I've never been much of a traveler. Growing up in Hawaii, I was prone to motion sickness, and even short drives around the island made me nauseous. And as an adult, I've never felt the wanderlust that strikes so many other people I know. I've always preferred, instead, to find a small patch of the world to settle on and call my own.
Perhaps—motion sickness and homebodiness aside—this is because I've always been uncomfortable with how travel makes economic inequities painfully clear: several of my family members rely on Hawaii's tourism industry for their livelihoods, though they can't afford the plane fare that would take them off the islands to explore the world themselves. Hawaiian sovereign rights activist Haunani-Kay Trask took a hard line on tourism when she spoke at the University of Oregon's environmental law conference many years ago, eloquently and passionately describing the problems that befall local economies dependent on visitors. When an earnest young man in the audience asked how he could better know and understand other cultures without traveling, Trask brusquely replied, “Read a book.”
But I understand the allure of a journey and see the life-changing effect globetrotting has had on some of my closest friends. Pico Iyer describes travel as a means of guiding us toward “a better balance of wisdom and compassion—of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly,” adding that “travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places and saving them from abstraction and ideology.” Given these lofty outcomes: a firsthand experience versus a chapter in even a well-written book? No contest.
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