Sometimes you need to see things with a new pair of eyes. Close your eyes and if you’re in your home, think about where you are. Can you describe everything in the room? Chances are you can’t. Not because you don’t see the things in that room everyday, but because you are so familiar with your setting that you look right through the inessential items. You’re so familiar that you no longer notice. It’s the same with life, and why travel is so essential. For me at least, it is impossible to evaluate the importance or unimportance of the things I do, the thoughts I have, and the logic of the things I put my resources into on a daily basis without stepping outside of it once in a while. It is impossible to understand that the tiny body of water you’re standing next to is an estuary of a might ocean without climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing the big picture. It’s the same with life.
Without leaving the comfort of home and traveling, you are never far enough away to understand yourself, your society, or the value or lack of value in your cultural morays. I would go even farther and say that if you travel, and only stick to well guided tours designed to give the feeling that you’ve traveled while at the same time denying you the discomfort of non-western living, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you must have a guide, and many people should for safety reasons, at least find a local guide, or better yet, stay with a local family that may or may not speak English. There are ways to do this. Even better than that is to get involved with a missions organization or an NGO. You will not only enrich your own experience, but you can help someone else at the same time.
I remember getting off a cruise ship one time in Barbados, and a photographer was standing there next to one of the locals. He held up his camera and said “Rasta man?” I could not stand there and have my picture taken with the “Rasta man” because I felt it was degrading to have his culture so reduced to the point where the only contact people have is when they get off the ship and stand there next to him. Wouldn’t it be better to get pictures next to the Rasta men because you involved yourself with them, and you’ve got pictures because you made new friends?
Most of my favorite travel pictures were taken in places where no tour group will ever go. Many of them were taken because I was in the right place at the right time. Many came after a day of very difficult and sometimes dangerous travel. But I’ve made friends along the way, and in 19 days now I will be going back to South Sudan to see some of them. So throw out the brochures. Go learn a new language if you like. But leave the tour group behind if you can.