Travel and Proximity Relationships

Two thought pieces I’ve read lately have catalyzed some thoughts in my mind. The first was Tim Ferriss’ words on urban camping and what travel should really be about:

Experiential travel isn’t about places, it’s about people. About exploring different interpretations of the human experience: what’s important and what isn’t, what can wait and what can’t, what’s beautiful and what isn’t, etc.

The second piece I can’t find specifically, but it is a riff Seth Godin consistently proclaims, which is that the most effective way to market a cause or movement is to increase the proximity of said cause to the target audience. Make it fit their world view. Here’s an example of why he believes a global warming movement hasn’t taken off like it should:

It doesn’t fit the worldview of the very people you’re trying to reach and influence. Most Americans care about a very very short time horizon, and are easily swayed with group pressure on things like patriotism and faith. (Just try to criticize people for spending time and money in church and you’ll see what I mean.) Global warming is vague and distant.

And this got me thinking about travel, and the impact it has that very first time you venture beyond your own border. Suddenly, sidewalks matter again because they aren’t perfectly flat, easy to walk on squares anymore.

A trip to the grocery story is exactly that; a Trip, because you can’t perfectly interpret all those labels or find your favorite toaster tarts.

These may seem like trivial issues, and they probably are if you’re sitting in the comfort of your own couch in the comfort of your own zip code. But step outside your Zone and the triviality falls away.

How do proximity and world view play into this?

Traveling to, or (even better) setting up shop in a foreign land, places that culture in much closer proximity to your world view, potentially even becoming a part of it.

Your friend studies abroad in the Middle East. Upon his return you listen to his stories with waning interest and pick up a few tips on what what to eat “when you go there.” All the sudden he breaks out a hookah… and BAM – now you, the urban hipster, can relate.

And the hookah acts as a bridge for you to that distant place fast becoming and actual blip on your radar. You watch the news and see a clip of soldiers at a hookah cafe in Baghdad and for some reason it seems a little less distant than before. Baghdad is no longer an ominous vacuum devoid of good news; now it’s a bit more personal to you, the listener.

And for your buddy who studied in the region, it’s like a neighborhood nearby.

And that, I think, is the power of traveling and why we need more of it, not less. As your world view increases, so too does the proximity of those far off places.

The first step to magnifying this is fitting travel and its importance into the world view of the 80% or so of our citizens without that crucial travel document.

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