Why I Travel: A Few Thoughts on Recent World Events (or, Love from Andalucia)

Last weekend, a few friends and I traveled to the south of Spain where five days were spent falling in love with the city of Seville and then Córdoba. Both cities are located in Andalucia, a region just north of Africa, giving it a heavy Moroccan influence in the local art, food, and architecture. Needless to say, the place is a beautiful hodge-podge of culture that gives it a certain life and energy unlike any other in Europe. 

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On our last day, we were walking around Córdoba and stumbled on a man selling his art on the street. A sign on cardboard advertised that for just 2€, you could get a personalized piece with your name written in elaborate Arabic calligraphy. Displayed on one side of his stand were a dozen or so finished pieces that were also for sale—phrases in Arabic in deep blues and sandy golds and rusty oranges and reds. One in particular caught my eye: a mixture of swirls and letters and swishes in Arabic lettering I didn’t understand. Above on a white piece of paper, neatly typed, read: "Love don't know language, is universal" and below, "El amor no entiende de lenguas, es universal."

Before I launch into everything, let me preface by saying I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About living happy and savoring life and just what exactly that looks like in the greater spectrum of world events like those as of late. The Toasty Avocados, at its core, is a blog that aims at living happy and healthy and while that remains a core tenet of our philosophy, I think there are appropriate moments to reflect on just what exactly that means when the world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies (which is never). That being said, after a trip to Portugal just a week after the attacks in Paris along with recent events in Brussels and the refugee crisis affecting nearly every European country in some way, I find it impossible to live and work abroad and ignore the very stark reality of what's going on here. As an avid traveler who visited Brussels last spring and Paris a few years back, it all becomes a little bit more tangible when the places on the news are real to you—places you have visited, walked through its streets, and enjoyed the company of people you met there. And after all this news as of late, I'm left feeling unsettled; not about travel in and of itself, but rather the state and mindset of how humans view and treat each other.

Fast forward to walking in Córdoba and finding this little nugget of unexpected wisdom from a street vendor. After a month-long marathon of watching the news oscillate between hatred in the world and sentiments of unity, this phrase struck me as something that transcended all of that. Because when it comes down to it, what is language? It’s an identifier of where you’re from, your background, your culture, and sometimes your religion. And here was this little etching suggesting that at the end of the day, it’s not about whether you speak Arabic or English or Spanish. It’s not about separating us by where we come from, dividing us by differences. It’s about uniting us by something that everyone on the entire planet is capable of—love. In a city where you can find a centuries-old church with Moroccan carvings etched into its walls with a Jewish area adjacent complete with spanish tiles and Roman ruins just a few blocks away, it becomes apparent that its uniqueness is what people find beautiful about the place. People flock to the area because they find the melting pot extraordinary, stunning. 

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I remember at one point walking through Seville and passing by a large wall with “Guatemala” etched on top with bold blue and green geometric shapes underneath. I had to stop and take a picture since my grandma is from Guatemala and you don’t find large murals like that every day. I found myself talking to my friend about where our families were from, and it struck me that I am—as good as they come—a mut (and I say that proudly). My mother is a beautiful mixture of Guatemalan and Russian and my father Austrian and Polish. I celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah as a kid (the first from my maternal side, the latter more or less from both sides). I grew up with the understanding that uniqueness is beautiful. It was only as I got older and got to know the world a bit better that I realized that not everyone had the same sentiments. 

So needless to say, during a time when religion, race, and culture seems to be a cause of division in the world as of late, the energy in Andalucia seemed to pose a stark contrast to what I've been seeing on the news. With all the talk about difference and similarities, about rigid categories and you vs. me mentality, it gets me thinking about just why exactly I travel. Of what the point of it all is. Of what it does to the human brain, of the changes it makes to your psychological being, even if subconsciously. Yes, the food is great and site-seeing is fun, no doubt. But I think there is something bigger, something more important about travel underneath all of that.

