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Why the Freedom to Travel Matters


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Earlier this year, we collaborated with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on a three-part series entitled Travel as a Force for Good. In connection with this campaign we have been invited to explore what “Freedom to Travel” means to us. As we did, we reaffirmed that the right to travel is not only important to us as individuals, but also to the communities we visit, and to the world and our shared humanity. Here’s why.


After having traveled together to over 90 countries during the last fifteen years, we are often asked, “What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned?”

Deep breath.

I feel as though my attempt to answer each time is never really up to the task of honoring the experience. The evidence stacks up almost too high, even for a single outing. My travels leave such deep imprints in and on me that I must on occasion deliberately take time to unpack those lessons, much as I might my luggage upon concluding a trip.

Nowadays, we have the opportunity to embark on journeys that were not too long ago unthinkable. The opportunities to explore the world — to feel and experience and comprehend it — are so vastly different and more broadly accessible than even just a generation or two ago. As modern transportation has placed us within a day or two of most of the world’s destinations, we stand at a moment in the history of travel that speaks to a remarkable privilege – one that is almost too easy to take for granted.

Still, our attention is captured, our sense of mystery engaged. Travel is thrilling.

If we look at it right, travel can be viewed as the ultimate act of appreciation.

Why?

Like running one’s hands through the soil of a robust garden at the harvest, travel is a vein of appreciation that seeks to know what’s at the root of our existence, of our being human — together.

24 Reasons Why the Freedom to Travel Matters

1. Enables us to better understand ourselves, our world, and our place in it.

Note: You can stop here if you like. The rest is “the how.”

2. Helps transform our fears into curiosity.

Travel is the ideal laboratory to question and test all the assumptions that underlie your fears, so that you may emerge with new conclusions and evolve not only your thinking, but also who you believe you are.

3. Expands the boundaries of what you thought was possible – not only for you, but also for others.

Travel helps us press the edges of our perceived limitations, so that we may re-imagine them and continue to reach beyond.

Travel. A Journey.
Travel. A Journey.

4. Spurs us all to be storytellers.

Travel provides a platform to tell your story and to hear the stories of others, then return home and tell a new story, a shared story.

5. Cultivates a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect.

It does this in light of all the grandness and beauty, natural and man-made — around us, on the road…and at home.

Cheetah on Hunt with Hot Air Balloon Behind - Serengeti, Tanzania
Following a cheetah on his morning hunt in the Serengeti.

6. Reaffirms that in all of life’s struggles, we are never alone.

Travel and you will realize that whatever physical, emotional, and financial challenges you face, there’s someone halfway around the world that struggles similarly.

7. Evolves our perspective, helps us see things in a new way.

Travel not only shifts our thinking about the places we visit, but it can also help us carry back a spirit of innovation into our daily lives, personally and professionally.

8. Reveals the unexpected, if we open ourselves up for it.

For as much as we all construct our itineraries, our innermost secret hope is that we will find something new, something we never could have planned. Travel often delivers.

Dan in the Karanfil Mountains - Albania
Clouds lift, revealing the stunning Karanfil Mountains, Albania.

9. Enables us to accumulate experiential wisdom.

It’s one thing to read about a place, it’s another to walk its streets, eat its food, and engage with its people. Travel is among the most effective forms of experiential learning there is.

10. Develops humility. That is, humble-ness.

The larger the world, the smaller your place in it. Fortunately, this re-sizing of self is also simultaneously paired with a sense of how great our individual impact on the lives of others can be.

"Get amongst it!" - Audrey grabs a bit of junglelicious New Zealand rainforest
Get amongst it, New Zealand.

11. Allows us to let go, open up, and embrace uncertainty.

When everything around you is changing at pace, as it often the case on the road, sometimes the best choice – the only choice — is to accept it, to surrender to uncertainty, and simply be present amidst all that swirls around you.

12. Bends stereotypes to the point of breaking.

Travel helps unpack prevailing narratives about others and ourselves. In TED parlance, travel can aid a departure from the “single story”, to many stories and multiple threads.

Dancing Couple at Market - Konye-Urgench, Turkmenistan
Dancing breaks out at the market in Urgench, Turkmenistan.

13. Builds empathy.

Travel continually exposes you to people and contexts much different than your own. Listening to, understanding and connecting with the feelings, thoughts, and stories of others helps to strengthen your empathy muscle.

14. Helps bind us to our history, our arc.

The experience of travel reinforces that although we may appear very different from one another, we often are working towards a common goal of making a life for ourselves and seeking a better life for those who will follow us long after we are gone. This relationship ties us to our past, binds us to our present, and links us to our future.

