My first real experience living abroad came in the form of me traveling to Cape Town, South Africa and staying for 6 months. I met a man while living there who changed the way I will forever view travel and life. He explained to me why he choose to not befriend the thousands of tourists who visit each year. He doesn’t hate us, he clarified. In fact, he was quite accustomed to the the flocks of peoples who flood his country. But we come. And we go to all the popular places with our cameras and cell phones. We only communicate with those we came with or those we are forced to. We capture the magnificent views, the breathtaking landscapes, and then we leave, claiming that we have seen and lived in his homeland without ever truly living. We come here on Safari, he explained.
We sit high in our trucks safe from the world around us. With our binoculars and maps, we look from afar at the culture, the people. We take cabs instead of the obviously cheaper alternative, because we are afraid. The places we go are those in our tourist books, where no doubt, we will meet countless other tourists. Because God forbid we go somewhere not in the book. We ignore the townships that are only miles away from the gated mansions. We see what we want to see. But we never actually get out of the truck. We don’t touch the world around us or walk in the shoes of another.
Get off of the truck, he told me. Step down. Put away the binoculars and walk closer, take a better look with your own eyes, instead of through a lens. Breathe in your surroundings, instead of simply capturing them on camera. Move away from what is comfortable and immerse yourself in our beautiful country.
These words have stayed in my mind since that day, and have affected my life ever since. While we are all aware of the danger of solo travel, the experience can be invigorating. Do not be foolish or reckless, but explore the unknown up close. True, maybe some places are meant to be seen from afar. Some vacations are not long enough to allow us to genuinely take in the culture around us. But we can try. We can attempt to meet locals and talk to them about their lives in order to discover what makes us different and what makes us the same.
His words inspire me even when I am not in a foreign place. They remind me of the countless possibilities out there, if I’m only brave enough to take the first steps. Remember that we do not have to travel across the globe to find these worthwhile places. Take a look at your own life, right now. We live in a world where beauty is so often overlooked in our own backyards. Whether we are living in a new place, or living somewhere familiar, it is time we stepped out of the trucks. It is time we stopped living life as if it were one big safari. Stop observing life, and start participating in it.