Exploring new cultures, new foods, and new landscapes helps breed a new level of acceptance and humility in human beings. Hearing new languages and seeing people who dress differently than what we’re used to helps remind us that there is not always a right way or wrong way to do things. Travel leads to understanding. It has the ability to break down communications barriers and preconceived notions of fear or hatred.
I try to spend many of my adventures in tropical destinations where there are large populations of sharks for me to swim with and learn to understand – the ocean is where I find that I’m able to be most at peace and stress-free. It’s also where I feel that I have the best chance of contributing to conservation efforts. It’s no secret that plenty of people are terrified of sharks, and who can blame them? Did you know that less than 1% of the world’s population has ever been scuba diving? Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of my personal heroes, once said “knowing is the key to caring, and with caring there is hope that people will be motivated to take positive actions. They might not care even if they know, but they can’t care if they are unaware.” Of course she was referring to oceans in this specific instance, but I think this quote stands true for all areas of our lives. If we don’t experience other cultures and engage with people who aren’t like us, we’ll never understand the problems of the world, and we’ll definitely never feel fired up to fix them. If we don’t experience it or see it, we can’t understand it. If we can’t understand it, we can’t care enough to save it.
My dad taught my brothers and me about the importance of travel from a young age. To this day, he loves going on trips around the world (mostly small island nations where the water is warm, the sun is shining, and the sharks are plentiful). Every time he travels, he comes back not only with incredible photographs of sharks that magazines and newspapers have used to support conservation efforts around the world, but he also comes back with stories that will last longer than a lifetime. Every time he tells a tale from one of his epic adventures is another opportunity to inspire others to get out and explore more parts of the world – to explore things far outside of comfort zones. For this reason, I greatly admire photographers and filmmakers – while it looks like their lives are often luxe and adventure-filled (and sometimes they probably are), you may feel differently when you realize how much effort it takes to get to those remote areas of the world, and how physically strenuous it is to have to carry that much gear just to be able to provide enough content for a 10-minute news segment or a sometimes slightly longer documentary so that the rest of the world can experience areas of beauty and sometimes devastation from afar. Visual storytellers are amazing, and they’re on the front lines of helping to bridge cultural divides across borders.
I’m making my case for travel in this post because I’m leaving for Nepal this month to hike to Everest Base Camp. Depending on who I’m speaking to, reactions to this update vary greatly. My closest friends and family have mostly been super excited for me, and even rightfully make fun of me a bit because I’ve never spent any time at altitude or been camping for more than two consecutive nights, and here I am about to go to 17,500 feet and spend 19 days camping along the way. However, I’ve also been met with some disconcerting reactions, like warnings to stay away from certain types of people, or blunt suggestions to stay away from men while I’m in another country because “things are different there.”
I’m not naive – I know that travel comes with certain dangers and that I should always look out for my safety. But I find it shocking that these same people – those warning me to be extra careful when I’m traveling in other countries – don’t seem to feel the need to warn me about living alone in a city, or don’t find it alarming that I spend time in New York and Chicago which don’t exactly have the cleanest of crime records. It seems as if it’s because those cities are on American soil that they’re somehow safer and don’t warrant the same level of warning.
Travel is my favorite form of learning. It has opened my eyes to so many incredible cultures and new foods (mostly spicy ones) that I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience. It has brought some of my favorite people into my life, and has brought me and my dad closer than ever before.
As my girl Dr. Sylvia Earle says, “they can’t care if they aren’t aware.” So I hope you will keep those eyes open, and before passing judgment, ask yourself why you feel a certain way after a gut reaction you may feel about another culture or region of the world. If you don’t know, explore it. Keep challenging yourself to grow, learn, understand, and find acceptance. And I’ll try to do the same!
Cheers to a lifelong commitment to travel, acceptance, gratitude, and adventure.