There was a day late last year when I reached a frightening level of despair about the world. U.S. politics had just taken a dramatic turn (you might recall the election I’m speaking of…) and, for whatever reason, my partner and I decided it was an excellent time to watch Leo’s climate change documentary, Before the Flood. Well great, I thought to myself. If we don’t all march into conflict fueled by fear, ignorance and narcissism we’ll just die slowly thanks to our love of fossil fuels and beef.
Dramatic? Yes, most definitely; a fact I happily realized in the warm light of the following morning. But, that said, it’s hard not to feel at least a little concerned about the globe when many political leaders are inspiring more nerves than confidence, giant glaciers are melting into the ocean, the world’s coral is dying at an unprecedented rate, and more than 60 million fellow humans are displaced by war and conflict.
The instinctive reaction to this new global climate is to curl into ourselves and our lives a little more, go about our routines and remain in our comfort zones with our blinkers firmly on. Maybe we commit to a new season on Netflix or lose ourselves in the pages of a book. Perhaps we spend time with our friends, sharing stories about our work, home and love life while artfully avoiding discussion on the bigger issues. On a bolder day, maybe we make ourselves feel a little better by buying a reusable coffee cup or liking a political protest post on Facebook.
It’s long been said that the best way to tackle our fears is head on. While this advice is usually applied to individual anxieties – heights, public speaking, and particularly hairy spiders – I think it can apply to global fears as well.
As a general rule, humans fear the unknown. Remember when we thought the earth was flat? It made the idea of exploring rather scary, given we supposed we’d fall off an almighty edge of some sort and plummet to untimely deaths. On a more relatable level, remember when you were little and scared of the dark? Or what about the first time you tested out the safety features of a harness, legs shaking as you stepped onto the high ropes during school camp? Discovering the earth was round, realizing it was your labrador who lurked in the shadows at the foot of your bed at 3am, and experiencing the fall-suspending abilities (and unavoidable wedgie) of that strange formation of ropes and cables were all wonderful moments, transforming fear into understanding and enjoyment.
So here’s an idea: how about we apply the same approach to the current global climate, tackling fear and misinformation with travel?
Think about it. Travel is the perfect antidote to a fear of people and places we don’t know anything about. It’s the best way to inform ourselves about what’s happening to our planet’s ecosystems and the biggest motivator to do something about it (tip: Intrepid is dedicated to responsible travel, from hiring local leaders to carbon offsetting trips). It’s the ultimate way to get outside of ourselves and broaden our perspective, to put our phones down and live in the here and now, more aware, more educated and – perhaps counter-intuitively – better connected.
It’s also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people who boost our faith in humanity. It allows us to confirm our ideas of ourselves and the world, forcing us to question our beliefs and introducing us to hundreds of shades of grey in the process.
Travel will change you, whether you want it to or not, a fact which has been well documented over the years. According to social and psychological studies, time away from the people and places we know gives us new perspective, renders us more open to new experiences and more likely to get along with others, increases our emotional stability, makes us more resilient, and increases our faith in humanity.
Worldly, psychologically-sound people with good emotional regulation and a belief in fundamental human decency? We could sure use some of those right now.
As Mark Twain once said, in a quote which is unbelievably fitting for this precise moment in time:
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.
So, go on. Share a meal with the locals in Morocco, learn about their food, their faith and their families. Help plant a forest in Indonesia, knowing that each hectare of new growth will become home to all sorts of life. Venture to the wilds of Patagonia and let the beauty of the world smack you right in the face, the sheer size and scope of the wilderness reminding you of the significance of things.
And then do it all again somewhere else, sending yourself on an adventure whenever your life at home starts to feel small and insular.
Go on. Travel.
Challenge yourself, see the world, and make life-changing memories on a small group tour with Intrepid.
(Image Credits from top to bottom: iStock: Intrepid Travel x3, iStock)