. I’ll bet you’re not the least bit surprised to hear that I believe travel can make the world a much better place. I’ve always believed that at the most basic level, wars occur because if fear. Fear that we are somehow different from one another. But in my travels I see mor similarities than differences. We all want to be safe, to have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and a better world for our children. I’m anfirm believer that the better we know each other, the less likey we will want to kill one another, and nothing opens up the lines of communication better than travel.
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    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Barbara, I knew that you would come done on the side of good :) I agree that the more I travel the more I find that we are more similar. The cultural differences just make it more fun :)

  16. Great write Todd. Love how you put it in the end – “Just be kind to the person next to you. It really is that simple.” and I also wish that others would follow suit.
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  17. ReneeNo Gravatar says:

    I think travel breaks down self-imposed barriers that really stems from laziness or outright zenophobia. It forces you to come out of your own narrow existence to see that while we may be different culturally, we all seek happiness and purpose. It forces us to actually ‘see’ the people that we may have once dismissed.
    Renee´s recent [type] ..Learning to FlyFish with Will Dornan, the Snake River Angler, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

  18. MariaNo Gravatar says:

    Todd, you’re hitting the nail on the head. Exposure is a key.
    Travel is a great tool for being an ambassador and for learning on both sides.
    Maria´s recent [type] ..Farming the Wind

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      The ambassador issue is really a divsive issue. Many people I meet on the road HATE being considered an ambassador and insist they are just an individual. For me I’m happy for people to see me as an American. I’ve been told sooooo many times that I’m not really American anymore because of x y or z. I patiently remind people that I am example of ONE American :)

      • MariaNo Gravatar says:

        That’s a good discussion point. Yes, we are all individuals but just as our impressions/opinions of a place are built from interactions with locals – theirs are of interactions with travelers. I’m in your camp on this one!
        Maria´s recent [type] ..Farming the Wind

        • SatuNo Gravatar says:

          I’ve also noticed that sometimes we’re not seen as ambassadors for our our own countries, we’re just “Westerners”. When I was living in India, local people were often talking about us “Westerners” as a big homogenous group.

          • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

            Good point Satu! It can be very easy to classify people based on the color of their skin as Westerners, Asians etc etc. In this respect it is good that people see all the variety available in the “Western” world.

  19. Emme RogersNo Gravatar says:

    Love this post Jeremy.

    And right you are, travel does make people think and broadens their horizons. It reminds them how similar we are the world over, and makes them more tolerant of the differences in our cultures. It also makes people more empathetic to the plight of others.

    I also believe that people like yourself, writing about such things, similarly opens others minds to such things, even if they are not able to travel regularly themselves.

    Thank you for that.

    ~ Emme

  20. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, travel can change the world, the more we experience, the more we learn, and the more we learn to appreciate our differences.
    Laurel´s recent [type] ..Andechs Monastery: A Place for Pilgrimage, Praying and Beer Drinking

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I’d add, the more we appreciate the differences the more we realize how similar we are all. When it all comes down to it everyone is looking for happiness, to protect their family, and help give them a good life (however, you define it).

  21. Ha! I read this and wondered “Did Todd steal my post from a few months ago?” Great read Todd! You definitely have a lot of experience both in your job and in your travels to be able to talk about this.

    I shared similar thoughts on this a while back. I actually wrote this after hearing about Osama bin Laden’s death and the reaction to it.
    Jeremy Branham´s recent [type] ..Conversations with strangers on a plane or watching airplanes?

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Jeremy, thanks for sharing your link as well. It is a common enough theme, travel + peace, but with so many people out wandering the world it is always great to hear the specific stories of how we are all making a difference.

  22. SilviaNo Gravatar says:

    Yes – travelling may be fatal to prejudice, and don’t forget to power of travelers as consumers (for example sleeping and eating in smaller locally owned ho(s)tels and restaurants) can be an important source of income for former marginalised….

    I’ve heard from sompe people that they started to engage for others after extende trips abroad and having realised how wealthy and privileged we are – by simply beeing able to travel…..
    Silvia´s recent [type] ..Rupertikirtag – when Salzburg gets rural (Photostory)

  23. inkaNo Gravatar says:

    Of all the valid observations you have made, I think that travel as a means to cure intolernace is the most important. Every little bit helps.
    inka´s recent [type] ..The many faces of Eyüp/Istanbul

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Inka, yeah, I think intolerance is at the root of many of the world’s problems these days. Hopefully your Istanbul Guidebook (plug!) will also help to cure this :)

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