When President Obama won his first term in office I was in Mozambique. This was the first presidential election I had voted in and the day of my 21st birthday. I watched the polls roll in on the flickering television set of a Maputo hostel, hip to hip on a sagging sofa with a French man, a Canadian couple, and my American friend. This was an unlikely scenario that couldn’t have been more fitting for the moment: five strangers from three unique democracies waiting out history—the potential of the first black American president, a man of Kenyan descent—in a hole in the wall on the African coast.
We went to sleep, linoleum floors underfoot and whirring fans overhead, not knowing the results. The next morning, we waited for the first signs of waking life on the street to run out and find a newspaper. With one hand the vendor proudly held up the paper brandishing Obama’s front-page face with “VICTORY!” blocked across it, and stretched out his other hand for a high-five.
Eight years ago in Maputo I had never been so physically far away from the US-election-day action. Today, I have never been so geographically close to it. As I write this on November 9, 2016, Obama’s successor has just been announced. Another historical first has passed: the first time a woman has campaigned to be the president of America. This time, I watched the poll results from my Brooklyn living room. Less than a mile away in midtown Manhattan the Democratic and Republican candidates were awaiting the results, too.
During these eight years so much has happened. What has been constant in my life though, is travel: my own movement from place to place, that of the people I encounter along the way, and the ripples these connections create. In eight years I have lived in the world’s largest democracy, India, sharing saffron tea with a Kashmiri who told me what it was like growing up caught between two warring nations. I have walked with Blue-Footed Boobies on desert islands in the Galapagos, a place where the people’s most important currency isn’t printed but is the spectacular ecosystem they live in. I have learned to weave with master artisans in Guatemala where over half the population lives below the poverty line. I have sat in the Upstate-New-York kitchen of my ninety-two-year-old Great Aunt and listened to stories from World War II to Y2K, and beyond.
Travel has taught me something raw: each of our histories, each stumble and stride along the way, forms how we see ourselves, our worlds, and our wants for the future. These are not the same for all of us, how could they be. But our stories are all colliding and we are speeding forward. Together. Our future is shared.
At times of uncertainty and change, especially during moments like a political election when belief systems and outlooks are drawn in the sand and people are asked to choose a side, learning all we can from one another is essential. Travel provides us with an opportunity to do so. Travel shakes us out of our silos, pushes us to examine our everyday norms, peels us away from our safety nets of home and like-minded companions and asks us to engage with one another. No matter how basic or obvious this may sound, or not, it isn’t easy, simple, or given.
In the iconic travel essays, Why We Travel, Pico Iyer writes:
“We travel initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed…[We travel for] a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.”
I travel because I want the serendipitous, and the profound, to be a part of my life: high-fiving Mozambicans on Election Day, watching manta rays fly out of the ocean, sleeping on lava rocks, hearing what a Delhiite does on a Friday night. Because I want to encounter different perspectives, to connect with people who move through the world differently than I do. I travel because I seek a future in which we are mindful and receptive. Why do you?
WHY WE TRAVEL
“I travel to 大开眼界 (open one’s eyes). The challenge of being in a new place and having to communicate without English is one of my favorite things. Traveling gets me out of my comfort zone and exposes me to new people, perspectives, and experiences.”
“I travel to prove to myself that dreams do come true: just dream it, plan it, experience it!(And I get to try new local foods.)”
“In third grade my closest friend was a little Japanese girl. On play dates she’d speak to me in Japanese, teach me how to crease and fold origami paper cranes and how to write our names in Japanese characters. Mind blown! On summer break my family would visit the dairy farm my mom grew up on in Virginia. She’d take us to the calf pen and show us how it feels when they suck on our fingers. Pure happiness! Last month I jumped for joy off a dock into only-Alaska-cold water, then soared over a glacier to land on a beach and walk with bears. Heart pounding! I travel because it makes me feel like a kid again. It connects me to worlds I didn’t know were out there. And getting out there makes me care more about more.”
“I love to travel to feel outside of my comfort zone. It allows me to enjoy the thrill of the unknown, while also encouraging me to grow and learn more about who I am and who I want to be.”
“Have you traveled with a completely open heart? If you do, you will come home with all the places you visited, everyone you met, everything you touched, and all the joy you felt. All of it. You think you are a little dot in this vast time and space, yet you feel safe and connected to the entire universe as you start to experience these incredible connections. This is why I travel.”
“I travel to experience new cultures, food, night life or relaxing on a beach. Traveling opens up your heart and gives you a greatness of joy in being anywhere outside of your zone.”
“Through travel I am able to experience the rich and varied cultures of our planet. This has given me a deep appreciation for humanity and a broader understanding of the world we live in.”
“I travel to revel in the abundant beauty and diversity of our planet. And now, more than ever, Americans should travel abroad to demonstrate to those they meet in other countries that we can be open-minded, tolerant, kind, respectful, and genuinely curious about other cultures and lifestyles.”
“I travel to experience the beauty in the world, be it the colors, architecture, and vistas I see; the food made of produce special to that place; or how different yet remarkably similar we all are.”
“I travel to connect with other cultures and to experience life as locals do and to understand their way of living. There are different ways to experience destinations – through history, architecture, food, and through the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The best feeling is having that sense of place and understanding why you’ve traveled to a certain destination. What is the purpose of each trip? I’ve learned many lessons throughout my travels which I incorporate into my daily life.”