Is Travel A Political Act?
Of the many blogs that we have written over the years, it was a ‘tongue and cheek’ piece I wrote – 10 Side Effects of Long Distance Cycling – that has become one of the most popular. It brings up such issues as ‘change in life perspectives’, ‘change in one’s life priorities’, ‘loss of fear of the world’, ’weakening of your tribal connections’ and ’empathy for stranger’ that result when you travel for long periods of time in strange places.
I used a humorous approach in order to encourage people to get on a bike and travel, to point out that visiting places you have not been to, especially by bicycle, eliminates barriers that exist when, for example, you go on a beach vacation to a private, fenced resort. Bike travel has benefits beyond the actual pleasure of cycling.
‘Tongue in cheek’ aside, the points I made in the article are real. Rick Steves, the author of best-selling guidebooks and the producer of public television and radio shows, wrote a book on these subjects – “Travel as a Political Act”. In his video of the same name, Steves deals with some of the same points that we at TDA Global Cycling often face.
Steves says “Fear is for people who don’t get out much”. In the old days, we used to wish someone ‘Bon Voyage’ whereas nowadays everyone says “Have a safe trip”. Steves says one should respond, “You have a safe stay at home because if you understand statistics where I am going is safer than where you are staying”. TDA Global Cycling has written several blogs on the issue of safety such as ‘Real and Perceived Dangers of Cycling Tours’ and ‘Reflections from Dakar’.
In his blog ‘10 tips for travelling as a political act’, Steves begins with the first tip – ‘Get out of your comfort zone’. The subject of a comfort zone reappears many times on our blogs and even in our videos. When it comes to Steve’s message, as far as TDA and our cycling community is concerned, he is preaching to the converted even though I must admit, I never thought of what we do as a political act! A rather very enjoyable and rational act, but political? In fact, in some way I am reluctant to think that what comes so naturally to many of us, travelling, is now defined as a political act.
Strange as it sounds, these days having curiosity, interest and empathy for people in other parts of the world is now thought of a political act. Steves is an American and, as such, his message is predominantly for the citizens of the United States of America, the majority of whom do not even possess a passport. Nevertheless, the need to travel, exchange ideas, develop empathy and business is important, no matter where you come from and where you live. Travelling by bicycle is far better. As Steves says, “When you travel with your window down and your heart open you see the reality”.
I agree with Steves’ message but I would like to add one small detail. When you travel by bike you see the reality much, much better. The ‘window’ is a full 360 degrees without any barrier and therefore the locals are more likely to engage with you. They see the sweat on your face, the effort you have made to come to their community and instinctively empathize with your ‘political’ act. As a result they often will initiate a conversation that more likely than not will include an invitation to their home, their community and even to their family celebration, be it a family feast or a traditional wedding.
Steves ends his video with the following, “When people travel, they are going to go home with less fear, more empathy and more understanding. They are going home with a beautiful souvenir and that is broader perspective. And then when they implement the broader perspective, as citizen (of USA) that makes travel a political act. And I think that has never been more important.” I would just add and emphasize, use your bicycle as much as possible. You will be adding another political act – an environmental one.