K. A. Lindstrom

A Dangerous Business

Author: K. A. Lindstrom

Challenge the Known

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” 

~Oscar Wilde

The truth is elusive and often distorted by biases and prejudice. To know something is true rarely actually has basis in evidence anymore. We allow the constant noise around us to shape our opinions and distort reality. This is especially true regarding our concepts of other cultures. We see them as caricatures in movies, changed into simple, uncomplicated stereotypes easy for the uneducated audience to grasp. At least until the audience takes the initiative to learn more than what Hollywood wants us to see, and that often comes from travel.

This lesson I learned most profoundly in India. India has retained much of its culture for centuries, changing little with the times. The merging of east and west is evident, but unlike many former colonies, Western influence hasn’t killed the traditional culture.

In the United States, when someone conjures an image of an Indian, they either focus on the Native American culture or on Indian call-centers or convenience store owners. Or sometimes it is of the Victorian image of the exotic Orient. Yet no caricature can prepare you for the reality of India.

It is a magical place. Over-populated, polluted, frequently foul-smelling, and yet inescapably, fascinatingly unique. One thing that stood out to me was how prevalent the image of a swastika was in their art.

In the west, the image of a swastika is closely entwined with Hitler and his Aryan ideal. Yet it is still regarded by Hindu culture as an auspicious sign. It is a strange feeling to recognize the dual meanings of the symbol; hatred and good fortune.

My point being thus; truth is not black and white. Most recognize this in theory, but have a hard time accepting it in reality, myself included. Travel can reveal the changing idea of “truth” by challenging one truth with another–one accepted by another culture, another way of life.

Above All Else, Be Flexible

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

~Albert Einstein

There is no way to know what the future holds. None of us knows our fate, and there is so much left up to chance when one travels. So the most important lesson I have learned on my journeys is to be flexible. Not everyone is capable of letting chance decide their path, but often times that is how the traveler discovers the most. Let yourself be free to change plans at a moment’s notice.

My first real test of flexibility came in China. I had been traveling for some time, two months into my Semester at Sea voyage while studying abroad during undergrad. Unlike many of my peers, I had planned most of my shore time before I ever set foot on the boat. Partly this was to appease my worry-wort mother, part of it was to ensure I saw everything I intended to in the short time I had in each port. Yet I decided that China would be different. When the ship departed Hong Kong for Shanghai, I was not on board. I set out with a few well-traveled friends to see what I could discover as we traveled up the coast to rejoin our vessel.

I can say with all honesty, that was one of the most memorable trips I have taken in the ten years I have been traveling. We took a cramped overnight bus to Xiamen, where almost no one spoke English apart from one Chinese-Australian girl we happened to share a boat with to an island off the coast. It is truly an experience to immerse yourself in a place where no one can understand you. To become an outsider, a foreigner, really puts into perspective how arrogant and inconsiderate those folks are back home that firmly believe that if you enter their country, you must speak their language.

Xiamen was a true immersion experience, one most tourists never see. It is one thing to visit Cambodia and see Ankor Wat, where everything revolves around tourism. It is another to visit South Africa and spend a few days living in the townships, seeing the remnants of Apartheid and the stark contrasts between the haves and the have-nots. Often these real experiences arise under unsuspected circumstances. My advice; take a chance and see something beyond the tourist traps. There may be dangers in going out alone into an unknown city, certainly. But if you take precautions and trust in the goodness of humanity, you will come out much richer from your experiences.

It’s a Dangerous Business

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

~Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings

Travel is inherently dangerous. From the moment you pass over your threshold, you leave the comfort, familiarity, and relative control of the small world you call home. Venture further into your community and you have to interact with your neighbors, losing ever more control as you take each step. You could be caught in a sudden storm, or run into an old flame. Pass beyond your borders into the unknown and the control all but slips away.

Human nature is to fear what we cannot control, what we do not understand. This is the underlying idea that makes travel dangerous. Yet even with all the bad things that happen to good people–terrorism, accidents, diseases–it is not those dangers that define travel. Mark Twain put it best:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Travel is a dangerous business, because nothing is more powerful than an educated mind given a purpose. Often times, the traveler achieves just that.

All our lives we are taught to sit and study, to memorize words on a page or dates on a chalkboard. But trivial facts and dates are useless without the theories and concepts they support. Memorizing the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta is of little consequence if the parrot repeating it does not understand its significance.

Traveling is dangerous because it refuses to let ignorance rule. There is no better teacher than the world itself.  Let me be clear:  not everyone that boards a plane or a cruise ship is a traveler. The average Joe on holiday is merely a tourist; he is not out to learn or to grow, and takes photos where he should instead strike up a conversation with a local. He returns home unchanged and uneducated. But a traveler leaves home with the purpose of gaining knowledge, of bringing a new understanding of the world back with them.

Traveling is a dangerous because it makes us think. It is easy to dismiss the hardships of others, the intelligence in other ways of life, or the wisdom of a different path when one is not directly exposed to it. True understanding comes from dialogue and interaction, not from reading words on a page. Because of this, I urge you out into the world; be brave, be daring, be open-minded. Reading my words cannot replace the wisdom you will achieve when you take that chance and journey beyond the known into lands so very different than your own.

Take a small step. Find a place a few hours from home that you have never seen. Bring a friend and discover something new together. Set aside money to take a long weekend somewhere exotic and new. Try a new cuisine. Give yourself the opportunity to fall in love with traveling.

Traveling is dangerous. Once you take that first step, you may not be able to stop. You may find yourself setting money aside for a long holiday, or making plans to leave behind the normal for something new, not knowing when or if you will be back.

This is where I find myself; torn between the love for home and the burning desire for new experiences. But I suffer gladly, as it means I have done something with my life beyond the mundane and ordinary. So I write this in the hopes that others will take the chance and learn something new through travel. I certainly have. I see the palpable difference between those that have traveled and those that stay home. Wisdom lies in the eyes of those that have spent their money on experience rather that on material possessions. Despite the hardships, I choose to be more than myself by becoming not a citizen of one nation, but a citizen of the world. “Home is behind, the world ahead.” Like Bilbo, we all have a little Took in us. And if you are reading this, you are on your way into a world far bigger than any one of us could ever comprehend.  But we will try to understand, nonetheless.

© 2017 K. A. Lindstrom

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