Sunday, 20 May 2012


Some of the things I’ve learned from travelling…

1.    People are generally good
I have been helped along the way by many total strangers; the trainee priests in Jerusalem who saved me from being lost in a tiny, half-kilometre long tunnel without a light, the man in Marrakesh who took me in a taxi to my hotel because it was my birthday and I couldn’t figure out which bus to get on and the ladies in Muscat who organised and gave me a lift to one of the most bonkers massages I’ve ever had are just a handful of examples.  I met the priests randomly in a valley, the Moroccan chap was wandering down the street and the Omani ladies were in a nail salon – none of these people had an ulterior motive, they were just kind.

Ema - one of the kindest people I've ever met
I try to remember these experiences when I’m being surrounded by news stories about how society is becoming more violent or the world is full of predators.  Sure, I’ve been ripped off, hassled and groped on my travels, but usually by opportunists taking advantage; the times I’ve been helped have generally required the kind-hearted strangers to put themselves out to act altruistically for me.  On balance, I’d say the good guys win.

2.    The world is beautiful and surprising – you just have to see it
Some people think that you need to travel to ‘exotic’ places to see stunning sights, but the art of mindful travelling is noticing the unexpected and unusual rather than treating a trip as a series of photo opportunities.  I remember one guide who kept asking my friend and I if we wanted to take pictures; he knew that we both love photography and the challenge of capturing the essence of a place through a lens (she’s particularly good – check out but we also both understand that to really see a place you have to step back and give the subject your whole concentration, not dilute that experience by worrying about your camera and whether you’ve got the focus right.  The guide could not understand why we kept responding in the negative and just looking around us, only to whip our cameras out at something that he thought was unremarkable. 

I can buy a postcard or a guidebook to see the standard view of a place – the world doesn’t need another snap of Niagara Falls, for example – the real joy is in going past that and spotting the little things that others may miss.  It’s like the difference between seeing the personality someone puts on at a party and getting to know the complex human being behind the jolly front.  You can never really claim to ‘know’ someone you’ve only met at functions – you have to share their joys and pains before you establish any kind of meaningful relationship.

3.    Travelling the world really is the best way to learn about it
Bullet holes in a wall, a body on a funeral pyre, lions and elephants in a standoff in the savannah, women bent double picking tea, men mining for sapphires in a world untouched by health and safety considerations, children truly grateful for an education, war cemeteries with gravestones stretching as far as the eye can see, people feeding monkeys at the temple, the sheer size of a mountain, waterfall or desert – that these things exist is not news.  Seeing them in real life, however, lends them an immediacy and importance that cannot be grasped from a book or television programme, no matter how well made.  As a classroom, our planet has no competitor.

4.    ‘Exotic’ or ‘adventurous’ are not determined by location but by mindset
Seeing travel as a geographical journey, ticking off the countries and the sights along the way, leads to a fairly generic experience.  Enriching that physical journey by seeking personal and mental progress too ensures an individual and memorable trip with often intangible lasting consequences.  You don’t have to have your vaccines up to date or endure days of bum-numbing transport to ‘travel’, you just need to allow your mind to wander.


  1. Great insights! Here is an other similar story:

  2. 'People are generally good' - great comment. I agree - if more people thought this we'd live in a happier place