15. Re-shapes “other” into “us”.

Fear of another is easy, and frankly it’s often understandable. Travel helps to swap that fear with memories of people you’ve met in the flesh. When this happens countries are no longer shapes on a map or hotspots on the breaking news, but instead are places filled with stories of someone who invited you in for tea, wrote you a poem, guided you when you were lost, or helped you see life in a different light.

Laughing Women - Paraw Bibi, Turkmenistan
Audrey adopted by a group of Turkmen women at a pilgrimage site.

16. Serves as a platform to explore adventure in all its dimensions.

Whether this is physical (e.g., climbing a mountain), emotional (doing something new that frightens you) or even psychological (re-imaging borders and barriers).

17. Cultivates your independence while revealing our greater interdependence.

Whether you travel solo, with your family or in a group, travel flexes the “get out there” independence muscle. At the same time, the experience of travel tells us that we need one another to get there and to enable those personal victories.

18. Connects us directly and firsthand to the environment and our impact on it.

Ride water currents to glaciers halfway around the world that are retreating, and you begin to understand that your actions at home do have an impact worldwide.

Gentoo Penguin Becoming an Adult - Antarctica
New to the world, a young Gentoo penguin in Antarctica.

19. Empowers you to determine how and where you spend your tourism money.

Mindful purchases and spending choices in line with your values really can make a genuine positive impact on the local communities you visit.

Beautiful Nama Girls - Northern Cape, South Africa
Enjoying their dance performance in South Africa’s Northern Cape supports their local school.

20. Contributes significantly to economic growth and local job development.

In 2014, the tourism industry was estimated at $7.6 trillion (yes, you read that correctly) in annual revenue; it employed over 277 million people worldwide (Source: WTTC). That represents almost 10% of total worldwide revenue, and 1 in 11 workers around the globe. Behind these staggering statistics, which are only expected to grow, are people: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, all trying to make their way to better support their families.

21. Demonstrates that everyone has something valuable to share, something to give.

Sometimes, it takes a visitor from the outside – wide eyes and all – to show us that what we sometimes take for granted in our daily lives is special, too. Next time: watch someone making the local bread or tortillas. Travel can serve as a remarkable platform of cultural pride and self-esteem.

Audrey Attempts Making Shrak (flat bread)...Not Going Too Well - Zikra Initiative Jordan
Audrey attempts to make traditional Jordanian bread during a Zikra Initiative exchange.

22. Exposes our similarities, highlights our differences and reinforces our shared humanity.

Travel exposes us to others, others to us, and each of us to one another – and uncovers the diversity of being and experience that defines what it means to be human.

23. Catalyzes a feeling of inter-connectedness and greater community.

When we go outside our front door, we find that we are part of a local community. Similarly, when we travel, we find that we are members of a worldwide community. This awareness binds us to care and to take responsibility for our own — that is, the world’s — well being.

24. Reinforces that the more we seek to understand each other, the less likely we are to turn on one another.

Travel may not ultimately deliver world peace, but it certainly can help.

The Significance of Travel “Freedom”

So yes, it strikes us that travel is powerful, impactful, remarkable. But what’s so important about the “freedom” part?

Not everyone has the same freedom to travel. Audrey and I carry American passports, providing us with arguably some of the greatest flexibility of movement of any passport in the world. Without our privilege, we would not be able to do a lot of what we do, in the way that we do it.

Yet the freedom and right to travel can be restricted in various directions.

So what can we do?

We can act on whatever right we do have, and we can do so mindfully, pairing our freedom to travel with the responsibility to do so in a way that benefits everyone. We can help lay a foundation for others and make the case for a greater freedom to travel.

Travel is the act of movement. As you take your next step, your journey moves forward, and so it will for others, and ultimately for our planet.

Now it's your turn. What does “Freedom to Travel” mean to you?

Disclosure: We teamed up with WTTC to write this article in connection to their Freedom to Travel campaign. As always, the thoughts contained herein — the what, the why, and the how — are entirely our own.
About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

28 thoughts on “Why the Freedom to Travel Matters”

  1. Amazing Experiences you have shared.

    Do not listen to the others, it is your life so go traveling if that is what you want. The same with me, everyone says I’m crazy but at the same time everyone gets jealous I do what I want.

    Great Post Daniel

    Reply
    • Thanks, Surabhi. We were fortunate for our experiences.

      I listen to others. But it depends on what they say, whether or not I choose to act on their words.

      As for being crazy — they way I see it, if you are doing something that brings you satisfaction and you are being decent to others while doing it, have at it!

