Tag Archives: reality

International Travel: Escape or Enlightenment?

enlightened slacker?

Travel to any global vagabonder magnet – Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Paris – you name it, and you are bound to come across a bunch of seriously confused, unemployed 20 somethings traveling on their parents’ dime and clueless as to what they are doing in life.  Start a conversation with them in hostels or streetside cafes and the picture quickly emerges:  They just finished college or are taking a break from school.  The job market sucks so they are stalling on finding a job and are instead traveling while they are still young and can do it.  They just got laid off and are drifting on severance pay.  They’ve rejected the 9-5 rat race and are now out to live on as little as possible and really enjoy life far from the distractions of the corporate grind.  Travel is a way to put off the nasty realities of life.  It’s the grand escape.

The Enlightened Traveler

Then there is the enlightened traveler.  To this type, travel is not an escape.  It is a deliberate life growth decision. For this kind of purposeful vagabonder, travel is a way to grow.  It is often well planned out – if not in terms of specific itinerary, more so in the sense that it was premeditated.  It was planned for financially.  It was a lifestyle decision.  A rejection of the suffocating norm.  An embrace of diversity.  A look into how much more life and the world has to offer.

The Grand Decision

The fact that both kinds of travelers are out there and the fact that we as travelers or internationally-minded lifestyle designers have a choice of how to live speaks to the richness of options out there.  Travel can be incredibly enriching or it can be a complete drain of resources.  You can emerge refreshed or financially and emotionally broke.  The grand decision lies with us.

Head in the Sand

The answer should not be to ignore the question.  I’ve talked to friends and colleagues that can see very little point in traveling or investing in an international broadening of horizons.  Why spend your money on travel when you could use it to enhance the day-to-day?  What’s so great about being somewhere else.? Why give up control, risk your own security and step out of your comfort role unless you need to?

Try It

Part of me says that if you have to ask these kinds of questions you are better off staying at home.  But the more hopeful side of me says that the response should be “just try it.”  Try traveling.  See if you can resist getting hooked on the thrill of adventure – the surge of adrenaline that comes with discovery – of the world and of yourself.  See if you can ever look at life and home the same way after you have experienced the chaotic beauty of the exotic urban capitol that is Bangkok.  See if a trip to the Vatican doesn’t inspire an awestruck appreciation for unmatched scale, class and architecture.  Go volunteer at an orphanage in Mexico and see if you don’t come back with a fresh perspective on life.  In short, see if you are ever the same again after giving yourself up to a genuine experience of travel, of “otherness” – even just once.

Grow Intentionally

No, the question of whether to gain or to lose from travel does not come from staying put.  It comes partly from trial and error but more so from a much deeper place.   Do you want to experience the best that the world has to offer?   Do you want to drink deeply of the richness in life?  Do you want to be transformed into someone that is more self-aware, compassionate, open-minded, tolerant and understanding?  Then choose to travel with these transformational qualities at you core.  Decide that whether it be a long weekend or a multi-year global trek, you will make travel the greatest growth experience of your life.

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Bjorn Karlman

Nobody Cares About Your Travel Stories

You've climbed to the top of Notre Dame in Paris. Your buddies could care less...

It’s rough coming back from a trip.  You are brimming with exciting stories, pictures and funny videos that you want to share with the world.  You want to take home all the excitement and adrenaline of the road.  You want your friends and families to get it, to share your excitement.  You want to regale them with tales of the trail – close encounters, exotic cuisine, crazy fellow travelers, beautiful sights and unpredictable adventures.

You are giddy with excitement as you grab your bags, rush through customs and head for passenger pick-up.  You strain and stand on tip-toe in arrivals, looking for the family member or friend’s car and the moment they arrive there is that flurry of excitement as hugs are exchanged, bags are thrown in the back, ugly glances are exchanged with traffic cops and you all jump in and pull out.

The loved one then asks the obligatory question:  “How was the trip?”  They may even muster “I want to know everything.”  Trust me, they don’t.  And here’s why:

1)  Travel stories are like situational humor – you had to be there.  Let’s be honest, there are few things easier to tune out than stories of amazing adventures that you did not get to go on.  If you were not there to experience it, it is hard to feel anything more than a very passing interest in what happened.  Do you care that cousin X had such a fantastic time bird watching in Costa Rica?  Not really. 

2)  Your goofy giddiness is actually kind of annoying.  I’m definitely guilty of this one.  I am more intense than most of my friends and when I tell you a story that I am really into, I really live into what I am telling you.  I get so engrossed in my storytelling that while some may enjoy it, others find it a little excessive and occasionally tell me as much:)

3)  Your stories are too far from their reality.  This is a reason not to be offended when people don’t really take an interest in the amazing time you have just had.  Their day-to-day reality is just too far removed from your stories of leisurely traipsing all over the French Riviera.  It’s not personal.  It’s just that it is hard to know where to file your accounts of spotting celebrities in Cannes, polishing off delectable baked creations from quaint little pâtisseries and lazing on fine sand beaches when reality is high gas prices and bad baby sitters at home.

