With an ever-growing number of people able to travel globally, the ‘Joy of Travel’ has become an ever more sought-after aspiration, if not a taken for granted expectation for many.
There is no question about the fact that humanity is on the move.
On a daily basis we are surrounded by local and global media that are depicting exciting images and stories about people and places, creating anticipation and excitement of forthcoming joyful and rewarding travel experiences. Waiting for a local train in Sydney, huge videos beamed onto the wall behind the tracks keep asking:
Where will you travel to for your next adventure?
On the other hand the news are now filled with stories about growing cultural anxiety, social disconnect and aggression. Headlines on the front page of newspapers, on TV and the internet about the "invasion" by foreigners are triggering thoughts and feelings of unease, anxiety if not fear.
This constant bombardment of conflicting messages reminded me of an experience I had about 5 years ago.
I had just returned to Australia from living and working in the United Arab Emirates where I had enjoyed teaching enthusiastic Emirati students at Zayed University. Trying to settle back into my home down-under, I took up an offer to stay with some friends of mine in Melbourne.
It was a sunny but cool late summer afternoon when I decided to take a walk and explore the local neighbourhood. I enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders, the greenery along the footpaths and the stimulating perfume of the flowers and trees that to me are so typical Australian.
After a couple of hours meandering the suburban streets I decided to take a bus back home to my friends’ place. Not knowing the area or the public transport system, I asked a group of people waiting at a bus stop:
“Can I buy a ticket here on the bus or do I need a special travel card?”
Instead of gaining the anticipated more or less direct answer to my question, a man within that group surprised me by asking: “How come you don’t know? Where are you from?”
A little hesitant, I replied: “I have just returned from living and working in the United Arab Emirates”.
“Ah, the Arabs.” I heard a woman mutter. “I don’t know how you could live there.
Did you have to cover up like the locals do?”
I felt rather affronted by this woman’s reply, sensing a somewhat disparaging tone of voice and disagreeable body language and facial expression.
Obviously the lady did not know that I treasure my heart-warming memories of the wonderful hospitality, sincere welcome and respect extended to me when residing in the United Arab Emirates, not just in my professional capacity but also in my personal life. It had instilled in me a deep sense of connection with the Emirati that has grown into a real sense of love and care.
Curious to contextualise the responses I had just experienced, I asked: “Have you been to the UAE? Have you experienced daily life over there? Do you know anybody from an Arabic background?”
The same woman who expressed disbelief just before exclaimed with enthusiasm that, while she did not know any Arabs, she had spent two hours in transit at Dubai airport on her way back from Europe. She described her experience at the Dubai terminal as most exciting and enjoyable, a place where one can meet people from around the world, many adorned in their national dress and speaking all kinds of languages.
“Hm….” I thought to myself. “How interesting”.
On the one hand, there was a concern and rebuff expressed about living with ‘the ‘Arabs’. On the other hand, a sense of enjoyment and pride came across in her story as an international tourist able to share a place with people from all over the world, if ever so briefly.
It became apparent to me that the lady had not made any connection between her two somewhat opposing statements: her positive story about her Dubai experience that represented the ‘Joy of Travel’ and her expressed negative stereotype of ‘the Arabs’ related to the ‘Art of Living Together’.
Travel is said to broaden people's minds, offering potentially transformative experiences. As the quote by Mark Twain suggests:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
However, we are enclaved by the walls of our cultural conditioning, our emotional guiding patterns and habitual communication styles. We are plagued by all kinds of bias in every sphere of our lives that influence the interaction with others and ourselves, both positively and negatively, before, during and after our travels.
Taking time out for asking questions and linking our outer journeys through life with those within enlightens us about the drivers and triggers behind our thinking, feelings and actions. It fosters nourishing, trusting and enjoyable relationships, during our travels to distant lands and at home.
Getting to know each other and connect with open minds and open hearts
holds the key to joyful travel and peaceful co-existence.
It is easy to view our travels as distinct separate experiences to our daily lives; escaping temporarily to re-create ourselves before returning home. But our travels are part of our socio cultural worlds where we all have an impact on each other, no matter where we live or travel to. We are all co-creators in the joy of travel and the art of living together:
As domestic and international tourists and travellers for leisure or business purposes.
As second home owners, also referred to as holiday home owners.
As international students and expatriates on work contracts.
As migrants and refugees from around the world.
As citizens of host countries.
We are all travellers through life where the
‘Joy of Travel’ and the ‘Art of Living Together’ do not exist in isolation.
The true Joy of travel is found not only in the art of travel but in the art of communication,
the art of connection, and the art of care, all of which are at the heart of the art of living together, during our travels to distant lands and at home.