The heavy baggage we’re talking about is not a suitcase. THAT we could do something about.
No, the heavy baggage we carry on international trips is our embarrassment at so many of the policies of our country. When we travel abroad and people discover we are from the U.S., how do we get them to understand we do not support so many of our country’s policies?
Of course, this goes beyond being a U.S. problem. How do travelers from the U.K., Turkey or Egypt let it be known that they, too, may not support the policies of their own countries?
Don’t even begin to think this is a new problem caused by the new administration. We remember keeping a low profile as Americans for most of our traveling lives. (Most people mistook us for Northern European in 1986.) It’s just that now, it’s become ever so much worse.
A few months ago we met a lovely person in Argentina, a bird guide, and we started talking about travel. (This was during the Obama administration.)
“Have you been to the US?” we asked naively.
“Oh, I would really like to but it’s very hard to visit the US,” he replied. “To get a visa I would be required to fly down to the capital city, Buenos Aires, for an interview at the US Embassy. If approved, then I would have to pay $160 for a visa. Paying for a flight and hotel for the interview trip to the capital, as well as the visa fee, would make a trip to the US very expensive.”
We couldn’t believe it was true. After all, we never had to go to Washington, DC to meet with anyone from the Embassy of Argentina for an interview with Argentina officials to decide if we were qualified to receive a visa to tour their country.
We were left speechless. And we were left embarrassed.
We wish our friend could have visited the US. He wanted to see our National Parks. He wanted to look at birds he’ll never be able to see in Argentina. (Will he ever see this bird, a rock ptarmigan, which we saw in Olympia National Park in Washington?)
Traveling expands understanding and knowledge. We wish more visitors from around the world were free to travel to the US. One bit of knowledge visitors to the US would learn is that in a democracy there are many points of view and government policies do not always represent the diverse views of the people.
And in turn, we (and other Americans) should continue to travel around the globe. The perspectives we have gained have surprised us, informed us, and made us better citizens for our new knowledge and understanding.
The world needs travelers now more than ever. We all have a lot to learn and the best way to do that is to get out there and visit foreign countries, meet new people, listen, and see how things work in other places.
If you want to travel, don’t just stay home because “the climate isn’t right” for crossing international borders. Now is the time to go. (Photo: rice terraces in Ping’An, China)
As Americans, we’ll just have to be ready to explain the unexplainable: just what IS going on in the U.S.?