4)  They’re jealous.  OK, maybe not everyone.  There are those that are genuinely happy for you.  Those that are able to live vicariously through you in a positive way.  But that’s the minority.  The most common internal response to your enthusiastic babble about safaris and Trans-Siberian rail trips?  “Shut up.”

5) You suck at telling stories.  Well, I can’t say this for sure.  You may be an excellent storyteller.  But keep your travel chronicles concise just in case.

6) They want to talk about them.  And here we arrive at the real reason nobody cares about your travel stories.  They want to tell you THEIR stories.  So settle down, stop uploading your thousands of pics and videos to Facebook and do some listening.  Hear them out and you might have some friends wiling to sit through your reminiscing.

 

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Bjorn Karlman

Christian, Not Crazy: Some Almost-Organized Thoughts on Faith

Photo 176I struggled with this post.  It’s different from most in that I’m not writing directly about American politics and I am not trying to write on top of the news.  This post is about context.  Specifically, a context rooted in faith.  My faith.  Intellectual suicide?  I don’t think so.  Let me explain.

One of the things that most fascinated me when I started following American politics from across the Atlantic while I was living in the UK, was how openly politicos talked about faith.  If anyone with political aspirations in Europe did anything more than attend a sterile Easter service at a state church, Europeans would write him or her off as a religious nut.  Not so in the United States.

Despite his moral flexibility and playboy approach to saving the world, Bill Clinton was raised Southern Baptist and regularly sought the counsel of religious leaders like Jesse Jackson (who coincidentally was having an affair while counseling Bill on his Monica-related troubles).  We all know that George W. Bush was a man of faith.  His faith was positively troubling as we witnessed his crusade of a post 9/11 foreign policy that permanently sullied America’s image abroad and did more to draw religion-inspired battle lines than any American move in decades.  As cerebral as Barack Obama is, he was famously aligned with the controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright as a member of his flock when Wright spat out the words “God damn America.”  Multiple presidents have sought to address social problems through government funding of faith-based humanitarian programs.

Apart from the faith of recent and current American leaders, the American political landscape is hugely influenced by the religious right which, although somewhat fragmented currently, is enormously influential in any election.  This group of evangelicals ranges from run-of-the-mill casual believers with nominal conservative values and a penchant for apple pie and Nascar to raving lunatics that bomb abortion clinics, harbor closet (or devastating open) hate for minorities and spend their free time trying to legislate the teaching of Creationism in schools and the flying of racist confederate flags in front of state buildings.

More than once on CultureMutt, I have critiqued the evangelical contingent in America.  I grew up as Seventh-day Adventist and as a current member of this conservative evangelical community I feel particularly responsible for the messages that come out of the evangelical camp.  That’s why I:

Blasted Beck over his ridiculous critique of church social justice programs:  Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant

Found this way to lure young male congregants hilarious:  Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs

Thought that this approach to evangelical sexual morality was extremely naive:  Virginity 2.0 – Post Cherry-Pop Purity.

Sincerely hoped that religious crazies and their know-nothing dogma were losing steam:  Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo

As faith and politics are very intertwined and as I am so drawn to talking about both, I thought it only fair to say a few words about where I personally stand when it comes to religion.  Some of my readers have, in one way or another, asked me what I personally believe in.  If you have read CultureMutt over the past several months it won’t come as surprise that I am a cultural and political liberal.  When it comes to religion, I hate evangelical cheese and over-simplification of faith; I look for vomit buckets when I hear of attempts to legislate Christian morality; I am pro-choice; I am no literalist when it comes to my approach to reading religious texts; and I am all for gay rights, including the right to marry.

Having said all that, I do believe in the transcendent, that there is a presence that far eclipses the limited human perspective.  I am a religious tourist and have found meaning in all of the major world religious traditions.  My best friend is a Muslim and through my conversations with him I am drawn to a monotheistic approach to faith.  I am convicted by the Christian narrative of a compassionate deity that redeems humans in the grander cosmic sense as well as in our day-to-day reality.

What I feel most passionately about when it comes to my faith is this focus on bringing redemption in the here and now.  I don’t believe, as some do, that actively practicing faith requires an end to intelligent thought.  Rather, my faith challenges me to use critical thinking in finding a humane response to human problems.  I believe that authentic faith breeds understanding, generosity and compassion.  This is why I am passionate about fighting for social justice and finding systemic solutions for today’s social problems.  Poverty, illness, lack of education, drastic social inequality, racism – in my book these are very real manifestations of evil and I support a faith that combats each.

I don’t think I am entirely “right” in my articulation of reality and faith.  I know I have a lot to learn, that I am doubtless wrong on multiple fronts. I’ll listen to your thoughts because they will enhance my understanding of reality.  I intentionally held off on articulating any personal religious convictions on CultureMutt because this blog is not meant to be a forum for the discussion of the fine points of doctrine.  I simply thought that a little context at this point regarding my personal faith-related convictions would help explain where I am coming from.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

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Bjorn Karlman