As many of you know, I have been travelling for about ten years. At first, my travel began in order to skip a year of what I deemed a pointless undergrad study and to do something more productive with my time. I justified running to Europe for three months, and then a year to “grow,” to “mature” and to “re-enter my studies with a better perspective on life,” to be a “better” student, if you will. Little did I know at that time, I was not kidding myself as much as I thought I was. All of these things happened and more, more being that I became a worse student. Wait, I take that back, I became a great student, but not the book-buying, term-memorizing, test-taking kind. I became a student of the world. Why am I telling you all of this now? Lately, thanks to a bout of anxiety and a few great friends, I have realized that travel is more than running away from something, more than experiencing swimming with whale sharks and more than taking a selfie with the city’s famous tower. It’s more than bettering yourself. It’s about bettering the world. Imagine if with every experience you have, with every connection you make, you could bring it back home and make it mean something more than a month worth of Instagram throwbacks?
I am telling you this and at the same time am telling myself, because I have been guilty of not making the most of my time, not making the most out of my connections. It’s true that I meet locals and have even stayed with them, but lately I find that I am not being a responsible traveller like I once was. It is okay to go on vacation and enjoy your time there, but it is not okay to go to a country and to ignore what is right in front of you- something I have been guilty of in my last few trips. Looking back I can’t help to ask myself a few questions; Do I even know the political stance in the country I just visited? Did I take just one minute to speak to a local? To see them? To look beyond the white sandy beaches and famous monuments to say thank-you to the man cleaning my hotel room who is probably making only two dollars a day?
As travelers we have a right. We have a right to travel, to enjoy our vacation because as I know, we work damn hard to earn that plane cost and beach chair under the sun. As humans we have a responsibility. We can’t turn a blind eye to the people outside of our five-star hotel walls. We have a responsibility not to forget who is making these margaritas, putting out the beach chairs and a responsibility to remember that not everyone is so privileged to be able to plan such a vacation. Just as we like to be thanked at the end of a hard day of work, we must remember to be thankful to our destinations, to the grandma making our soup at the local restaurant and to bring back some awareness that talks more about how big our umbrella was or how much it rained. Maybe we could even make a connection, learn about another culture and love a little more, because isn’t that what this world needs? On your next vacation I challenge you to meet one local, I guarantee it will improve your experience, and I pledge to do the same; to make my time and money worth more than a photo.