Making travel make sense
Ever since I was young, my parents gifted me with travel. It is a privilege not accorded to many, but it is something that I recommend that people invest in early, if they have the means.
The phrase “broader horizons” is something I always hear when pundits and intellectuals tout the importance of infecting children early with the travel bug.
The horizons broaden quite literally, when you sit in a metal tube thousands of kilometers up, where the clouds give way to space. The sky grows wider than the few clouds outside an office window, or the slice of horizon that peeks from between the trees in a school backyard. The world below expands, into houses and streets and buildings and highways, so that the earth looks far less like a complicated maze to navigate bodily, and more like a map that can be discerned and glimpsed without injury.
It is something that I ponder as I sit in such a seat, up in the sky, and look down as the shores of my country disappear into the rough waters of the Pacific, as the mountains snake through a mix of cloud and fog, as the cities disappear into masses of silver and gray (and smog and vog).
Travelers often speak of this vantage point as a place where all problems shrink because of the immensity of the world in which all our problems occur.
Those who misread this insight tend to believe that because problems shrink, they are no longer problems: that the hunger of one is much like that of another so we must accept the inevitability of hunger in a world full of demands but lacking in compassion.
Being a true traveler, however, does not mean that one should watch problems shrink into nonexistence. That is not traveling; that is merely enforced blindness, an accepted ignorance of the world’s ills, a centering of the process of travel onto oneself.
It is a self-centered approach to travel, to disregard the problems one leaves behind under the pretext of some global sharing of experiences. To travel this way is to accept that one has never grown out of the naive version of broadening one’s horizons—that a person is traveling for the sake of one’s benefit and no one else’s.
Travel, after all, is not harmless. Unchecked tourism destroys lives and livelihoods. Long trips eat up fossil fuels and push our carbon footprint deeper. The act of carrying single-use, “travel-friendly” sachets and bottles contributes to the garbage that has both clogged our waterways and killed our oceans.
With such a long-lasting impact, the least that one can do is to make one’s travel useful to someone other than oneself.
Younger travelers broaden their own horizons; but at one point, they must mature so that their travel seeks to broaden others’. Perhaps they will pick up ideas on more efficient transportation, network with professionals in cross-country development projects, bring in perspectives that will fuel their desire to change the country.
A mature traveler does not see a problem shrinking because it decreases in size. Rather, a mature traveler sees the problem as one among many, a piece of a larger, intricate machinery that constitutes the interaction of multiple problems in a complicated world—and yet refuses to be crippled at the sight of complications.
The hunger of a child in the Philippines, for instance, is the product of factors that have to do with years of colonialism, which have, in turn, influenced how economies operate, how food is priced, who gets the prime pick in the food chain, and who gets the scraps.
Solving hunger, therefore, means addressing weak supply chains, improving agriculture in one’s own backyard, providing economic opportunities for adults that do not necessitate long commutes or force them to take out exorbitant loans for their everyday expenses, providing incentives for those who feed people. And yes, feeding children.
Only after a child is nourished can we expect that child to be educated properly, to function well, to discern their place in a country’s growth.
True travel means accepting the immensity of one’s responsibilities. The responsibility goes beyond merely sitting down for discussions or watching races and calling it diplomacy. The responsibility goes beyond getting pledges of donations and investment and calling it something insipid and vague, like renewing interest in the Philippines or growing the economy.
These actions should exist as part of a much more complex problem-solving that acknowledges the roles of multiple professionals and the complexity of problems—and therefore the complexity of solutions that must be invested in, that have to be studied, that have to be implemented.
Without something to make the millions of pesos on travel worthwhile, the trip abroad is a mere exercise. The diplomatic mission is just a junket, governance is a mere performance, and travel is just a tour.