Travel Makes Us Better People

image of tapas in spain
New foods, especially in small bites, are not very scary.

I’ll start by telling you that I had a completely different message for today. But after this weekend’s news, that can wait. I can’t solve the problem of systemic racism and inequality in one post, and that is not my intention. Instead, I want to share something personal with you: why I do what I do.

I’m not talking about why I dye my hair odd colors, or why I sometimes spend an entire Saturday afternoon watching SVU, but why I am in the travel business. It is quite simple, actually. Travel makes us better people. It makes us more tolerant. Travel helps us – and sometimes forces us – to learn new things about not only the places we go, but the people that have made that place what it is.

Travel makes us more tolerant.

(I’ll point out that autocorrect tried to make that last word “tolerable” and I agree with that, too.)

I often suggest food tours or cooking classes to my clients. Why? Well, they are fun, of course. But more importantly, they are a very easy, non-scary way to try new foods, and see a culture through the cuisine. I have a friend that eats, literally, everything. I’ve seen the man finish the food off my plate more than once, eat several shrimp tails, and despite not knowing what was on his plate, enjoy it. He’s enjoyed food tours and gladly eats whatever is offered. Another friend, on a recent trip, claimed to not eat raw fish. As we ordered family-style for the dozen people at the table, we passed around a plate of raw tuna. He tried it, enjoyed it, and went back for more. Success!

picture of bulgogi
Reliving our travels through food, at home.

Another nice thing about culture through cuisine is that, much like more obviously meaningful experiences, it sticks with you. I routinely make foods at home that we have enjoyed while traveling. Just recently those include a fish pie (where we talk about our time in London every time I make it). I use Nigella Lawson’s recipe, and it is amazing. I’ve also perfected the super-simple cacio e pepe, which I had for the first time in Florence years ago. After I ordered, I thought it might be necessary to twirl my pasta over a spoon. Before I could embarrass myself by asking for said spoon, my friend, living in Florence, looked at me, rolled her eyes and shook her head. “That’s what the side of the bowl is for.” I have not used a spoon with my pasta since.

After a trip to California for an inaugural cruise sailing, I recreated the bulgogi dish we had on land before leaving. I’m now obsessed with Korean food.

But more important than the food are the people.

Last year we were in Barcelona amid the riots. The sentencing of nine Catalan Independence leaders by the Supreme Court of Spain led to outrage. During our trip we were able to encounter several people talking about Catalan Independence and why it is an issue. During a trip to a winery we met the owners, also vocal about the cause.

photo of belmonte portugal
The gorgeous Portuguese countryside.

In Portugal, we visited Belmonte, once a thriving Jewish community. However, the Jewish residents – called Crypto-Jews – were forced to be, at least outwardly, Christian. Crucifixes adorned the houses of Jewish families, and our guide shared with us many of the underground ways Jews still managed to carry on traditions. As Portugal today is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, it is important that this piece of history not be lost.

Sometimes the interactions are much simpler. On a European cruise a few years ago, our group of (loud, feisty, not-always-appropriate, fun) twelve enjoyed dinner together most nights. We sat in the back of the restaurant, and a couple sat behind us, nearly every night. After a day or two, I went over (uninvited) to chat. They were from Dubai, and very traditional. While our cultures were not alike in many ways, that did not stop us from enjoying a nice conversation nearly every night of the cruise.

We need to understand that other people are just that: people. And travel helps us do that, sometimes in a small way, and sometimes in a big, meaningful way. Either way, this is my personal invitation to you to get out of your comfort zone.

If you have a favorite “Travel Makes Us Better” story to share, I would love to hear it!