Updated: 02/03/2020 | February 3rd, 2020
One of the things travel forces you to confront your judgments and perception of people.
Last year, I came across some bohemian art folks on the web. They liked my site, their art was cool, and they were very down-to-earth people.
We developed a steady online friendship, but their lifestyle is totally different from mine.
There is nothing too extraordinary about my social life. Overall, my social habits are pretty mainstream. I watch movies, go to the gym, watch Netflix, work, and go to yuppie cocktail bars.
But these folks went to alternative festivals like Burning Man and Lightning in a Bottle. They are really into erotic art. They have a lot of piercings and tattoos. Some of them live in modern communes. They are vegan. (I can’t live without bacon.)
In short, they are the exact opposite of my normal social network.
To me, travel isn’t just about visiting different places. I don’t often care where I visit. Yes, I love exploring certain parts of the world, but what I really want to explore is life on this planet. I want to know how cultures fit together, why people think and act the way they do, and how seven billion of us fit into this world. Yes, I want to see Paris and lie on beaches in Thailand, but what I really want to know is why the French love to riot, why the Italians put up with corruption, why I will always be gaijin in Japan, and why the Thais seem to only express emotion in two forms: happiness or anger. (If you lived in Thailand, you would understand that last point.)
When you live in the travel bubble, getting along is easy. There’s just the fun you are having right now. You can be whoever you want to be and if some people don’t like it, you know they are probably leaving soon anyway.
The real world is different. You’re thinking about all the things you have to do. You have bills to pay. Responsibilities. Jobs. Commutes. Things to worry about. You aren’t on the move anymore, rather you are now firmly planted in one place, building a life.
When the opportunity arose to go and visit these friends in Reno, Nevada, I jumped at the chance to experience something different. So I went there with a lot of curiosity and a very open mind. Whatever they threw at me, I was going to take. Reno was all about new experiences, and I was looking forward to learning a thing or two.
We went to a techno concert that was vaguely reminiscent of Burning Man on my first night there. I hung out with people with blue hair and weird get-ups. There were a lot of neon lights, a lot of drugs, and a lot of just way-out-there stuff.
I spoke to a guy who talked a lot about his sex shop and about exploring “things” with his wife.
I met hippies who grew pot.
I met lots of raw-food folks or vegans.
There was a lot of talk about energy and love. (And even a woman who claimed to be an alien.)
My hosts ran an erotic art site.
I found it all weird.
But at the same time very, very interesting, even if I couldn’t always relate.
But you know what? I had a great time. Everyone was very nice and friendly. They were genuinely interested in what I do. They loved the fact that I was living my life on my own terms, and I really loved the fact they were too. I like people who follow their dreams. They welcomed me into their circle, they made me brownies, they invited me back for Thanksgiving. We shared a love for music, life, and a passion for True Blood.
One thing I’ve learned in my four years of traveling around the world is that people are essentially the same. Whether a person is American, Australian, Japanese, Thai, or Uzbek, people want the same thing: to be happy, be safe, have friends, do what they want, and enjoy life.
At home, we judge people right away. By their dress, their phone, their style, their posture. We see the Goth going down the street and think “weirdo.” We see kids skating in parks and think “punk.” We see white guys in dreads and think “hippy.” We gravitate to people like us and rarely venture outside our homogenous social circle.
I admit that I judge people. I even made judgments about the folks in Reno before I went. But I went because I wanted to go to learn not to make judgments. And while I won’t be moving to a commune or going raw anytime soon, what Reno taught me was that the old adage about judging a book couldn’t be a truer statement if it tried.
When you are on the road, you hang with all types of people. Your desire to make friends trumps everything. You don’t know people’s history or past. You don’t know what “group” people fall into. That forces you to expand your mind, tear down your barriers, and toss out your judgments.
If I had simply stuck to my “real world” worldview, I never would have gone to Reno. I would never have met such great people. I would never have exposed myself to new ideas and ways of life. Travel is about breaking out of your comfort zone and testing your boundaries. For some people, that might simply be walking on a plane to go somewhere, or bungy jumping, or, for me, embracing a way of life outside my own.
Breaking out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to learn about the world.
And Reno was a good reminder that that learning doesn’t just mean knowing people from foreign lands. It can also mean just learning about people with different tastes than you.
Because everything – and everyone – has something to teach you.
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