The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me

The Impact of Traveling

Lately, I have seen a lot of conceding, self-promoting bullshit travel blogging posts about how traveling is nothing but sunshine and roses. This however is nearly never the whole story. These posts I am talking about usually start off with a hook to lure you in like “How traveling ruined my life”, but after reading the post-it eventually talks about how wonderful the impact has been, but these authors without a doubt are not telling you the “true” story. Now, I am not trying to be a downer with this post and traveling truly has been more beneficial and positive in my life than negative. What I am trying to do is bring awareness to some of the impactful, life-altering moments many travelers experience and do not write about. In each segment, I am including a country where, for myself, these epiphanies were more evident, and I felt I had been strongly influenced by what I had seen.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It is not always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that is okay. The journey changes you.”

–         Anthony Bourdain

Life is Not Fair – Madagascar

“Isn’t Madagascar a cartoon?”, this unfortunately is a common response when I talk about my journey through Madagascar. It is a real place where 28 million people coming from hundreds of unique ethnic backgrounds call home. What many do not know is Madagascar teeters around the top five poorest nations on the planet.

One of Madagascar’s most famous sights is the “Avenue de Baobab”. It is a stunning dusty street lined with thousand-plus-year-old baobab trees. I snapped a photo here that in many ways put my name on the map in the travel photography community with major features.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
The Famous Baobab Photo I Took in Madagascar

What many do not know is while snapping this photo with my drone, down below were children and families who live on less than a dollar a day watching a privileged man fly a camera into the sky to build his name. This was the situation across most of Madagascar, the absolute poverty was always within sight, and I damn well know that if I wrote about this instead of lemurs or baobabs that most of the world would not give a shit.

Most of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. But majority of travelers turn a blind eye to this. Whether it was beach hopping in Indonesia, posing in front of India’s Taj Mahal, or searching for the big five in Kenya, the people around are suffering.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
Locals at the Avenue de Baobab

When I am asked about my favorite moments of travel my mind is often plagued by these people suffering and as if something is broken inside of me, I smile at the camera and tell them what they want to hear, this is a true impact that travel has had on me.

Devastation and Exploitation of War – Yemen

Throughout my travel career traveling to “dangerous” destinations has always lured me in. After I had survived a few of these reckless trips I discovered there was an entire travel community based solely on traveling to these destinations.

I will make this very clear; I believe that in some cases traveling to some of these places can be beneficial. But for the most part, the vast majority of the travel community that does this are a group of egotistical, self-glorifying pricks trying to show off what kind of “bad boys” they are by exploiting the suffering of those who are living in absolute hell from war.

The changing moment for me that veered me from this path was when I traveled to Yemen. Believing I was near invincible I snuck into rebel territory before shortly being detained by Houthi police. It was two weeks of prison/interrogation and then being trapped in Sanaa for two months afterward, but this was not what changed me.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
Sneaking Across a Warzone to Yemen’s Capital, Not My Brightest Decision

Upon my release, I was assigned a local guide to help me stay alive in a situation where Yemen quickly escalated into a full-blown civil war. This man, who I will not name for his safety, brought me to his family who to this day are still suffering from the impacts of war. He, although struggling, kept a stranger alive with immense hospitality.

When I finally escaped Yemen, I never wrote a guide on how others could travel there. I never told anyone how to get into Yemen and I refused any information from the hundred-plus emails I would receive a day, many of which were followed up with emails calling myself selfish for not helping.

This toxic community tricks you with their “courageous travels”, but the simple fact we are all just overprivileged children delving into places we should not be going unless of course, you want to give words to the people there.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
Despite the Issues Yemen is Stunning

“Yemen is suffering, our people are dying and when I watch the TV, I don’t see this. We are but forgotten”

–         My Yemeni Host

First World Privilege is Real – India

What many of the travelers behind the blogs and Instagram posts will not tell you is, the only reason they get to travel the way they do is privilege. If you say this to them, they will tell you a long story about how they struggle too…. This is without a doubt one of the hardest moments for me to not shout out and blow up like an atomic bomb.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
Varanasi in India is Eye Opening

The ones just like myself who get to travel have a leg above the rest. It can be from having a strong passport, access to funds, and the most disgusting of all being Caucasian. I am a white, blue-eyed male and I can tell you this, without a doubt I have been given multiple opportunities to exploit this fact. It’s a fucked-up reality, but the worst part is, the majority of those who are in the spotlight for their travels are also white and many of whom will deny the fact this has put them there, this is the problem.

