The ability to properly understand and decipher what it means to be a mindful traveler has become more evident each weekend I travel. Although most people would ideally like to go into a weekend of travel with a plan in regard to what museums they will visit and where they will eat, it is impossible to plan for the unforeseeable and inevitable problems that arise each day. Although people always run into hiccups and bumps in the road that prevent most days from being “perfect”. The problems that arise during travel are often more important and feel much larger than they are. Why is this? It is likely due to the fact that most people travel with a preconceived notion of the place they are visiting and the experience they will have, thus preventing open-mindedness’. To me, open mindedness means having the will to understand and learn about one’s surroundings, permitting discovery and realizations, rather than going into a situation with a set desire and expectations. If one plans each moment of their life out, they are leaving less opportunity to learn. People often have in mind what they ‘need’ rather than leaving room for the unknown possibilities that life can throw at you, which unquestionably are the moments that you learn the most.
A problem that many travel abroad students run into, including myself is the impression that we can form a stronger bond with fellow travelers than locals. Although it may initially be easier to create those bonds off of obvious similarities such as language and culture, in order to grow and gain a sense of raw local culture, one must find similarities with locals. Slimbach made a fantastic point when he mentioned students arriving home, “they’re likely to speak and write of what they learned about or did for the locals rather than with them” (74). This is a notion I have not thought about previously and sadly can recall doing on countless occasions. As humans, we scientifically like to talk about ourselves and talk about our accomplishments, in my opinion to feel more secure with ourselves. It is interesting to then look at something such a volunteering, an act, that is often looked at as selfless. However, could it really be an action masking a selfish need to make ourselves feel better about ourselves? Now don’t get me wrong, selfishness is obligatory for every human being in order to survive however we have to stop giving out the label of volunteering so easily as we need to start weighing the significance of our help as it could be harmful in the end by creating imbalance. In order for a study abroad program to be permitted, it is inferred that there must be certain conditions that have been met, and likely changed in the host country, to fit the needs of the lifestyle we are used to at home. It is important that we realize that implementing ourselves into a culture is creating disproportion.
People often look at the impoverished in one of two ways: that they are either so incredibly dirt poor that we look at them with sorrow, or with a sense of jealousy for living a so-called simple life, because having no money gives you a simple life I guess, right? It is important that people begin to realize that money is simply an object. We should not give money the power to determine our happiness. Most people living in this world have nothing compared to us, and although life may not be as “easy” as it is for us in terms of acquiring life necessities, most are still happy because they don’t know anything different. We must change our perception of necessity as the only necessities that we really need are people, food, water, and shelter. Slimbach quoted Pico Iyer, “If money does not it happiness, neither does poverty” (78). This quote elucidates the importance of money and how much we allow money to influence our thoughts towards ourselves and others. It blinds us from the beauty of culture and the people around us. It is not fair to look at people who are less fortunate than us and assume they are not happy as that is like telling them that they shouldn’t be happy given their circumstances. Slimbach quoted from Abernathy, “I didn’t use to think of myself as poor, but now I do… I resent them for having so much and then wanting to come see people who have so little” (88). Although emerging ourselves in a culture different and especially less fortunate than ourselves, we are automatically causing a bit of imbalance. However as long as we try to learn about each other’s cultures and abstain from changing the beauty of a raw culture, we will hopefully be able to change our perception of what a simple and happy life is. Ultimately a happy life is based on the self growth, learning, and the people that surround us.
Travelers must make sure that they are simply just aiding the conditions that these impoverished people are living in. We must not effect the customs, that may even seem to be practiced on account of their indigent conditions, as they are what make each place unique and travel ultimately worth-wile. Isn’t that the goal of a mindful traveler; to embrace one another’s indifferences in order to experience a culture unique to our own? If people are consistently permitting host cultures to change their ways in order to make outsiders more comfortable, travelers will no longer really be traveling if they are walking into a country just like that of their own. Additionally, we must take into consideration that media blinds us to the conditions that locals are experiencing everyday in places that we may call “paradise” as the raw culture of the place is hidden from us.
With the luxuries that so many of us in the United States are blessed to have, we have no real sense of the world and conditions that most people on our planet are living through. In my opinion, you can read, watch, or speak about something countless times, but you cannot truly grasp and appreciate third world countries and the conditions so many third-world citizens live through unless you see it first-hand. That is why, in that sense, travel is essential to understand each other and be to truly achieve sati (mindfulness in Pali language). However if most students and people as an entirety just want to travel to another place of luxury, then we are preventing self growth and global understanding. Traveling is beneficial in the sense that we want to understand each other but if we are not making those mutual connections, and just putting on short performances for one another to convey each other’s needs, we are creating imbalance and leaving no room for growth and improvement.
In class, we defined a global community as a “Shared living space of interdependent individuals endowed with universal human rights, while choosing to act upon them, embracing differences, and working toward common goals”. The concept of being a mindful traveler is perfectly conveyed in this quote as a mindful traveler must embrace and accept living in similar conditions, embracing those differences, without preconceived notions hindering our ability to work towards and share common goals. At the end of the day, we must reflect on why we want to travel. Is it to travel somewhere and experience a life that we live everyday, or are we traveling to experience something entirely new, that will permit insight towards oneself, unique cultures that are inaccurately represented by media, and finally what happiness really is.
I chose a photo that I took at the Topography of Terror in Berlin, Germany that I found to be very powerful. The Topography of Terror was a really great experience that required a lot of reading but permitted self growth as I gained an incredible amount of knowledge that I had not previously had about the Holocaust and World War II. It was very touching to see so many photos that were taken at concentration camps. If I had not taken the time to read the timeline of the war within the museum, the pictures may not have touched me to the extent that they did as it is possible I would not have been trying to truly understand the conditions that these people lived through, why, and how it came to be. Pictures can tell a story of their own, but it is important to understand the story before permitting assumption as that is how discovery and knowledge is made.