I’m often asked why I spend so much time in Europe. After all, as a travel writer who revels in non-conformity shouldn’t I be traveling to more exotic locations? What everyone seems to forget, including myself at times, is that Europe is an exotic location. What? Europe exotic? That’s right. A brief glimpse from outside the Euro-centric worldview reveals that Asians makes up over 60% of the worlds populations – that’s a lot of Asians. In contrast, Europe is only a puny 11% and North America an insubstantial 5%. That means for most of the world Europeans and Americans are the exotic ones.
Also, if we cut out all the politically-correct, self-deprecating talk that is so popular among well-educated western travelers, the truth is that Europe is pretty amazing. Some highlights: it has had an incredible influence on the world, far above any reasonable relationship to it’s size or population; it has a very long history of literacy, especially among lay people, which has resulted in a very diverse and rich literary history; and, as the center of most of the world’s violent conflicts, it has an incredibly complex and varied history. That’s just for starters and ignores perhaps even more important things like French fries, pizza and ice cream.
Now I’m not trying to say Europe is simply the best and all those Asia lovers out there don’t know what the hell they’re talking about; if I felt that way I wouldn’t be traveling half way around the world to trek up a barren mountainside. Actually, even the idea of saying someplace is the best seems silly, like saying forks rule and chopsticks suck. I find the whole trend of obsessing over “foreign” and “exotic” locations rather unappealing and silly. If you can’t appreciate the flowers in your own backyard what makes you think you can really appreciate the ones in the rain-forest?
I’m not denying that you might find a place that you like better and even want to move to, but chances are a lot of people from whatever country you’re in love with feel exactly the same way about where you’re from. For me, if it were simply a matter of finding a wonderful out of the way place to live, I would have never left my parents’ small village in upstate New York, which in addition to being one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’ve ever been to, has the added benefit of being familiar and comfortable.
No, for me, traveling isn’t about
running away or finding some magical Shangri-La. It’s about gaining a deeper insight into not only into the places, but the cultures and people one knows the best. That includes, first and foremost, oneself. The new perspective that travel brings allows us to be more aware of who we choose to be, as opposed to simply who we’ve been shaped into becoming, and it is through this understanding and the following choices that a real individual is born.That said, I’ve had enough of Europe for now 😉 Time to go climb a mountain in Nepal!