I love traveling in India, its cultures, food, and people are fascinating to me. What I rarely discuss in interviews is how India not only gives me constant special privileges because I am a white male from Canada but how a large portion of their culture is based on a class system that gives special privileges to an exceedingly small portion of the nation’s population.

I once was attacked by an Indian blogger, he made accusations that I travel only because of who I am, and although he was very correct by saying this, he forgot to mention that he was from the upper class of society. While he dined on delicious food and traveled the world while his fellow citizens die of starvation in the world’s largest slums literally blocks from his gated compound.

Privilege comes in many forms and by identifying it, realizing it we can help bridge the gap so that people of all class and color in society can have a fair chance to enjoy life.

We are Losing Our Natural World – The World

This one hits me very hard; I have had the privilege to travel the world many times over. I have returned to many of these destinations multiple times and have seen the devastation of overpopulation, pollution, and deforestation. All of which is the driving factor of climate change.

To this day when I talk about this topic, many of my fellow Canadians who take pride in our nature say to me “You know climate change is just a government hoax to raise tax”. If you say this to me, know that inside me while my eyes are staring into your soul I am saying, you my friend are what is destroying everything I love, you are the cause of the mass extinction of animals, the loss of our forests, and oceans.

I did not put a specific country in place for this topic as I have seen the ice sheets in Greenland melting at an alarming rate, penguins in Antarctica suffering in the 14 plus degree heat, and the Amazon rainforest losing thousands of kilometers each day.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me
In Borneo the Forests are Destroyed for Palm Oil

For myself, I do not need to even travel to see this impact, here in Alberta Canada my home we are experiencing our fourth week of heat warnings. The crops are failing, and the air is full of smoke from the hundreds of out-of-control forest fires. Climate change is real my friends and if you are still a nonbeliever then I encourage you to travel, not to a resort in Mexico, but how about nations like Ethiopia where droughts are causing famines and millions are dying. Talk to these people and tell me then if you still believe it is a government conspiracy.

Western Culture is Not “Correct” – The Middle East

Because of where I travel this topic comes up a lot, especially with Middle Eastern nations. Interviewers have tried to trap me with this topic and get me to say hateful things.

Our world is filled with different cultures living in different ways, I condone one and one thing only and that is when people suffer from causes not chosen by themselves. Yes, in the Middle East many women cover-up, but if you ask them why, for many, it is cultural reasoning and it is what makes them feel comfortable. There is a major difference between choosing and being forced to do something.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me

When I first began to travel, I of course was guilty of believing my western values should be shared with all of those in need in this world. It was a quick realization that nobody wants my “help” or to be told how to live. We in North America and Europe do not have it right, nor does the rest of the world have it wrong. We all live similar lives but it’s these cultural differences that are the reason I fell in love with travel.

The Impact of Traveling the World – How Travel Has Changed Me

You can learn a lot when you travel by just talking to people, ask them what makes you happy and what do you want in this life. Their answers will surprise you and often they will change your perspective on this world. The freedoms we in the west believe we have, are often an illusion that we are taught from a young age to be correct, but in all reality nobody is correct, we are just all humans trying to figure it out.

There is Hope

Although this post has been primarily a directive and revealing one about how the world has impacted me often in a negative sense, if you read from the beginning, you would have read that “Travel for myself has been mostly positive”. 

Without a doubt this is a true statement, I have learned so much from traveling that has given me hope. I have seen wars resolved and have been reunited with friends, travel bloggers standing up for those in need by creating campaigns against racism, initiatives to bring back life to our forests and oceans.

Yes, my mind is plagued by all the bad things I have seen traveling, but I sit here today writing this post with hope. Hope to see a world where we can all unite and share our differences for the sake of education. Where we can rebuild the natural world. Where we can create equal opportunity for everyone to enjoy the fruits of life.

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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