News & Views

Mindful Travel: The vaccine to ignorance

It’s been more than a year now since the Black Lives Matter movement shook society across the U.S. and the world. Racial and social equality are no longer just buzzwords companies use, and we’re excited about the positive, impactful change that is taking place.

In recent months, however, the movement to Stop Asian Hate has reminded us all that the work is far from over.

As placemakers and destination marketers, we’re keenly aware of this. So much of our work involves bringing together worlds – travelers and destinations – exposing people to ideas, cultures, and other human beings they never would experience at home. Our goal is simple: pursue mindful travel.

Sounds lofty, but it’s at the heart of what we do.

With travel all but shut down since early 2020, we’re not surprised that so many racial incidents are still plaguing news headlines. It’s awful. It’s disheartening. It also reinforces the need to do what we do and promote travel. We’re not proposing, by any means, that travel is the cure for racism. The vaccine against hatred and bigotry is more complicated than Pfizer or Moderna could ever imagine.

Still, acknowledging how travel shapes our perspectives is important. Is it any surprise that Asian countries are some of the least visited by Americans, not even breaking into the top destinations? If more Americans thought about mindful travel to Asian nations, would we be seeing the continued uptick in racial violence? It’s a question to ponder.

Travel teaches us to interact with new people.

One thing happens when we pursue mindful travel. We learn to interact with new people. After months and months of Zooming, the art of small talk and conversation almost seems lost. Traveling, however, forces us to engage, to be present, to communicate.

It’s exciting to think about traveling the globe again and meeting strangers and striking up conversations. We learn so much from the people we meet along the way. More importantly, we bring those lessons back home with us. We share those lessons, we live them, and by ebbing away at ignorance, travel can make things better.

If we don’t pursue mindful travel, how would we ever experience people so starkly different from ourselves? We learn not to fear, but rather to accept and even enjoy those unlike us as we bond over what makes us the same. Travel does that. Really, it does!

Travel teaches us to deal with discomfort.

Without digging into the psychology of racism, a lot of it has to deal with an inability to be uncomfortable. Over the last year, the mantra has been to lean into the discomfort. It’s hard to do all on our own. Travel, however, forces us into these situations that we choose of our own volition.

Whether its flying when we hate planes, eating something we don’t eat at home, or walking in streets where we feel lost, travel is a series of managing our personal discomforts. If you’ve ever visited a public bathroom in Beijing or wandered a souk in Marrakech, you’ll understand the feeling of being uncomfortable. Part of it is thrilling. Part of it is scary. By traveling, we learn how to cope with it and the discomforts slowly become less jarring and just part of the experience.

Since COVID-19 started, perhaps we’ve all gotten a bit too used to being, well, comfortable. Sitting at home all the time in our safe spaces, dressed permanently in sweatpants, it’s difficult to imagine tackling those travel troubles again, but they are what make us better people.

Travel teaches us to question what we thought.

 As we become comfortable with the discomfort, when we focus on mindful travel experiences, it also forces us to think more deeply. It literally pulls us away from every frame of reference that we know and presents us with a new reality. A new way of eating. A new way of exploring. A new way of talking. It’s all very challenging and frenetic but the result, no matter where we go, is the same. We question what we know.

It’s cliché to say that travel changes you. It’s also naïve to say that it doesn’t. Especially for those who travel rarely, these trips are all the more important, to give them new perspectives and ideas. You may end up questioning how you cook something, or how you schedule your day, or how you prepare your coffee. It could be little things.

But eventually, you’ll question the bigger things – the social norms, cultural stereotypes, and gender roles, for example – that lead to so much of the anger and hate that plagues society. Without traveling, we remain in our bubbles and only intermittently, if ever, does something or someone manage to infiltrate our minds.

Again, let’s be clear. Just because we travel mindfully does not mean we have created a cure to racism or to Asian hate as we’ve seen it in recent months. It’s part of the cure, however, for those who partake in it.

It will, hopefully, be less likely for someone to feel hatred towards a person of Chinese origin after having experienced Chinese culture firsthand in Shanghai. It will be difficult to perpetuate stereotypes about Thai women after taking a guided tour with a Thai woman in Bangkok. And someone who strolls through Seoul with a local will hopefully think more about Korean culture than just K-Pop, even if the music is great.

It’s ambitious, but the travel industry unites in this sort of approach, it can inch closer to creating some change. Countless other things need to change in society, but any steps towards progress are steps worth taking. Traveling more thoughtfully and mindfully in the future will be one step that we will be promoting wholeheartedly as the industry recovers.

Interested to hear more about how you can invite visitors to consider mindful travel to your destination in the future? For more than 60 years, DCI has been helping destinations do just that. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about how our destination marketing efforts can help you.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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