Travel Changes — and Saves — the World

Haystack Rock, Oregon #happyplace

I spent the first 18 years of my life moving. I don’t mean moving parts of my body, although certainly I was an active child; I mean that with a father in the radio business, our family literally packed up and moved houses and states every couple years (once doing a 9-month stint in Columbia, MD in the early 70s), pretty much living the WKRP in Cincinnati theme song of “town to town, up and down the dial.”

And because back then it was difficult to stay in touch with the people we’d left (expensive long-distance phone calls and what we now call snail mail were the only options), I learned to leave the past behind, and instead look forward.

For good or for bad, and like everyone’s childhood did for them, that environment and those situations shaped me.

It wasn’t always easy — in fact, there were times when it was pretty damn sucky — but there was one constant: I learned quickly, and without fail, that although it was hard to leave one place, there would always be great people in the next place, too.

As an adult, and throughout my career, I have traveled a ton — and I truly love it. I circumnavigated the globe on two separate occasions, flew Mach 2 in the Concorde, and saw the Northern Lights from the cockpit of a 747 (before 9/11). Cool stuff. I also randomly sat next to and had a nice chat with Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), and Wally Amos (founder of Famous Amos’ Cookies) moved his overhead luggage so I could fit mine in, and then he gave me a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. Also pretty cool. Note: not on the same flight.

But that was just while traveling — far better, far more interesting, far more fun and rewarding and enlightening and exciting to actually meet and interact with people when I arrived at my destination, no matter where it was. All over the U.S., plus London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Budapest, Warsaw, Vienna, Munich, New Delhi, Lahore, Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Manila, etc. I count myself incredibly lucky, not only to have lived abroad for 2 1/2 years and seen places in the world that most Americans don’t ever see (there are reasonable studies that sadly put the percent of Americans who travel overseas at less than 3% of our population), but to have met the great people I’ve met in all corners of the world. No matter where I went, there they were.

Home

For the last 8+ years of my career, I’ve been deeply immersed in the U.S. travel industry. This is a $2.1 trillion-dollar industry that impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, and one of the primary sources of lifeblood for our country’s economy, in particular money that comes in from other countries around the world (vs. our own re-circulated dollars). It’s a great business, filled with many intelligent, supportive, open-minded, wonderful people.

Part of the reason that the people are so wonderful is that as a group, they believe in the power of travel to change the world. They believe in what Mark Twain said, that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I believe it, too.

Because while the same has been said about music, and also about sports, only travel is inherently about people being together in the same place, at the same time, experiencing the same thing. Try as it may, Alternate and Virtual Reality will never replace the shake of an actual hand, the warmth of an actual hug, or the clink of an actual glass. Plus, as far as I can tell from a quick Google search, ol’ Sam Clemens was not much of a sports fan or a music fan, but man oh man he did think travel was pretty Huckleberry Finn-tastic (sorry, I’ll show myself out).

So it will come as no surprise that I don’t support travel bans, and I don’t support travel boycotts. I think they are short-sighted and dangerous, and often accomplish the very opposite of what they are expected to accomplish. They keep people apart, which then prevents them from coming together. They keep walls and barriers and oceans between us, instead of breaking them down and building bridges between them. We do not get anywhere by isolating ourselves (see: North Korea), we only make progress when we integrate, and when we assimilate.

Thankfully, in the last few days, I’ve been pleased to see some travel brands making very positive statements to that effect — huge kudos to Airbnb for living their brand positioning of “Belong anywhere” and offering free housing to refugees and those in limbo as a result of the ban. Kudos also to Expedia and Aeromexico and AirCanada for releasing videos that proudly display their values of inclusiveness, compassion, respect, and love for one another. I’m hopeful we’ll see more in the coming weeks.

Things are moving fast. And just as I learned growing up, I am looking forward.

© Matt Stiker, 2017

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

As much as Matt loves to travel, and no matter how far he goes, returning home to these three is always the best part of the journey. Currently looking for “what’s next” professionally, he’s happily and purposefully enjoying the freedom of spending as much family time as he can while also carefully selecting the projects and people with whom he wants to work.

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