A few thoughts on the current state of global discourse, the power of individual interactions in the world of travel, and an update on a new project we’ve undertaken in Berlin with Context Travel.
Anyone else feeling dragged down by the current news cycle?
Particularly with so much of it being steeped in divisiveness, fear, and tribalism — a kind of “distrust of the other” juggernaut — it’s easy to feel helpless and winded, to forget or even dismiss the effect of our individual interactions and decisions against that grain.
I admit to occasionally feeling paralyzed, but when I step back I gain some perspective. Allow me to translate my feelings into a course of instructive action — a course that helps in some small way to redirect the flow of energy.
Don’t lose sight.
Don’t lose sight of the power of human connections to weave a resilient web of empathy. Don’t lose sight of how individual actions collectively seed an evolving understanding that cultivates change. Don't lose sight of each other.
Whoa, whoa. This is getting a little heavy. What does this have to do with travel?
Our actions matter, for and to each of us. When we align our values with our travel decisions we see the impact of our actions on three levels: on ourselves, on those we interact with, and on the planet.
To me, this approach to travel — and initiatives that embrace it — are perhaps more relevant than ever.
Deep Travel Ambassadors
We are excited to announce our new role as ambassadors for Context Travel and their Deep Travel program. In our role, we will work closely with their team to develop the program’s offering in Berlin, with an eye to features and best practices that can be carried to other Deep Travel projects around the globe.
Our objective is to help shape a program that creates a shared experience between travelers and a local community organization, and fosters empathy and engagement through two-way storytelling in action.
When we consider partnering with brands and organizations, we look for an alignment of values, and a shared vision regarding how travel can be used for positive change, to foster greater understanding and humanization of our planet.
We believe this program is a good fit with our ethos, and we look forward to sharing more with you in this role.
Who Is Context Travel?
Context Travel offers walking tours. In my experience, they run more like walking seminars. Groups are intimate with a maximum of six people and are led by a docent, usually a PhD or expert in a field relevant to the destination.
For example, we once took a Context tour of Kreuzberg, a nearby neighborhood in Berlin we thought we thought we knew well. Our guide, a history professor, drew our attention to specific details of waves of urban migration, industrial architecture, and cultural evolution we simply hadn’t known or considered. We’ll never see those streets in the same light.
Contextual storytelling makes a difference in the world of travel experience by deepening and changing our relationship with the places we visit.
This is Context’s approach, something they call Deep Travel.
What Is the Deep Travel Program?
The Deep Travel program takes this immersive travel approach a step or two further — by implementing it in the context of a local community development organization. The idea: to channel traveler curiosity in a non-traditional context to foster shared tolerance and two-way understanding.
The traveler gains an authentic (in the truest sense of the word) experience that affords her a deeper look at a destination through an alternative socioeconomic and cultural lens. In turn, the local organization and its participants are able to share their stories.
Finally, through a portion of tour fees and a partnership with the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel, the local organization also benefits by having another source of income to expand its work in the community.
The intangible global impact is in the network effort. The more we connect with one another as fellow human beings, the more likely we are to overcome our differences. We listen, we go home, we tell others about our interactions. Broadly and in small strokes, we change the conversation and hopefully, the less we all fear “the other” — other places, other people, other cultures.
Thus far, Deep Travel projects have been implemented in Cartagena, Colombia and Florence, Italy. Berlin will be next (see below) with more projects envisioned in cities around the world where Context operates.
A telling of our experience in Cartagena probably demonstrates the concept best.
Cartagena: A Deep Travel Project in Action
During our trip to Colombia last year, we visited Context’s Deep Travel project in the barrio of San Francisco, Cartagena. Despite the beauty of old town Cartagena — or perhaps because of it — it’s possible for a traveler to emerge from a visit thinking the city’s polished colonial buildings and wealth represents the entire city, that it extends to everyone. The socioeconomic reality in Colombia, however, is one of systemic hierarchy and a gaping chasm between rich and poor.
Alex Rocha, a community leader in San Francisco, took us on an afternoon walk through what is considered one of Cartagena’s poorest barrios. The San Francisco neighborhood also happens to be the place where he grew up, where he lives and where he runs his community youth center. For him, learning English (he jokes that an obsession with Michael Jackson and breakdancing helped) and focusing on education helped him escape the barrio cycle of poverty. Here, gangsters are often the most appealing, if not the only, role models available for young kids. His youth center aims to provide alternatives focused on life skills education programs and foreign language acquisition.
In San Francisco, there were no beautiful colonial buildings or churches or historic sites to be seen that afternoon. However, the experience left a deep impression as to a reality that needs to be seen, experienced and understood if we are to acknowledge rightly that, notwithstanding the beauty of so many destinations around the world, all is not perfect and we have work to do. This project helped expand our understanding of Colombia, in all its dimensions. Alex and other members of the youth center shared their stories – not tales of poverty and pity, but ones of resilience and the pursuit of respect.
Despite whatever odds, their effort and Alex’s leadership lend a chance. And Context Travel’s offering a window to travelers to witness and experience this firsthand is the stuff of shared transformation.
Going Forward: Deep Travel Berlin and How Can You Get Involved
In the coming months, we will work with Context Travel to develop a new Deep Travel project in cooperation with a Berlin-based organization that supports refugees. The intended outcome: an immersive, interactive experience for travelers which engages refugees in Berlin in a way that reinforces their strengths and abilities. The tours also provide an additional source of funding for the local organization.
That this project is in Berlin has special meaning for us. We look forward to employing our global storytelling skills in our adopted home. Connections will be created, personal stories brought to light, and texture provided to otherwise de-contextualized refugee statistics we often see in the news.
Whatever you do, know that you have an impact.