What traveling taught me of us
I walk out of the airport in a far away country and get stunned by the warm moist wall of air rushing against me.
On a taxi ride towards bustling Bangkok I receive million new noises, smells and visions. It creates an overwhelming feeling of adventure.
I have never been here before. I’m thrilled to see more.
This was the first powerful experience of traveling outside of my own continent. It was in 2011 on my first trip to Thailand, one month. After that I have traveled for months around Asia in countries like Philippines, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Vietnam and so on. I’ve also visited in few countries of Africa and perhaps one third of countries in Europe (it could be said I have seen just a scratch of what the world is).
I am from Finland. According to UN report it's the happiest country on earth. I have never felt poverty or lack of material needs. I haven't felt fear of dropping out of society because Finland has very advanced social security system. Even though people are rich in global terms, there seems to be great pressure to perform and accomplish in society. People compete for better jobs, better places to live and better lifestyle. All of our our basic needs are filled but pressure of succeeding creates anxiety. For people like me it leaves strange dullness hanging in air. What is life and is this it? Who is rich actually?
For me traveling used to be a way to escape my own reality and expectations back home. Freedom from everything. For my surprise it has given me perspective to understand that my own reality is small, limited and expectations we face here are trivial. I learned that worries that I used to have are not existential. In fact they are ridiculous first world problems. For a privileged western boy like me, it is very healthy to see real challenges people face.
Learning to be satisfied in what you have is not an easy task. Everyone in Finland knows that things are well home and worse in developing countries. What we don’t know without traveling and facing people from different cultures is that things are not as sad as they seem through media nor they aren't as glistening as it seems through social media filters.
News tend to give very negative image of world because they focus in extreme phenomenons such as wars, conflicts, natural disasters and terrorism. They tell what is exceptional but don’t tell what life is like.
As people don’t have personal first hand experience of the world, it leaves them with only assumptions created by others. I was surprised how safe I felt abroad although everyone warned me about dangers and threats I might encounter when I first time left Finland with backpack on my shoulders.
Trusting people who are not your own “tribe” has something about life as it's purest. Sleeping in friendly stranger’s home, asking direction up at a Himalayan trail, or trusting driver of a pick up truck to take you back to city at nighttime in Mandalay.
I believe that some things cannot be learned without experiencing them personally. People’s friendliness, ordinariness, sense of humor, faiths, love and loyalty to family are universal. I couldn’t have learned that humans are humans everywhere without interacting with lots of them.
When I see masses of people in the streets of Ho Chi Minh, it clarifies me: I'm one of billions. Being born in a rich country is privileged by chance but I’m just an individual among others. These kind of experiences abroad make people who travel globalists.
The most important thing that traveling has taught me is solidarity towards all humans. We can get along, we are getting along and we must get along.
Text for photo: Most of my trips I have done with my wife. From her I have learned compassion.