In Troubled Times, Travel Can Be a Political Act

Last week, I shared several posts about the nationwide protests. I declared my solidarity with Black Lives Matter. I drew parallels between our president’s response and the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. And I solicited contributions for Lawyers and Collars, an initiative by Sojourners to protect the vote of people of color in US elections.

While the response to these posts was predominantly positive (we inspired over 1,500 people to donate more than $100,000 to that campaign), I got the usual smattering of angry people saying, “Stick to travel! Why are you injecting politics into what you do? It’s bad for business!”

To these people I say: Travel and politics are related. And I’ve been mixing travel and politics for years.

There’s something about travel that radicalizes a thoughtful person. Just as the last few weeks’ events have finally opened the eyes of many privileged white Americans like me, who until now have not been fully aware of the racist inequities of our justice system, a trip to another country can be a revelation. When we travel beyond our borders, we learn that other nations hold different truths to be God-given and self-evident.

Visiting other lands, you can find completely different ways of living…and you find that you like some of them better than what you’re used to. Thoughtful travelers bring these strands back home and weave them into their lives — becoming a person with a broader, global perspective.

In 2008, during the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration, I wrote the first edition of my book Travel as a Political Act. Since that time — through the Obama and Trump years — it’s astonishing how much things have changed… and changed… and changed. (In fact, I am currently working on the fourth edition, updated yet again to include those changes.) But the basic message has remained the same: Travel can be a political act.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of that book:

For the last 40 years, I’ve been teaching people how to travel. I focus mostly on the logistics: finding the right hotel, avoiding long lines, sampling local delicacies, and catching the train on time. But more important than the “how” we travel is the “why” we travel: Thoughtful travelers do it to have enlightening experiences, to meet inspirational people, to be stimulated, to learn, and to grow.

Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. Getting out of my comfort zone through travel has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world. And for that, I am thankful.

As a travel teacher, I’ve been fortunate to draw from a variety of rich overseas experiences. And, since just after 9/11, I’ve been giving a lecture I call “Travel as a Political Act.” I enjoy giving this talk all over the USA — to peacenik environmentalists in Boulder, to high-society ladies’ clubs in Charlotte, to homemakers in Houston, to Members of Congress and their aides on Capitol Hill, and at universities across the country.

As a traveler, I’ve learned we can learn more about our home by leaving it and looking at it from afar. And we can learn more about our own country by observing other countries — and by challenging ourselves (and our neighbors) to be broad-minded. Holding our country to a high standard and searching for ways to better live up to its lofty ideals is not “America-bashing.” It’s America-loving… good citizenship.

I’m unapologetically proud of the ideals that have historically distinguished America. While we face serious challenges — especially these days — those ideals are timeless and resilient, and they still inspire people around the world. The United States has made me who I am. I spend plenty of time in other countries, but the happiest day of any trip is the day I come home. I’d never live abroad, and I’d certainly not have as much fun running my business overseas as I do here at home.

But other nations have some pretty good ideas, too. By bringing these ideas home, we can help our society confront its challenges more wisely. As a nation of immigrants, whose very origin is based on the power of diversity, this should come naturally to us…and be celebrated. After all, the motto of our country — “out of many, one” — is not just an empty slogan. In fact, today, I’d suggest that it’s the rallying cry of a true American. You can’t honestly embrace our flag without embracing this ethic.

Consider the value of travel, and relate it to the turmoil that is filling our streets and headlines in recent days. Perhaps your comments below can help us make this a teaching moment and come out of it a better nation. Thanks.

I’d love to sit down with you and personally share the most important lessons I’ve learned from my travels. If you’d enjoy that, let me literally read my Travel as a Political Act book to you. You’ll feel as if I’m telling intimate stories of how travel stretched, punched, and molded me into who I am today. Simply buy the audiobook version of Travel as a Political Act:

You can also read Travel as a Political act yourself— all royalties are donated to Bread for the World. You can support small business by buying a copy at your local bookseller, or get it at my Travel Store:

Or you can watch this free lecture on the same topics: