An old school chum of mine got the travelling bug early. His dad worked for Air Canada back in the day so the family got free travel. Ralph took a lot of trips to the Caribbean growing up. And after he was too old to get freebies any more, he continued to travel widely.
He and a friend travelled across Europe in an old Deux Chevaux they bought (a two horse power Peugeot - runs cheaply). Later they crossed over to Morocco and to the city of Marrakesh, where a lot of the kids of the sixties went to smoke some hash.
One of the things my friend Ralph notes and which I have seen on my own travels, is that people around the world are much the same everywhere.
Ralph continued his travels throughout his life, alternating between working at tough but high-paying jobs in Canada or Australia for a year, saving every nickel and dime he could, and travelling light for two years around the world.
He's explored all of South America, much of Africa, the middle East, the Indian sub-continent, parts of Asia and Australia. He even crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad when it was still the Soviet Union. He always travels light with just a backpack. He stays at hostels, or sleeps in cheap hotels, or, his favourite, he makes a friend among the locals and stays as a house guest.
On his periodic visits to Vancouver, he would regale us with stories of the places he's been and adventures he's had - barely escaping the crocodile infested waters of the Nile when a riverboat sank, riding on the roof of a train in India, being left for dead at the bottom of a ravine in India when the bus he was on went off the road, and many more. He stayed in Iran for a while, a guest of a family he met and reports that, because of the strict Islamic injunction against alcohol - you can't buy it anywhere - most Iranian families have a still in the house to make home-made booze.
He eventually married a girl from Bhutan, but even then, would leave her for long periods to travel. He and she are now settled somewhere in northern Australia.
Unfortunately, I never got much travelling done early in life. Except for a short trip to Holland in 1974, I didn't leave North America again until 2009 when I was 60. We did take a number of trips within North America, including Disneyland in the 80s, Las Vegas in the late 90s and New York in March 2002. Finally, in 2004, we left the confines of Canada and the United States and took the kids on a Mexican vacation - to Puerto Vallarta.
2009 was our third cruise and our first international cruise - leaving Fort Lauderdale for Barcelona with stops in the Canary Islands, Lisbon, Cadiz and Malaga before stopping and staying for three days in Barcelona. Then in 2011 we spent a week in Paris, flew to Rome and took a Mediterranean cruise taking us to Sicily, Athens, Ephesus (Turkey), Crete and back to Rome. In January 2015 we took a Caribbean cruise, visiting various ports of call along the way. And in January this year we took a southeast Asia cruise embarking from Singapore and visiting ports of call in Malaysia and Thailand. We have just come back from our third trip to Australia.
The Common Man vs. The Elites
But if each person was assigned one foreigner to kill personally, would you do it?
One of the things my friend Ralph notes and which I have seen on my own travels, is that people around the world are much the same everywhere. They have the same objectives, the same problems. I'm speaking of the average man here - the people we met - the workers from many countries who find employment on cruise ships, the shop keepers and street hustlers we met almost everywhere, the crowds on trains and in the bustling streets.
Everywhere the common man works hard to support family, to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, and to find enjoyment in life's little pleasures. They may have different religions, different languages and different cultures, but essentially, there is a common thread of human decency that characterizes them all. There are some like H.L. Mencken who deride the common man. And indeed, some people can be cajoled into acts of extremism and violence given the proper circumstances.
But I agree with Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher, who argues quite persuasively that the horrors of the world are generated by the elites - by the ivory tower academics who preach hatred, rebellion and revolution. When they seize power, it is the common man who suffers. The elites are the would-be Hitlers, the would-be Stalins, the would-be Robespierres.
Hoffer argues that the elitist thinking on campuses, characterized by the New Left when his columns were written, and by the so-called Social Justice Warriors today, would terrorize us all if they ever gained power. These students are elitists who "lust to rip the belly of the world open." The situation would be tempered if these young people had some real world experience before going to university.
America and the Common Man
America, Hoffer points out, became great because it was a country without elites, a country of castoffs, the detritus of Europe seeking a better life in the new world. It was a country of immigrants, unafraid, indeed proud, to soil their hands and do hard work, to make something of themselves.
If more people travelled and observed and got to know other cultures, and saw how much like ourselves the average person is - someone with hopes and dreams, who works hard to support family, who seeks to improve himself and, in so doing, improve the lot of us all, there would be no war.
It is easy for ivory tower academics, elites in their government offices, to order a button pushed and a drone strike that kills innocents as well as their targets. But if each person was assigned one foreigner to kill personally, would you do it? Could you do it? How many people could, without compunction, kill someone in another land because he doesn't share all of our customs, our religion, or our language?
Travelling gives one an appreciation of other cultures, an appreciation of our differences but more importantly, our similarities. It gives us a sense of good will towards others. Indeed, working for a living gives one an appreciation of what it means to be a self-supporting individual in society and an appreciation of what countless others worldwide go through as well.