As we travel, we all worry about our baggage; what and how much to pack, what will the airline charges be and will it get lost. But this article is about another kind of baggage that we travel with – emotional baggage.
Places conjure up memories – personal, national or ethnic. Sometimes these memories are fulfilling, as when one visits his or her ancestral home, but others might be painful, recalling seriously negative past events and hurts. In either case, a visit to the past might be informative, cathartic or even transformative.
Is there a place that you would never want to go to? A place, perhaps, so emotionally charged that you couldn’t deal with it? Yet you visit the graves of your loved ones, the Normandy beaches, Gettysburg, Calvary, Anne Frank’s house. Why then do you hesitate to visit places like Vietnam, Germany, Japan, China or Russia?
In 1987, I was offered a free two-week trip to Europe – one that featured Austria – as a faculty advisor on a university-sponsored tour. Kurt Waldheim had recently been elected Chancellor of Austria, so, to the dismay of my dean, I refused the offer.
Emotionally, I was not yet ready to visit a country that was being led by an alleged World War II Nazi officer and SS member. But I ultimately did visit Austria at a later time – as well as Germany, Japan, China and many other places where I carried “emotional baggage.”
Had all of these places changed, or had I? That was the question I needed to answer, and the answer seems to have been yes – they had changed, and so had I.
Indeed, these visits changed me. Meeting the people of these countries, with their peculiar-to-me ideas and cultures, I learned that there is a huge difference between carrying a grudge and remembering an event.
Today’s Germans and world Jewry have a common goal: to never forget 12 years of history from 1933 to 1945, and to never let those events be repeated.
Vietnamese generally view their war with the U.S. as a battle between governments and ideologies, not between people.
I’ve recently seen Serb, Croat and Bosnian riverboat crewmembers enjoying a day together in Amsterdam, ignoring many centuries of ethnic conflict.
I’ve joined with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu friends celebrating together at a wedding in Nepal.
Only by traveling outside of your comfort zone, if you are able, can you experience the true wonders of the world, the coming together of people in friendship and peace.
Should you feel the urge to test your own biases, make sure that your travel plans include opportunities to interact with the local people. Edifice travel – looking only at buildings and inside museums – won’t help you understand modern culture in its historical perspective.
While it offers a rewarding and enjoyable experience, it is only interpersonal activity that can change you, and then, only if you open yourself to the experiences.
Keep on trippin’.
Despite more than five decades of travel, Stuart Blickstein still delights in finding new and exciting experiences. ThePurposefulTraveler@gmail.com