Does being a travel-lover help you be a better human?

By: Lala Franklin-Apted, Unsettled VP of Experience

Life is tough right now. At the very least there is a lot going on… but more realistically, we are facing some pretty big moments of history in the making. If you don’t already know this then I’m jealous of whatever rock you’ve been hiding under.

Open any history textbook or Wikipedia page and you’ll notice that numbers take on a whole new meaning in the context of history. Events last for years (if not decades) and in hindsight, it’s pretty clear that history likes to take its own sweet time to resolve big upsets and make big changes. 

Don’t believe me? The last global pandemic lasted over two years. West Africa spent three years fighting their last viral outbreak. The Great Depression lasted almost 10 years, meaning if you were 25 when it started then it was your reality well into your 30s. Many of the last major civil rights protests in the United States lasted months. The Montgomery Bus Boycott went on for 381 days. In fact, the whole civil rights movement began in the 40s and went well into the late 60s… if you can even say it ended there. The last work revolution saw people moving from the countryside into cities, changing the very fabric of our society… that took well over 100 years!

In a world of next day shipping, instant messaging, and streaming on-demand, it can be hard to remember that sometimes things take time and that we are probably in this for the long run. 

Every year typically has a few defining moments that make up the larger history of the time, but the past six months have contained so many world-changing, paradigm-shifting developments that we can’t help but stop and wonder… can we cope with all this, let alone more? 

As a recent mid-year review article on CNN put it, “2020 has changed everything… and it’s only half over”. 

So just for the sake of setting some honest expectations, I think we need to be considering our long game. At the very least, we are trying to make some big changes in our world, and change can take time. Black Lives Matter is being called the largest social uprising in American history. Companies are en masse accepting that remote work is possible and probable. Entire industries are on pause as we collectively try to manage COVID. We are at the start of things – not the end. Take a deep breath. 

If I know one thing for sure in all this it’s that we need to endure – as individuals and as a society – through the quick changes and the slow ones.

What Useful Resources Do Travel-Lovers Already Have?

We’ve got to start asking ourselves if we might have any useful resources or skills to help… what foundational elements of who we are and what we loved, pre-all this, could actually help us right now?

For me, this question sparked some interesting thought-exercises around who we are, what we care about, and how we design our lives (something we explore regularly in our Unsettled Lifestyle Incubator), but one thing stood out as pretty undeniable – that at Unsettled, we are, have been, and always will be, a community of global travelers. 

That left me at a pretty clear question… basically, does being a traveler give you any skills to help you cope with all the shit that’s currently going down? Are some of our travel skills transferable for making the world a more equal place? Does being a traveler help you be a better advocate for equality / diversity / inclusion? Does it help you take care of yourself and others? Does it even maybe help you turn our current personal and shared disadvantages into advantages? 

I mean, at Unsettled, we’re a group of 2500+ strong explorers and there is a hefty array of unchartered territory in front of us. So here’s what I think we are packing in our “travelers toolkit” for the 2020 journey ahead:

Our Traveler’s Toolkit

1. As travelers, we have a F***-ton of open-mindedness.

Let’s get the cliches out of the way and see if we can all agree upon the fact that it’s pretty hard to travel anywhere comfortably without this. If you’ve attempted to take your life on the road, you’ve at least developed some level of understanding that there are many ways of ‘being’ in this world, many ‘new normals’, and that anyone, including yourself, can be the ‘other’ in some context. You’ve at least attempted to lift the veil that only your experience exists (it doesn’t), or that you know the only possible ‘right’ answers (you don’t), helping you to stay in learning and listening mode… growing from the experiences you encounter, and integrating those experiences into your everyday life.

2. Our radar for cultural sensitivity is on high. 

Traveling, we are always looking for things that might matter to the people in the places we visit and building an ever-growing list of possibilities. Clothing – covered or not, shoes on or off. Ways of greeting – 1 kiss or 2, handshake or bow. Voice volume. Politeness. Who goes first. What hand you pass something with. Paying attention to all this comes from a basic understanding that different things matter to different people and that we each have a part to play in being sensitive and caring. Often as travelers we know we’re making mistakes but we still try to get more and more aware of our small part in the collective culture and what matters to the people around us.

3. We are masters at improvising.  

We know that there are many roads that lead to Rome and that there are many ways to get things done. Read = We are kings of the workaround! We tend to be experienced at hitting those unexpected blocks but coming up with creative solutions, alternative routes, and plan Bs. If there was ever a time in our lives that we need workarounds it is now. Sometimes this looks like contingency plans, other times it looks like going with the flow. From baking substitutes and toilet paper alternatives to new ways of connecting, supporting, and sharing, there are plenty of major plot twists to work with (and around) right now.

4. We’ve practiced appreciating the little things.

It’s funny how, when you find yourself in a strange place with the functioning vocabulary of a newborn, the little things suddenly start to mean a lot to you. On the road, we easily become appreciative of the small pleasant and kind gestures, the micro ways that things are working, the little wins and comforts. Being able to be present and find the good around us is a much-used travel muscle that translates surprisingly well to any kind of hard times. It doesn’t hurt that doing this often makes us more forgiving of the imperfect and the messy – knowing that tonight’s current noisy hostel experience, much like the current crazy times, will also pass.

5. We know how to get in touch.

From finding tech connections to finding a deeper sense of purpose, travel has shown us how to get in touch with ourselves and others. We know what and who we care about, our priorities, our needs, and why we are doing what we are doing. If we don’t, we usually have some tools to find out. At a fundamental level, travelers are in touch with what matters to them and where they hope to be. It’s how we can manage the huge flow of both choices and limitations when we are out exploring the world. Being able to be in touch with ourselves and others is key on the road and right now. (It also doesn’t hurt that we know at least 4 ways of how to schedule catch-ups across continents, time zones, and postal codes).  

6. We are shapeshifters.

Travel requires you to be both a leader and a follower, a host and a guest, a local and a visitor. Nothing makes you a better host than sitting on the other side of that table as a guest and travel gives you plenty of opportunities to move between roles and perspectives. An avid traveler usually has more than enough experience to take the lead, make the plans, book the things… but also understands the old proverb that “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”.  It’s surprising to me how much teamwork is a part of travel and how much magic can happen when people come together and play to each other’s strengths. The current times call for both leadership and teamwork, and we recognize that ringtone! 

7. We can hold space for opposite truths.  

Spend even a few days out on the road and you can learn that you can be both full of wanderlust and homesick. That you can be hungry and full at the same time. Beginner and expert. Being helpful and needing help. Found and lost. The world is full of co-existing truths and those of us who have to spend time out in the world have usually built up a tolerance for chaos and order to co-exist. You can be ok and not ok at the same time, it’s very human and very real, and we can work with that.

This list, much like the time we are in, is a start. And now, it’s your job to see if you brought the right shoes / plug /  headlamp / guidebook to make the most of this crazy journey. 

How do your skills and past experiences help to keep you safe, take care of your loved ones, stand up for social change, move humanity forward? Even though we might not be able to travel just yet, we know our past experience is useful for so much more than just booking a flight. 

More than anything, we know that when traveling, you won’t always have everything you need at hand or know where to find it. Traveling teaches you to think out of the box, using and stretching whatever limited resources you have access to, and envisioning where you can find new resources.

We’re ready to work with what we’ve got… and we hope you are too!

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