“To travel is to live.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen
Travel is a way of life, a metaphor for our pathways as humans, a road to connecting with ourselves and others and a way to learn about our common humanity as well as our pulsing, breathtaking diversity. Adventures we have while traveling can widen our perspectives and show us that the world is both vast and beautifully variant, yet also so small, in that we are all the same underneath it all.
I’m an international human rights attorney, teacher, writer, speaker, social entrepreneur and innovator, lifelong adventurer, wanderer, and global citizen. For me, being a human rights lawyer, like being a responsible traveler, is about having and acting on a core belief that every human being and every life matters — that we are all equally and intrinsically valuable. It’s about advocating for the rights and voices of others so that every person has a say in what happens in their lives and to their bodies, their families, their communities, and the planet we all share and call home.
In my work and outside of it, one of my great joys is having conversations with people around the world and amplifying the voices and stories of others. I love to learn from people I meet on the road, laugh with them, share a meal with them — and I believe each person has a voice that matters and story to tell. These conversations with people across the globe have taught me that we can positively impact people and their communities by listening to their stories and supporting their agency, so that they can make their own choices about their lives and futures. Investing in people, their dreams, their access to justice, and their creative and entrepreneurial endeavors is my lifelong passion.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust
On a flight from Ethiopia to Rwanda several years ago, I started having a conversation with the woman seated next to me, who happened to be a student studying international human rights. She was flying home to Burundi to visit her family, and we talked about social justice, human rights, and making a better world. Studying the Rwandan genocide was one of the moments that sparked my career, so our conversation was very close to my heart, and it was also full of love and laughter too. When we landed, I took off the bracelet I had been wearing and gave it to her. Her eyes filled with tears and we hugged and said goodbye. In that moment, we found each other. I love to picture her now as a budding human rights advocate, making the world brighter with her wisdom and her thoughtfulness, wearing that same bracelet.
Over the course of my travels, I’ve experienced many moments like the one in Rwanda, where a chance encounter reminded me that we are all in this together, that this planet is our shared home, and that we’re all here to take care of each other.
When we travel with a sense of wonder and curiosity, it can enrich us in a myriad of ways, from teaching us creative problem-solving and resourcefulness, to self-compassion and resilience, to independence and acceptance.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
And when we travel, we must be mindful that we are impacting the places we visit and the lives of the people who live there — for better or for worse. We should always seek to be aware of what those impacts are, and the best way to learn that awareness is by interacting with the people who live where we are visiting. Ask them their stories. Ask them how travelers like yourself affect their community, and how you can contribute. Spend your dollars at a local social enterprise, take a day to volunteer with a reputable group that supports the local economy or just share the stories of people you meet when you come home.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~Dr. Jane Goodall
If we strive to help others whenever we can, it is in these moments where the magic resides. It’s in a million tiny experiences, a thousand small acts of kindness, that our lives and our legacies lie.
When we venture outside of our comfort zones, into the uncertainty, into our own version of wilderness, there in the leap, we are reminded of what truly matters in this world. We find out who we are. It’s how we locate our true north in a storm. It’s how we ride the inevitable waves of life, the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain. It’s in living the questions that we find our humanity. That’s what travel is, a metaphor for life, and why it’s so powerful, enchanting, and transformative.
“Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” ~Alice Walker
And for many of us, travel is also a form of political activism. We can research and support organizations and individuals working every day for things like fair, sustainable incomes and a raised standard of living, and those trying to preserve biodiversity and protect the precious wild creatures we share our home with. Through travel, we can support groups that are alleviating inequality and poverty, and increasing dignity and enhancing opportunities for education and empowerment, as well as those using social entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity to bring people security, health, self-expression, and joy, on their own terms.
When we advocate for a rescue animal, donate to a local human rights or environmental organization, or simply try to minimize our travel footprint, we become ambassadors for the voices and bravery of others. These are all tiny steps we can take for our planet; small avenues that lead us towards equality, dignity, and rights for all.
The journey is about always trying to be aware of our implicit biases, to have courageous conversations, and to be open, to listen, to learn. To choose love instead of fear. It is said that all politics is local, and I will also posit that it is the aggregation of all of these local experiences that helps form our worldview. And when we can celebrate diversity, inclusion, and social change, and also see how deeply linked we all are, we can emerge as true global citizens.
“It’s not down in any map; true places never are.” ~Herman Melville
We’re just one conversation, one “hello,” one “thank you,” one kind word, one smile away from connecting with someone else. We might disagree or there may be things that separate us, but there’s so much more that binds us. All life is intricately interwoven, and nothing will convince you more of this than when you travel with purpose.
Photography by Jorge Estuardo de León