      Reply
  2. 100% yes to all 24 reasons to travel.

    As you so beautifully stated when we travel with an open mind and heart, we see the other in ourselves and ourselves in the other. We appreciate more deeply the world around us, our place in it, impact upon it and how we are all interdependent. Fears fall away as we realize our similarities, loneliness dissipates because we are never truly alone and perspective shifts or is put into focus about our own challenges in this thing called life.

    And as a Cause-Focused Storyteller, it provides so much heart and humanity and understanding; every person, every encounter is an opportunity to listen and learn and love just a little more.

    Thank you Dan and Audrey for continued encouragement to put one foot in front of the other on this journey. You inspire me and so many others with your hearts, kindness and eloquence. Big hugs from my heart to yours and happy travels! HUG!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kristin. Beautiful thoughts as well. I really love this: every encounter is an opportunity to listen and learn and love just a little more. Sometimes that’s difficult to see and to feel that sometimes. However, I find that when we do, it’s usually worth it.

      Reply
    • Thank you for stopping by, Liza and taking the time to comment. Although you say you’ve yet to wander, it sounds like you have the spirit!

      Reply
  3. I completely agree. I’m an American too, and I’ve noticed that many of us have an “Ameri-centric” view of the world. A lot of Americans just can’t fathom that laws, norms, cultural systems can be different in other parts of the world. I believe that traveling helps you see the world outside of this closed perspective.

    Also, as someone who lives for half of the year in the Middle of Nowhere, USA, traveling and seeing how people live in different parts of the world helps me cope better here.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective, Michelle. Perhaps, coming from a country that has historically held such influence in the world culturally, geopolitically, etc. — it’s easy for some Americans to see the world through a bit of a constricted lens. Good for you, though, for seizing on the opportunity to witness the variety of laws, norms and systems out there. As the world becomes more globalized, I suspect we’re going to have to better understand it in order to better operate in it, for our own survival individually and as a country.

      Interesting, too, that your taste of the outside helps you manage better when you are back home. That’s a great lesson to take away!

      Reply
  4. Excellent list of reasons. Ultimately, freedom to travel matters because it gives the traveler the opportunity to become a more accomplished and compassionate human being.

    The subject has come up often in my travels, when talking to people in poorer countries who have told me “I’d love to visit your country, and other countries, like you do”. And it is impossible not to feel privileged to have such an opportunity that is denied to billions of people around the world.

    Reply
    • Agreed, Fernando, Travel is a unique platform for personal development and for evolving our compassion towards one another.

      Your observation interacting with people across the world resonates as well. I suppose the first step on the road of privilege is to be aware that one is on it.

      Reply
  5. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for such a great post. I love the humanistic and down to earth approach. What an education we receive when we move through this world.

    Reflecting on a lot of our past travels reveals a lot. It’s so easy to get bogged down on what’s next especially in travel. We’re unwinding a long honeymoon and are still finding lots of revelations as we slowly “get off the road.” I personally realized that travels been a great way to unlearn my “education.”

    Compassion, humility, awareness, courage, interconnectedness with others, animals, and our environment. I love that these came out in this post as our privilege and freedom in travel. I love the idea of endless possibilities not just in travel but in our daily walk. Each time we step out of our door we muster up courage to discover ourselves and this world.

    I wholeheartedly agree with all 24 points. #2 hit me and you could write an entire blog post on how fear is deconstructed and curiosity sets in. We have this paranoia and fear of the unknown and instead of being child-like and poke things we run away. Travel helps us overcome that.

    Thanks Daniel, for the love on this post and the insight. Will be sharing this on Twitter and Facebook.

    Love from the Philippines,
    Mark

    Reply
    • Thank you, Mark. So many thought-provoking ideas in what you’ve written here. It’s so true that although we find that the act of traveling itself is rewarding, allowing ourselves time for the lessons to sink in is crucial to deepening the value. Thank you so much for reminding us of that.

      Unlearning one’s education — I like that concept, too. Sometimes we have to unspool what we’ve accumulated in our heads so we can reorder it and also make room for something new. This connects nicely with fear deconstruction. A lot of unlearning for many of us to be done there.

      Thanks again for such a thoughtful comment — it has me thinking about quite a few topics that could use some expansion, and a few new twists to pursue too.

      Be well!

      Reply
      • Thanks for the response. We just watched your Ted Talk tonight over dinner and absolutely loved it! Bet that was exciting for yall! The Kilimanjaro and the Georgia market story really hit us. We’ve snooped on your blog for sometime but now really wanna be part of the conversation so adding in our thoughts when we get the chance. Keep it up guys, you and Audrey are both really encouraging!

