WHY I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANYMORE OF THE WORLD
For the Post Office Travel Blogger Awards, I was asked to describe my dream trip. Here's why mine, as a travel blogger, comes in the form of a reality check.
When the email landed in my inbox to say that I had been shortlisted for the Post Office Travel Blogger Awards, I had just sent off another email around my office. An email that explained why, thanks to one American president, I had had tears in my eye twice that day.
The reason for tear number one: discovering that Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy was forcibly and inhumanely separating children from their families while they tried to cross the US border.
The reason for tear number two: that an everyday Californian couple had taken it upon themselves to raise enough money - $1,500 - to reunite one family. Four days later and that same humble fundraiser had reached $10.5 million and was climbing by $15,000 a minute.
The two emails couldn’t have been more stark in contrast. One asking me to write this post about my dream tip; the other, about the frightening reality of a very different journey that so many were being forced to make. Yet, at the same time, they couldn’t have been more perfectly linked. It was a timely reminder of what travel should be - but often isn't - all about: to experience this world through the eyes of others; others that often come from very different places and incredibly different perspectives.
I am the first to admit that, when it comes to travel, I have been one lucky lady. Over my years I have grown rather familiar with the departure gates at international airports and have been extremely fortunate to see a lot of the world - but that’s exactly the problem. A lot of my travel has been what I fear travel is at risk of becoming for so many of us: simply seeing the world.
When we venture to a new destination, all too often we surround ourselves in nice and familiar-feeling environments, witness a city from the seat of a tour bus or the pages of a Lonely Planet, hop from Tripadvisor-recommended restaurant to Booking.com-recommended hotel, take thousands of photos and then leave again.
Then add social media into the equation - so much of our experience revolves around what we see, or rather, what we can frame up in a square on Instagram. Guilty as charged! And this isn't just influencing how adventures are showcased but even how they are planned. For so many, exploring a new place has become ticking off a checklist of Insta-worthy locations. Sadly, we can sometimes get more caught up with the Likes that a location will get us than in the life that is going on around us, then and there. We're too busy seeing the world through Instagram-tinted glasses, rather than through the eyes’ of others.
Our time in India last year - my first experience of a third-world country - was the trip that woke me up to this. While I landed in India with a Lonely-Planet-approved and Pinterest-inspired itinerary, no photo or person can quite prepare you for the world you are walking into. The stunning and shocking things you'll see, the chaos that your eyes will struggle to keep up with, the colours that you didn't know could ever be so bright. The pungent aromas that fill your lungs; from overdosing on sweet incense to the ever-present cowpats on the streets (and hopefully not your shoes). The new flavours and spices that set fire to your tastebuds, and the prayer music blasting through your window at sunrise that makes for a rude yet somehow peaceful awakening. The dry feeling of coloured powder on your skin while you're out celebrating Holi with the local children. No other country pulled on as many of my emotions, tugged on each and every heartstring, and assaulted all of my senses as India. It was overwhelming, close to unbearable but absolutely incredible - and certainly impossible to capture in an Instagram post.
It’s trips like these that make you discover as much about yourself as you do about the world we live in. And it’s trips like these that changed my idea of what my ‘dream trip’ really would be.
So in answer to your email, Post Office, my trip-of-a-lifetime is no longer the five-star, white-sandy-beach, tropical getaway that it once would have been. Rather, it's one that immerses me in the reality of a culture and continent so different to our own: Africa.
It would be a trip that would let me learn about the Maasai tribe through real-life encounters, not just what my Year-7 textbooks taught me.
A trip that lets me get up close with majestic African wildlife in their natural environment, not while riding a poor elephant that’s been forced to live in ours. (Yes, I’m ashamed to say I have done that and have regretted it ever since).
A trip that lets me spend time with the children in local schools and orphanages, not just spend a few dollars on donations.
And, for this reason, it would be a trip that would manifest in Kenya. A country that's home to the Maasai, home to some of the continent's most incredible safaris and, most significantly, a soon-to-be built home for Blessed Hope Primary School in the Kibera slums, the biggest urban slum in Africa. The 200 young students of Blessed Hope share a dream of going to school but, with the average parent's salary being only 75p a day, their education is at risk of becoming just that, a distant dream. Exactly why a friend has made it his mission to fund and build a permanent home for the school, and it's one that I would love to share in and share with the world.
Of course this adventure would result in countless Instagram pictures, a library of blog posts and SD cards bursting with photos. So much so that I wouldn't blame you if you hit the Unfollow button. But there will be even more stories, memories, smiles, tears (both the good and the bad kind, I’m sure), that couldn’t possibly be captured in a blog or Instagram post, even if each picture does paint a thousand words.
But that’s exactly what travel should be about. It’s not about simply seeing the world - that's overrated. Thanks to social media, I don’t have to leave my lounge to do that these days. It’s about experiencing it; the good, the bad, the confusing, the chaotic, the stressful, the eyeopening, the heartbreaking, the heartwarming, the enriching and the absolutely magical parts, places and people of this world.
It's about the real. That's my dream.