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Cultural Tourism: How You Can Help Make The World A Better Place.

Travel is the best antidote to xenophobic nationalism but you need to go in with the right mindset. Find out how to 'Travel Better' on your next holiday.

cultural travel

On March 21 we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It’s a day we are asked to take a moment to consider how we can help to reduce racism and make a positive contribution to cross-cultural understanding.

It sounds like a lofty ideal, but it can be as simple and laid back as taking a holiday.

The recent troubling rise of racism around the world has been based on populist ideals that diss others culture and embrace intolerance, prejudice and xenophobia. Any doctrine of racial superiority is, of course, wrong and dangerous. It is born out of fear and ignorance and can be pretty quickly refuted.

Human’s are hardwired to be driven by “the fear of the unknown”. When something is unfamiliar to us we are cautious and mistrust it until we have it figured out.

Exposure to other cultures opens us to consider the similarities of human experience and through the identification of sameness there’s empathy. Yes, things are different between peoples - different food, religions, music, traditions but they are still based in the familiarities of life: Food, Security, Love, Family.

Science says travel makes us better

People who travel open themselves to learning about others and have been scientifically proven the better for it.

Research by Professor Adam Galinksy of Colombia Business School suggests that taking ourselves out of our cultural bubble has a scientific cognitive benefit. By engaging in local culture we increase our cognitive flexibility and creativity. The caveat is that we do have to engage with the society, not just visit passively.

“We found that when people had experiences travelling to other countries it increased what’s called generalised trust, or their general faith in humanity.” Prof. Adam Galinsky

Similar findings were found in research by Dr Julia Zimmermann and Dr Franz Neyer and in a study for US Travel Association. Both determined that challenging ourselves to new experiences results in improved cognitive health and emotional stability. It’s not so much the distance covered, it's about the encounters we have while we are away.

In other words: Travel really does broaden the mind. But only when we go in with the right mindset.

What is the Right Mindset?

When travelling to another country we inevitably take a lot of our culture and values with us, but we also want to learn about others. This means we need to employ some "give and take" and recognise that our culture isn’t followed all over the world, nor should it be. We need to understand that there will be some occasions where we are mandated to act in a different way and some occasions where it’s just respectful to.

Sadly, many people think because they are paying to visit that it allows them the freedom to do as they want and to behave as badly as they want. It isn’t. It never has been.

Social convention isn’t a phenomenon we experience only when we travel. Even at home, in seemingly everyday situations, we apply other people’s norms to how we act around them: when we wear a suit in a workplace, whisper in a place of worship, or don’t swear in front of Great-Aunt Edna. We even go as far as to do things that aren’t initially our idea of pleasant: share food we are unfamiliar with or meet people we don’t know.

We reach out in this way because humans are social animals and feel an intrinsic need to connect with our friends, neighbours and colleagues. It’s not simply curiosity or ‘political correctness’. It’s because we know our shared experiences are so much more than the activity itself. So it’s not really a big jump to apply that when we travel.

Being mindful of the social etiquette and local customs doesn't mean that we have to shed our own values. It's just a matter of showing respect and having an openness to learn. We go to other parts to come away with a better understanding of people and culture, our differences and connections and we can't do that if we don't respect them.

Travel... for a better world

We are aware the world can be a dangerous and confusing place, but we also know that millions of people have positive interactions daily and travel is a big part of that.

Covid might be currently keeping us at home and limiting our social interactions but as the world looks forward to coming out of hibernation, it is a great time to reflect on what our future journeys could look like.

So this March, start scheming. Plot new travels to unknown parts. Uncover new cultures. Hatch a plan to break down barriers for the good of the world and get ready to grab some envious instagramable interactions while you’re at it.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends” Maya Angelou





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