It’s been a strange few years. Troubling terms have entered our everyday language: fake news, Brexit, populism, climate denial, alt-right, white nationalism…the list goes on. The trend throughout all of this seems to a be a great turning inwards, a rejection of globalism and cooperation in favour of nationalism and deeply held prejudices.
Travel is still regarded by many as something frivolous; a nice distraction, but something that happens on the margins of ‘real life’, as though something that doesn’t involve a commute and a mortgage doesn’t have any serious merit. But in the current climate, I believe it is much more important than that.
Recently, on a brief trip to Malaysia, I was sat around a table in Georgetown with a group of new friends. A girl from Fiji, two Swedish guys, a couple from Texas, an Italian and a Mexican. For hours we ate and drank and swapped stories about our respective countries, about our journeys through Asia and our opinions on politics, sports, food and movies. And as we laughed and clinked glasses with a ‘salud!’ a ‘saluti!’ a ‘skol!’ and a ‘cheers!’ I reflected on the fact that this kind of experience is utterly exclusive to travel. So many people around the world are missing out on this singular thrill, I thought – the joy of sharing an evening with a collage of cultures, from all corners of the globe.
It was a perfect evening, and a perfect way to prove how travel simultaneously makes the planet seem huge – filled with cultural quirks, cuisines, races, opinions, languages and jokes – and also very small, in which a girl from Fiji and a guy from Sweden can laugh about what they just watched on Netflix.
It’s very difficult when you’ve experienced something like that on countless occasions, to stereotype in the way you used to. To form opinions on Texans and Italians based upon what that you’ve seen in the media. You begin to learn that every nationality is as nuanced as the next, and that for all our differences, we all just want to find our way in the world.
So, travel in 2019. Nice to have? Sure. But it’s more than a luxury. It represents a resistance to this great global turning inwards. It’s a rebuttal to ignorance and narrow-mindedness. It’s a victory for curiosity, compassion and personal growth. We can all drink to that.