        Reply
  6. This is one of the most well written articles on travel I’ve read, thank you for sharing your thoughts!! I just got back from a solo trip to Turkey and before leaving I got alot of comments about traveling alone there. “Aren’t you scared?” or “Isn’t that dangerous?” are common questions I heard, even from seasoned travellers. But I had a most wonderful trip filled with delicious food, fun adventures and amazing history and am left wanting more. I have a huge advantage since I am American and speak English, although, anywhere I go, I learn enough of the local language to get by. At times travelling solo is challenging , but I wouldn’t change any of my experiences as it has made me see the world in a new way. Thank you again for the article, you have a new fan in me. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Laurie! Great to see you here. I really enjoy personal stories like yours that expose the apprehensions of veterans as well as beginners. Glad to hear that the “travel payoff” consists not only of great experiences, but also a shift in perspective.

      Reply
  7. Great article! I think we take it for granted also having American passports and having the freedom to travel. Often we’ve had to pay for many visa’s but it’s helped us to respect the countries we’ve visited because of it! Freedom to travel is meeting new friends oftentimes for us. It’s the freedom to interact and create memories!

    Reply
    • Thank you for joining the discussion, Alyssa. We understand having to pay for visas, as we’ve had to purchase our share. But to your point, it does reinforce the appreciation of our privilege. Having said that, we’re hoping one day that visa fees ought to be reduced or eliminated so that everyone — travelers and citizens alike — can share in the benefit of travel…and enjoy the freedom to interact that you speak of.

      Reply
  8. Beautiful words by wonderful people, as always. I hope you two never stop traveling, and never stop sharing these lessons with the world around you.

    Reply
  9. Love the article! As for me, the freedom to travel is the ultimate goal. Traveling is a very humbling experience as you mentioned, which I think is true for a reason. When you’re humbled, your approach to a new destination allows you to respect the local culture, and allows you to be present – putting you in a position to soak up and enjoy the place that you’re visiting.

    Reply
  10. You make a lot of great points. I think one of the most important is turning fear into understanding. Our news media portrays most of the world as dangerous and hostile, but I’ve experienced great kindness, generosity and safety in the Middle East, China, India and parts of Africa and South America. When you get out and explore, you see that people are just people and that the politicians and the power players are the ones who often turn us against each other.

    Aside from that, travel is just fun. Having the freedom to visit other countries is something we should all have.

    Reply
    • True all that, Jeff. Travel reinforces that we’re all human. Your comment reminds me specifically of a previous discussion regarding the Danger Map of traveling the world. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

      Reply
  11. Beautiful and thoughtful post, as usual. This has been on my mind lately as I recently returned from Iran (thanks for inspiring that trip with G Adventures!) As you well know, the visa process for Americans to get to Iran is a huge pain – I got mine with 1 hour to spare before the embassy closed for a long weekend, 36 hours before my flight to Tehran. But as stressful as that experience was, it reminded me how lucky I am that this was the FIRST TIME in 18 years of travel that I’d had to go through something like that to get a visa – and it was still relatively easy and painless. No proof of income, no one trying to ensure I wasn’t going to stay in Iran illegally. Just an application, some money and a 10-minute interview. My G Adventures CEO, on the other hand, has to apply for an expensive visa to go almost anywhere in the world. We are similar in age, education, income and desire to experience as much of the world as we can – but his freedom is greatly curtailed by his passport. His hope is that one day the world will be “borderless” so that we are all free to go where we choose. (Of course, then there are those that do not have the economic freedom to travel but that’s a whole other issue…)

    Reply
    • Mary, so glad to hear of your trip to Iran and that you had a good experience there. And yes, travel to places like that do provide so much perspective in terms of travel privilege. As you said, even though the visa to Iran was a bureaucratic process it wasn’t the same process that most people in the world need to go through to just go on a simple vacation. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      Reply
  12. Wow! I’m so glad going through the article. My friends always tease me saying I’m mad since my aim is to explore as many new destinations as I can in the given lifetime. Now I know it’s a treat to my soul.

    Reply
  13. This is such wonderful post and I was nodding all the time while reading it. I totally agree with you and your points. Travel makes us better persons and broadens our horizons but it is not so easy for me because my country is still not EU member so it can be difficult to get visa for many countries. So far I visited most of European countries, for most of them I needed visa. I would like to see Asia or South Africa but for the time being it would be too complicated. You can really consider yourself lucky to have American passport

    Reply

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