Probably the number one question I get asked is why I travel. Until recently, I’d not quite known how to answer. For me, travel is something I feel: free, energized, curious, fulfilled, educated. These are a few of the adjectives I’d reply.
I’m not sure why it’s taken me until my 30-something country to realize this (well, to be honest, I don’t actually know how many countries I’ve been to), but while in Eilat, Israel, I sat in a restaurant chatting with the waiter. We got to talking about mundane topics — favorite drinks, favorite foods, music — when I realized something: this person before me was no longer an “Israeli,” but Dov.
Travel humanizes. Not that people from other cultures are ever un-human, but before you meet a destination’s people they’re an idea. We watch the news and movies, we read stories, we see pictures. We formulate conceptions about groups of people we don’t know and create our own stories and pictures of these people, true or not; typically, a bit of truth and a lot of myth.
This is because the most interesting stories aren’t the happy ones; they’re the ones with twists of sadness, despair and violence. All populations have problems — and they may influence the people; but, the problems aren’t the people.
In terms of Israel, my family and friends had many opinions about me going. While those who had been were excited, those who hadn’t worried. Because many nations dislike Israel it makes them a target, and I wouldn’t argue with that. In fact, my guide made a joke that “nobody likes Israel except the US” when I started asking about global relations. That being said, I also would guess most people’s mental pictures about what’s going on in most of the country is mistaken.
Mine was, too.
I knew Israelis had to join the army by law. For this reason, I’ve always had an image of everyone being “tough.” And while I’m sure they can be when they need to be, it almost surprised me not to find locals carrying guns with scowls on their faces walking the sidewalks. I also pictured it to be a bit more “third world” due to what I see in the media. Instead, I sat with Dov on the porch of his waterfront restaurant munching on a burger (no cheese, though, as it’s not kosher) as he wore board shorts and t-shirt drinking tea and smiling.
Connecting With Place
And it’s not just the humanizing of a culture, but connecting with a place. Again, I think people tend to associate places with what they hear on the news, and the news often goes for the shock factor. Using Israel again as an example, I never pictured I’d lay on the beach in a bikini drinking a beer, sipping free wine after an aqua massage or club hopping, but hearing about a great social experience doesn’t stick quite as much as conflicts and bombings.
Obviously I don’t need to travel somewhere to know it and its people are more than what meets the eye (or Channel 12 News); however, experiencing a place for the first time makes it real. You can digest it, understand it and start to have a relationship with it. You can even start to better understand the conflicts that do exist first-hand, talking to the people affected, not the ones trying to sell stories. For example, in Israel visitors can take a Hebron Dual Narrative Tour to get both perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is why I love travel. I’m a girl in love with the world, eager to understand the truth about its people and its place. In order to truly be in love, however, you need to nurture your relationships. This is why I go.