Sunday, June 14, 2009


I think the best part of traveling is opening your eyes to new ways of doing things. My first trip outside the US was to France. (That's probably why I love it so much.) I went to live with a family in St. Etienne as part of a foreign exchange student program. I remember my light bulb moment came when I saw how their toilets flushed with a button vs. a handle. I know it's silly, but I'd never thought about another way to flush a toilet before. I assumed everybody did it the same way we did in the US. That first experience really taught me that there's no one right way to do something. We can learn from these new experiences and think about things from another perspective. They've been using those dual-flush toilets for years and only now are they finally becoming more prevalent here in the US because they conserve so much more water.

But, it's obviously about much more than how to flush a toilet. It's about getting to know people that are different from yourself, and that do things in a way that you're not used to, and appreciating those differences. There's a term that people are using for this kind of experience- "Slow Travel". It means taking the time to become a part of local life and connecting to both a place and its people; none of which you can do holed up inside your all-inclusive resort. You have to step outside the safety net and go to the grocery store, hire a local tour guide, not be afraid to ask the locals for suggestions on where to go, and find those hidden gems that only they know about. In that way you can experience a place more intensely, appreciate it more fully and leave feeling relaxed & renewed.

You'll also be contributing to the local economy. Many places like St.Lucia for example, depend on the tourism industry for their survival and yet if you stay at a Sandals or some place similar, eat all your meals there, and never set foot outside, all your money goes directly back to the pockets of some large corporation (most likely based out of another country), and not to the local people who need it.

Traveling also gives you an understanding and an appreciation for other people. It strips away the stereotypes and leaves you with new friends. So many of the conflicts in the world today are based on cultural misconceptions. If people took the time to get to know one another they'd see that most of their fears & assumptions are ill-founded.

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