Travel teaches us many things, it opens our minds and ultimately changes us for the better. For many people I know the one major reason they don’t travel so much or why they only travel using tours is fear! They let this irrational fear of different places rules their lives and cloud their judgement. We are of the opinion this fear is created intentionally by tour companies and travel agents to rope more people in to paying extra for so called safety…but in fact getting back a homogenised and censored travel experience. We want to get out and see the real world…and in doing so we realised it ain’t all as bad as people make out!
So go on, take a step out of your comfort zone and into the real world! Our recent visit to Ukraine is a prime example of why!
I’ve just finished having a conversation with my mum about travel and where they should try next. They are pretty conservative when it comes to travel and never really stray from the tours and all inclusive packages. In fact despite several bad experiences they seem strangely tied to having their hands held whilst abroad! But they are pretty much your average “normal” folk and love to follow the crowds, 2 week vacations, retirement funds, the lot! You don’t get any more straight up normal than my parents! (maybe I am adopted!! ha ha)
I’ve heard a lot recently about the Philippines and knowing they love a good beach holiday I suggested they look at a trip over there. It would be cheap and mind blowingly beautiful, no crowds and unspoilt amazing nature…the response…FEAR! For me going somewhere different is exciting, I don’t want to sit on a beach in Spain with all the English sheep, I want to go to far flung places and have adventures. Her response was along the lines of “Won’t we get attacked for being rich white folk!”
I’ll let you into a secret here, the place in which I have been the most intimidated as a traveller was not Russia or Ukraine, Poland or Egypt, no, it was Paris. There are so many more people there who would target you for being a tourist. Poor desperate immigrants instead of the friendly locals who want to show off their country to you. But my mum would visit Paris in a flash rather than The Philippines or Ukraine, it’s strange how the media and the commercialisation of travel can warp our perceptions.
The thing about travelling to these places and seeing them first hand is that the propaganda surrounding travel seems to come unravelled. Travel is about experiencing new feelings and having all your preconceptions blown out of the water. It is about opening your mind to new cultures and new perspectives, stepping out of your normality and embracing someone else’s. Travel as they say, is fatal to prejudice, it teaches you more than the pages of any book ever could, it practices what it preaches!
We took a trip over to Ukraine and nowhere more did this sentiment feel relevant. Ukraine has been in the news recently and many would be rather reluctant to head from the “safety” of the EU into the “Wild lands” beyond.
But our wanderlust has instilled a sense of adventure and intrigue when it comes to the overlooked, the unknown and the misunderstood. When the warnings not to take that 9 hour coach from Krakow to Lviv came it only fuelled our curiosity, when the media showed pictures of a war torn nation our thirst to see the reality only grew.
When we entered Ukraine, after a 3 hour border crossing complete with AK47’s and intense inspections, we crossed the threshold from modern Poland into the unknown world of this new landscape. As the army fatigued and Ushanka wearing officer’s gun brushed my arm whilst he scrutinised my passport, his eyes darting back and forth between its pages and my gulping face, I did wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.
A rush of both adrenaline and excitement coursed through my veins, a nervousness that makes you feel alive! That tingling sense of uncertainty with which travel brings, the reason you escaped from that empty emotionless cubical back home, this is why we ventured across the border…
The packs of wild dogs, 30 year old dust covered cars and tin roofed ramshackle farmhouses were both a shock and a revelation. The highways gave way to broken and worn Cyrillic signed through roads lined with tall white birch trees and soviet bloc crumbling complexes; it wasn’t the Baroque hidden treasure I had imagined…but yet it was still a rich reward for our efforts.
What we found when we entered the city of Lviv was the Ukrainian spirit, the real story of unity and peace not a country in crisis under the shadow of Russia. We saw the beautiful heart of Ukrainian culture, the blue and yellow flags floating in the misty morning sun atop balconies and landmarks alike.
We felt a warmth of curiosity towards two people venturing open heartedly beyond the media’s veil. The authentic and unspoilt beauty of Lviv soon burned away any uncertainty and preconceptions, it shone vividly on this bright autumn day.
What travel teaches you is to look beyond, to see past your perceptions of what life should be and how it should be lived. Part of our reasoning behind travelling the world comes from the idea of “Questioning Normality” and questioning our own ideals, to be open minded and embrace other ways of life and culture.
Visiting Ukraine showed us following our hearts can lead to the most wonderful and unexpected interactions and experiences, it can show us the world in all its detail and passion. Most of all it taught us that travel is about walking this earth with an openness and about taking a chance on opportunities to see the world with your own eyes, and it’s when you do that you will gain the most rich rewards our wonderfully diverse planet can offer.