“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain
I hate cheesy quotes but the one above is one of my all-time favourites. It says everything.
Travel shouldn’t be a privilege, but it is.
I’m very much aware of the charmed life I lead – the freedom to hop on a plane, the ability to go just about anywhere thanks my Canadian passport. But it wasn’t always this way.
I remember being in Girl Guides and flipping through glossy magazines advertising camps abroad. I wanted to see the Swiss Alps so badly (still haven’t). School trips were usually to St. Pierre et Miquelon. I had held out for a France trip up until my final year, when my classmates and I were told the school couldn’t afford it. I never had much money growing up – my family was single income, and my mother was/is too sick to work.
But finally in university I hopped on the opportunity to spend a study semester in Harlow, England. I took out a massive line of credit to do so, and although I have no regrets, some financial aid would have been appreciated. Whatever the case, that semester opened my eyes to the big obvious truth: how can you ever understand the world if you only see one small part of it?
The trip quite literally changed the direction of my life.
I’m bit of an armchair warrior. The minute I see homophobia or Islamophobia on my Facebook I’m quick to defend. I’ll argue until we’re blue in the face. And I hate being that condescending “well travelled douche” but the fact of the matter is travelling has changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. How can we sit by and let intolerance happen? Have we not learned anything from the holocaust or the siege of Sarajevo?
That’s why I’m backing Matt Kepnes’s new foundation to help send kids overseas: FLYTE (The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education).
“There are so many negative stereotypes in the world that are perpetuated by a lack of exposure to different cultures and too much exposure to horrific news stories. Travel breaks down those negative stereotypes and alleviates fears. Remember when you visited a “dangerous” or “scary” place that was completely different from what you imagined it to be? Travel forces us to reevaluate stereotypes, and creates a shift in our typical way of thinking.
That’s why I want to do this. That’s why I want to create an organization that promotes education through travel. The two go hand in hand. The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve learned about the world, myself, and how interconnected we all are.”
With your donations, Kepnes and his crew will be selecting kids for trips abroad. I’ve got the dirt in this interview:
WHY DID YOU START THIS FOUNDATION?
Travel is a life changing experience. When you explore the world, you get a better sense of the people who inhabit it. Opening yourself up to new experiences can have a powerful impact on you and help you figure out who you are and what you want to be. I’ve been experiencing that impact for ten years. Travel has shaped my life and given me purpose.
I didn’t get to travel when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve worked to have the means to do so on my own. Not everyone gets a chance to travel the world or has a family that can take them on a trip, so I want to bring the power of travel to kids who might not otherwise get chance to travel abroad. I want to broaden their horizons and help them see what a big world is out there.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE?
My hope is that students will see that there are a number of opportunities in the world. I want them to learn to dream and feel like they can do anything. When you grow up in a small or economically disadvantaged community, you don’t always have the influences that encourage you to aspire to bigger things. You aren’t always exposed to a lot of new ideas or people different than you. I want this program to take kids out of their comfort zone, open their minds, and inspire them to think big.
WHY DO YOU THINK TRAVEL IS IMPORTANT FOR KIDS?
Travel changes people’s lives – no matter the age — but, for kids, they are at a time in their lives where they are still figuring who they are and where they fit into the world. A friend of mine took his daughter on a trip around the world and, after seeing the poverty of the world in comparison to her middle-class upbringing, she returned home deeply affected and now spends her college summers volunteering and doing development work in Central America. I want to expose students to a variety of ideas and cultures to show them the possibilities in the world and maybe inspire them to do or be something they never would have considered before.
WHY UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES?
When you live and grow up in a small or inner city community, you don’t always feel like you have the opportunity to do what other people do. Limited economic means and opportunities means you aren’t enrolled in some fancy school and thus don’t get the advantages other kids have. You don’t get a chance to see the world or learn about the circumstances outside your neighborhood. I want to level the playing field.
HOW IS YOUR FOUNDATION DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS?
There are lots of organizations out there that send students on cultural trips, but those companies work with set tours and partners and are usually located in big cities. They typically go to a limited number of destinations as part of a work-study type of program, but I wanted to do more than that. Instead of being a tour company, our goal is to be a grant organization that will fund trips for people from around the country. I want a teacher in rural North Dakota or inner city Detroit to be able to take her kids on a trip anywhere – not just to a pre-selected set of destinations. I want kids from around the country, not just those in big East Coast cities, to be able to see the world.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO TRAVEL?
I went to Costa Rica in 2003 and got the travel bug then. I fell in love with travel and the freedom it gave me. The following year I went to Thailand, met five backpackers and realized I wanted to do what they did – travel forever! So I came home, quit my job, and, the following year, left for what was supposed to be a year-long trip around the world. It lasted seven years. I never looked back.
HOW HAS TRAVEL CHANGED YOUR OWN LIFE?
Traveling the world has given me a deeper understanding of people. By experiencing places first hand, they become real, not just some abstract thing I read about in the news. Those encounters challenge all your stereotypes and I love that. Travel has also made me a more confident, adventurous, and extroverted person. It’s brought me nothing but joy and I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, all because of that one trip to Costa Rica.
So how can you donate? Head over to Kepnes’s blog post for all the details.