Geoff and I have been talking a lot lately about why we travel: what does it mean to us, what propels us forward, and why on earth do we agree to the 24-hour travel days and insecure bank accounts inherent in building a nomadic business when it would be far easier to trade in our laptops and backpacks for a respectable j-o-b and a refurbished tug boat?
At the conference we just attended in Minneapolis (TBEX), the closing keynote speaker was Andrew Zimmern. He spoke about a lot of things — food and culture, of course — but the part that stuck out for me was when someone asked him why he travels.
His answer? Travel makes him the best version of himself.
That’s something Geoff and I have both felt for a long time, but have failed to articulate. And it’s a good start.
In our minds, however, there are far more reasons to travel beyond self-improvement.
This beautiful, 13-minute film by National Geographic (and shot entirely on an iPhone 6, proving once and for all, it is the photographer/videographer, not the gear, that makes a shot) offers some alternatives.
Take a look:
Telling the story of Nat. Geo. Emerging Explorer and Adventurer of the Year, Wasfia Nazreen, it talks about how travel and challenging yourself changes you.
In Wasifa’s paraphrased words, her experience climbing the Seven Summits has taught her to speak without words, to draw without chalk, and to be at home when she’s homeless.
Each of those are experiences we’ve had, to different degrees, as travelers. Especially the speak without words and feel at home when we’re homeless parts (seriously: we just moved into a new home in a village in Portugal, where we’ll spend the month of June…this is the 20th bed we’ve slept in so far in 2016).
However, the thing that struck me the most is this:
If you let it, travel will trample your assumptions, unceremoniously throwing them out the door before opening your eyes to the complexity of people and cultures. It will broaden your worldview, and your world, to a size and scope that is far greater than you knew before.
If you let it, travel will change your mind about anything and everything.
Let me explain.
Wasfia, the subject of the film, is a Bangladeshi woman who was orphaned at an early age. She’s since gone on to become the first Bangladeshi, man or woman, to climb the Seven Summits.
So often, we have a preconceived notion of what it means to be “someone, somewhere” based on the media and culture we consume.
If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this: What does it mean to be a “Woman in Bangladesh” today?
For me, media coverage of sweatshop conditions for garment workers, factory collapses, poverty, and sexual/physical violence come to mind. And that’s not even counting the flooding that Wasifa mentions is commonly associated with her country.
And yet, here is Wasfia, who for all intents and purposes began life as a FREAKING ORPHAN, literally breaking records and scaling mountains.
That’s not to discount the experiences of people in her country who do face the challenges we’ve been taught to believe define Bangladesh…just that those problems and stereotypes don’t, in fact, define Bangladesh.
We’ve been duped with soundbites, simplicity, and the stories that make “good news,” rather than those stories that encourage critical thought and understanding. We’ve been duped by thinking we can understand everything from a 3-minute news story, when in fact it’s real, meaningful experiences, and a genuine desire to understand and fight through complexity, that open our minds.
Of course, you don’t have to travel to open your mind and question your assumptions…you just have to be willing to look beyond your backyard, your favorite media sources, your circle of peers, and people like you, who share the same assumptions, colour, religion, and beliefs as you do, and don’t force you to question whether any of it is actually real.
I hope you enjoyed this film as much as I did. And I hope it encourages you to consume media, products, and experiences that broaden, rather than dull, your mind, sense of humanity, and thirst for meaningful experiences.