As we finish up the year, it’s time for me to bid my farewells to column writing and to Stanford. It’s been a great five-year fun, er, I mean run. I’ll start off by saying it was a pleasure to write for you, dear reader, and I thank you for your ongoing readership.
I’ve taken you along with me to Stockholm, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Muscat, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, given you a crash course on flying politesse, divulged my spring break picks, given you the low-down on ecotourism and discussed current and future problems in the environmental sustainability of aviation. Most importantly, I’ve admitted to my double life as a Stanford student and world traveler.
Being an ardent environmentalist of the naturalist kind, some of my friends and colleagues have certainly raised eyebrows at my travel habits. Though flying is probably the most carbon intensive activity that one can perform, short of burning large swaths of tropical rainforest, I’ve legitimized it to myself in terms of the value of cultural exchange. That is, dispelling myths about the United States when I am in rural areas of Brazil, promoting others to think differently about how the international media may portray our country. I consider it a form of diplomacy.
And the kicker is that if you buy a dirt-cheap fare while you’re at it, you’re not really helping out the airline industry — in that the plane is going anyway and fleet utilization does not depend on low-yielding customers like us. So unless you’re buying full-fare business class tickets on your trip to Europe, you’re not having much of a ‘consumer impact’ on your flight — you’re just filling up the plane. (Hey — I think it’s a much better argument than my vegetarian friends that only eat meat that ‘would be wasted otherwise.’)
I’m not saying that you should travel abroad every other weekend like I’ve been doing lately, but maybe you should consider adding a bit more panache to your Stanford life with a trip once in a while. Consider it an educational expense. (You can save a lot of money on booze if you buy it in Argentina!)
Remember, your college years are a time to explore with new friends, surroundings and classes, but you shouldn’t just stop there. Now is your opportunity to start exploring the world. Not to mention, there is nothing more relaxing than forgetting all of your Stanford stresses and problems with a weekend on Waikiki beach. Maybe the Stanford ducks can’t go south for the entire winter, but a week is definitely within reason.
So go ahead: visit your friends at other schools. Take a risk (within reason!) and stay with an acquaintance from abroad. Take a quarter to study at a Bing program, using your location as a platform to explore Europe or South America. Write a research grant for that short-term field research project that you’ve always dreamed of (we are a research university after all!). You’ll be refreshed, more worldly and all-around a better person. (Ok, so I can’t guarantee that last point, but you get the picture).
Wherever you end up going, near or far, remember to travel and responsibly. Whether you like it or not, you are a representative of your school, hometown, country, etc. So don’t get intoxicated in the street and play the ‘ugly American.’ Pay fair prices for the knick-knacks and souvenirs you pick up. Try to engage in conversation with locals of wherever it is you are traveling. Bring little gifts from your hometown. Don’t scoff at things for being dirty, uncivilized or just dislike them for being different than what you are used to. Travel with an open mind. Ask people why they do this, what is the meaning behind that. St. Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Go out and explore.
Travel and you will come back changed, with a broader understanding of the differences in the way people view the world around you. They say that Stanford is experiencing the whole world at once, but why not make the most of Stanford and travel a bit while you’re at it? You can have your cake and travel too.
May your travels be pleasant and your horizons limitless.
Don’t be a stranger — keep Johnny up to date on your exotic travel locales at [email protected].