23 July 2016

Why do you Travel?

"I hate being a tourist!"

What a strange thing for someone who has spent almost a year and a half dedicated to travelling around the world by himself to say. Yet, it’s true, I hate being a tourist.

Sure this can be interpreted as a rather snobby and pretentious statement, as I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to integrate myself into the local community through work. However, this is more targeted towards the tourists that visit a country to merely reap its’ beauties and then travel onto the next one, creating a mental checklist of places visited to rattle off to the next person they want to impress as a way of demonstrating how "cultured" they are.
Here in Laos, foreigners are referred to as ‘Falang’. Originally meaning ‘French-person’. ‘Falang’ is now used to encompass all tourists. It is often used as a way to brush aside someone's ignorance when cultural practices and conventions are accidentally broken. The very definition of the word tourist itself, in my mind, is troubling.

tourist
noun
         a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.

For me, travelling has never simply been about deriving pleasure from a journey. Rather it is the lessons you learn and the connections that you form with locals and fellow travellers that make travelling so special. The easiest way to do this, for me at least, is through volunteering. Not only do you have the amazing chance to meet and get to know like-minded people,but you’re also able to unite in achieving a collective goal, bettering the community. While volunteering you’re not exposed to that which is arbitrarily created to please tourists, rather you get to engage and experience the country’s true culture.

Many dismiss the idea of international volunteering, questioning the amount of difference you can actually make in the world, arguing that temporary help does more harm than good. While certain arguments may hold merit it is incredibly important to never underestimate the potential impact one person can have on the world. Look back at the statistics my VSO ICS group produced in Choma, Zambia. A group of twenty 18-25-year-old young adults were able to achieve some phenomenal feats in just 11 weeks:
‘Total number of people spoken to - 6,437
‘Total number of Condoms Distributed - Male 33,859, Female 3,208
I honestly can not see myself travelling to a country purely for a holiday anymore. Throughout my relatively short time spent travelling I am certain I have learnt and experienced more about the world than in all my years of formal education. That is why I travel...

If you take one from away from this blog it is to not travel simply for pleasure, but rather travel to broaden your mind and to help others.

So why do you travel?

Luke T.


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