The thing is, when we travel we put ourselves in the position of the outsider, the minority, the foreigner. And that’s a good thing. We force ourselves to be the one that is different—something we rarely do outside of traveling. We soak up a new culture, new food, new people, new energy. And in doing so, we realize there are infinitely more ideas, beliefs, social structures, and walks of life than we ever imagined—and that includes both good and bad. We see a side of humanity that we don't get in our daily 9-5, hum-drum lives, and we begin to realize that damn, there's a lot of knowledge out there in the world that we weren’t aware of previously. And you slowly start to realize that you don’t have it all figured out, and you begin to understand that your knowledge is (and has been) limited. And all of those barriers and boxes that you subconsciously built up in your head about the world begin to crumble and you begin to crave to understand more about the world and the people in it. Travel teaches you to become a student, to be in a constant state of learning.

And perhaps this is what the world needs more of—the realization that our thoughts and beliefs about the world are largely constructed of malleable ideas and that our worldviews are not limited, linear entities but beautifully complex ones that can change over time. We are human, and that means that sometimes we are mistaken, we guess wrong, we are misinformed. And it takes humility to accept that, to realize that we may not have it right all the time. That just maybe, our worldviews needs a little shift every once in a while. And that's okay. In fact, it's necessary. Travel helps us understand this very crucial part of human growth. When it comes down to it, I think travel is about adaptability, rather than exclusivity. It's about acceptance and understanding, about sharing and community. Instead of a me/them mentality, it's shifts to an us mentality. 

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The reality is, the more I travel, the more I come to the realization that humanity is a lot more similar than we are different. We all laugh, we all cry, we all hurt and love and fear and wonder. Travel teaches us to see that bridge, that common denominator, that connection to so many people that seem so different from us at first; it helps us find oneness in the world. Travel leads us towards making that shift in how we see the world, and in doing so, it alters how we listen, react, and interact with people and places and ideas.

So when I ask myself just how we live happy in a world that isn't always, how travel (especially in Europe) fits into the greater spectrum of these current events, and just what exactly enjoying the world looks like after events like those of the past month, the answer begins to become pretty clear. It's easy to look at the state of the world and think there's really not much that we can do and to feel pretty helpless. But when it comes down to it, I believe everyone puts energy out into the universe and we have the ability to make that positive or negative, to add good energy or take it away. And so begins the domino affect. Energy, after all, is contagious (how often are you around negative people that bring you down, or vice versa, positive people that make you stoked on life?).

So what I'm really trying to get at is this. The world is not a perfect place. It contains multitudes—good and bad—just like us. But at the end of the day, I don't care if you're black, white, orange, or blue, whether you believe in one god, no gods, or three. We are all on this planet together, using the same resources, breathing the same air. It's not about our background, our looks, our language. "Love don't know language, is universal." It's  about love, being a better human, about buena gente.... We all have the capacity in us to create energy that is either hateful or loving, and as far as I'm concerned, this world needs more loving, positive energy. We are human, we have flaws, and that means that we will get frustrated and sad and upset sometimes. We will slip up and every now and then, and that's okay. It's not realistic to assume we will be a positive-energy-giving life force 24-7. But we do have the capacity to give it our best shot. 

So go do cool shit. Travel, explore, see the world. Enjoy it and savor it. But also learn from it. Let yourself be malleable; allow it to change you. Accept that you are not perfect, that learning and growing is a process, and that you will have fluctuations in life—bad, good, and in between. And whatever energy you pour into the world, try to make it as positive as you can. Try to add love into world rather than hate. 

My heart goes out to those affected in Paris, Beirut, Syria and Turkey, and California. And while many have changed their Facebook profile picture to show their support for Paris, I think it's more a symbol of unity. It's a act that includes all of those affected by hatred in the world, and an acknowledgment of being one of the human race—that is, with me, you, and the other 7 billion people we share it with. We are one. Let's spread more love, people, and show the world how powerful love can be when we join forces to support our humanity.