Skip the airplanes.
They are fantastic inventions, in many ways. The world doesn’t seem as big when you fly. Like nowhere is actually far. The world becomes more accessible.
But what does it do for cultural understanding?
Think about it!
You get on the plane.
You take a seat, you have a drink or you watch a movie to entertain yourself during your flight.
(You can NOT bring knitting needles on board. Dangerous stuff, you see. Same with walking sticks and razors. No wonder people get the idea that hitchhiking would be equal to risking your life!).
You are allowed to bring shampoo enough to wash you hair two or three times or so. Fair enough maybe, flying takes you so far in such a short while that it might be all you’ll use anyway.
Then after a while, you land somewhere completely different.
Let’s say you fly from Canada to Japan. Or from Germany to Ethiopia. Or from Sweden to India, for example.
While going from one continent to another within a few hours, you miss one important point: How the culture changes more and more the further you go. When you get off the plane, you are not prepared for whatever happens. You are not used to the people, you are not used to the climate, you are not used to being used to these things.
You missed everything that happened hundreds of miles below while you had a whiskey and fell asleep up in the clouds.
You didn’t notice that different habits, different needs and different values appeared.
You get off the plane. Someone might insist on carrying your bag, and you don’t have time to realize that this person wants money for it. It often ends up in confusion and disappointment, and in huge amounts, this is how an unhealthy tourism grows.
Many people go back to their home country with the idea that they cannot trust the people in a certain country, etc, instead of seeing their own part in the conflict. They don’t think of how they help this vicious circle to grow, as they keep increasing the gap between themselves and other cultures.
While traveling overland (especially when you’re hitchhiking), you see every inch of how the world changes along your way. And you will change, too. Your perspectives will change. You sense a different mentality long before you reach your destination. It helps you understand. It makes you appreciate.
You’re skin slowly gets a different color. Your clothes get a bit worn out. You improve your language skills.
People will presume, just from a quick glance at you, that you are experienced. They probably won’t insist on carrying your bag. They might not even bother asking you. Or if they do, you’ll be prepared to answer. You’ll know whether you’d pay for it or not. But you will be prepared.
Traveling overland makes you more open-minded, more ready to inhale the air of your destination.
Rather than saying “this air is bad”, you’ll say “this air is different than the air at home”.
Rather than thinking that the local people are trying to rip you off, you’ll understand how to avoid it, and you’ll evaluate your part in the situation and try not only to consume, but to participate in something.
Also, you’re allowed to bring your biggest bottle of shampoo as well as your knitting needles. As long as you can carry it, that is. You’ll be aware of the actual weight of you backpack, and you’ll get to know yourself and your own comfort limits more than well. That is an invaluable lesson in itself.
We’re not saying that flying always destroys cultures. But if you’ve never tried, here’s our advice:
Skip the airplanes – and get an authentic experience!