Is travel even important right now?

2020 has been a tumultuous year so far to say the least, first with the pandemic and then the unrest and social anxiety that has flared up in the past few weeks.

As such the conversations that are ongoing are serious ones with real impact on our lives – how should our societies operate? How will we keep ourselves and our communities safe? What will our cities, towns, workplaces, relationships look like after this?

I think all of it has been emotionally and intellectually challenging because these are questions and situations that pull our attention to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs – physiological, safety, love & belonging; the collective ‘we’ has been shaken on all of these fronts and needs attending to.

In this context I struggle a bit to talk about travel, as it tends to fit more in the upper echelons of the pyramid – social needs, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization. Taking Maslow’s model further, you can’t move to the upper stages if the bottom ones have not been satisfied within you…which makes it hard to claim travel is important right now.

I think, however, the ‘right now’ is an important qualifier – the question ‘is travel important’ is entirely different and I think unequivocally the answer is yes, and for reasons that still resonate in the right now.

I came across a famous quote of Mark Twain that I think encapsulates the idea:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Part of what he is referring to here I think comes from the experience of meeting people living in cultures and countries far away from ours, and instead of finding difference, we find similarities. Like us, they desire a roof over their heads, loved ones to be around, food to eat, and so on. The innocence and joy for life in schoolchildren in Myanmar is the same as you’ll find in Canada, just in different circumstances.

For this reason, travel is most certainly important – I don’t think you come back from any trip the same person as when you left, and the more you travel, the less likely you are to have a narrow mind. The broadening of experiences and perspectives deepens our understanding of the world and ourselves.

As for the societies we create, I think travel is also a reminder that there are many different versions out there, some more desirable than others. For us as Canadians, we have much to be grateful for, and it is important for us to consider the kinds of values and mindsets that make Canada such a special place.

Right now however I think it’s fair to say these other questions demand more of our collective action and attention; and when it’s time to travel again, I think we will do so with a deeper sense of gratitude and presence in the experience for having gone through it all.

Stay safe, stay smiling, and keep dreaming…we’ll get through this together and come out even stronger on the other side.


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