It’s that time of year where a lot of us tend to take stock of where we’re at in life, what our year has been like and what we hope the new year will bring us. As someone who travels quite a bit, has lived in a number of different countries and experienced a lot of different cultures I like to think I’m a pretty well-rounded individual (I’m sure some will disagree!) but I’m still always learning. And that’s what travel does for you…it keeps you on your toes and keeps introducing you to new thoughts and ideas. It truly can broaden the mind (unless you just take selfies!)
I’m writing this from around 35,000ft, somewhere close to Baghdad, after a lightning visit to Abu Dhabi and, while I can’t say I got a chance to really immerse myself in the Emirates culture, I still had some interesting experiences that will add to my view of the world around me. Every trip I take gives me something new to add to my mental journal about the world and I find that to be a very healthy thing – it’s what I love most about travel.
A taxi driver I met in Abu Dhabi made an interesting observation on the people he sees on a daily basis. As a foreigner to Abu Dhabi himself (I don’t think there’s a single local taxi driver in the UAE) he has the opportunity to see the culture around him from a slightly different perspective to the locals, and this was his take on what he sees:
I’m paraphrasing his thoughts but the essence is still the same
The people who go abroad to study (or to live) for a few years come back much better people. They come back with new view points and new ideas and they treat people differently. They’re kinder and more progressive. The ones who just stay here are idiots [that was the exact word he used].
What interested me so much about that sentiment was that he could have expressed it about just about any country in the world.
I’ve sat in a bar in Vegas and had someone from the deep south ask me if there are black people in England. His surprise at discovering that there are indeed black people in England was only trumped by my surprise when he then asked if England also had gay people. No, I’m not making this up.
I’ve had Poles ask me if all Americans carry guns wherever they go, had an Englishman tell me that he doesn’t like going abroad because “all their water is dirty”, listened while a Turk (who had never left Turkey) told me that 9/11 was engineered by the US (and he’s from a NATO ally country!) and I’ve had to restrain a laugh as a Greek told me that he didn’t travel abroad because he may get caught up in a coup or catch a disease.
Seriously. There are people out there who won’t travel just in case they get caught up in a coup! That particular individual wasn’t prepared to be drawn on the probability of a coup in western Europe but he wasn’t going to be moved from his stance.
There’s a worrying number of people out there who have no idea about the world outside the mini-universe they create for themselves and that plays a major part in a lot of the world’s ills. These are people who have the right to vote and whose vote can seriously affect all our lives…and that’s quite important.
I’d love to know how many people would be surprised if I told them that, upon landing in the UAE, we were all wished a merry Christmas over the aircraft PA system. And that was on an Etihad flight. No doubt anyone surprised by that would be equally surprised by the sheer scale of the Christmas decorations I saw in Abu Dhabi – short of a baby in a manger they had it all covered. So much for Islamic cultures hating everything about us!
Ignorance is such a dangerous thing and, while we have politicians that are prepared to prey on people’s ignorance and fear, it’s increasingly important to encourage people to travel and to experience something other than their own little world.
I write this blog for a variety of reasons but one of the big reasons is because I genuinely want to get people interested in traveling. I’m not the right person to do reviews of countries and cultures – so I’ll leave that to those better equipped for that job – but I can write about making travel easier and more comfortable without having to spend a fortune – so that’s what I try to do. If travel can be made easier then more people are inclined to try it out….at least that’s my philosophy.
If there’s one travel-related hope I have for 2016 (other than a major airline introducing a minimum age for premium cabin travel) it’s for people to stop watching reality TV and to get out into the world and experience some reality of their own. The only way we’re going to break down the myths and prejudices a lot of cultures perpetuate is for people to see the world for themselves and to experience what other people think, say and do first hand (and not through the talking heads on TV).
The funny thing is that, when you’ve seen a few counties and talked to a few locals, you start to realise that we have as many things in common with each other as we have differences. And, while some things from other cultures may seem alien to us, a lot seem very familiar too. That’s what makes travel so amazing.
Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating it and happy holidays to everyone who’s celebrating something else. May your food be fantastic, may the drink flow freely and may your families not be too unbearable this year 🙂