Travel in a Time of War
A Conversation with Rob Sangster
Sangster, author of (Menasha
Ridge Press, 3rd ed.), left a successful business
career to devote his life to travel and teaching
others how to travel. In his book he quotes
a priest who reportedly said, "In all my
years, I've never once heard a man on his deathbed
say, 'My only regret is that I didn't spend
more time in the office.' " "I'll
never say that either," says Rob.
Traveler's Tool Kit is
both practical and, as the priest's words suggest, inspirational,
a book to help the reader decide to visit the places of
their dreams. Since some of us are asking if now is the
right time to travel, this is the first question we put
full consideration to the attacks that began on September
11, my answer is "Absolutely, but. . . ." Safety
is always a matter of timing. I love Sri Lanka and Kashmir,
but I wouldn't visit either today. When tourists are specifically
targeted for attack, take a pass. When random violence is
so frequent that a traveler could be an accidental victim,
take a pass. If animosity toward Westerners grows intense,
and your presence in a country might cause a problem, take
By the way, local violence is seldom
as troublesome to a traveler as it may sound. I was present
when governments were toppled in Madagascar and Bolivia
and felt no personal danger. During major demonstrations
in Santiago, Bangkok, and Jakarta I kept a low profile for
a while and had no problems.
Experienced travelers are always cautious.
They use their eyes and trust their instincts. Safety requires
alertness. But overall, weighing risks versus rewards, I
continue to feel quite safe in traveling.
TA: So you will continue
to travel. But what about readers who are planning a pleasure
trip? Should they postpone it?
I were to make any change in my travel choices in light
of the terrorist attacks, it might be to visit places less
frequented by tourists. Explore Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
and Antarctica. What about a fabulous trip to South America
or Africa? This is the perfect time to go where large numbers
of tourists typically do not, where prices are low and people
are genuinely hospitable.
do you think more Americans don't venture farther in their
often cite lack of money and time and concern about language
as reasons. Secretly, many believe they are indispensable
at home or work. The deeper reasons are fear of the unknown,
addiction to familiar comforts, and the difficulty of climbing
out of deep, deep ruts.
Then there is the biggest reason of
all. People greatly underestimate the rewards of travel-the
wonders waiting for them in the lesser-known world. True
travel, like reading a good book, can be a life-changing
experience. Travel is an opportunity to think of beginnings
and endings, to challenge inhibitions, to experience pure
The real risk in traveling far from
the familiar is that once you've been in Ladakh, Peru, Botswana,
and the like and gotten to know the people, no Florida beach
kind of extended travel you describe takes work: planning,
studying the language and culture of your hosts, and perhaps
staying in uncomfortable places.
true rewards of travel-exploring, inquiring, meeting
challenges-are so profound that they vastly outweigh
any effort. Besides, the effort we're talking about is
actually pleasure. It's called learning. It's fun to
learn about a country, plan an itinerary, and make choices
about how to get from place to place. Sure, some accommodations
can be pretty basic. On the other hand, accommodations
are often far more interesting than those at home-and
at a fraction of the cost. Just consider a few of the
rewards of travel:
As a traveler,
you develop a deeper understanding of the strivings of
billions of humans. You realize how much of what you'd
accepted as universal truth is based on only the values
of the country in which you grew up. You learn tolerance
or appreciation for deeply-held beliefs of others. Think
about the extent to which present problems are related
to isolation and to fear of and failure to understand
the unknown "other."
the cocoon of home, a traveler learns how people live
in the rest of the world, what they care about. After
you've been to Beijing, television coverage of helmeted
soldiers beating students to the pavement in Tienanmen
Square affects you in ways that people who haven't been
there simply cannot appreciate.
You are exposed
to the greatest beauty of man and nature: the architectural
brilliance of cathedrals and castles, the breathtaking
majesty of the Himalayas.
While on the
road, you are summoned neither by a ringing phone nor
by a yard waiting to be mowed. Instead, there's time
for contemplation, even solitude. Travel provides time
for setting new priorities, deciding how to allocate
your time when you return.
travel means meeting personal challenges, such as trekking,
diving, or climbing-awakening what someone called the "adrenaline
daily exercise and mental stimulation experienced on
the road, you return full of energy and plans, eager
to get into action.
travel memories are of people. As we travel, we trade
life stories, speak our minds, break free from familiar
roles. Staying in touch with friends made on the road,
local people as well as other travelers, is one of life's
many emotions. For example, you may find yourself in
the midst of people living in wretched conditions. Seeing
such people as individual human beings rather than electronic
images on a TV screen may arouse your compassion, compelling
you to take action to improve their conditions. It doesn't
happen to all travelers, but it could happen to you.
part of the solution. The more people understand about
the beliefs and principles that motivate people of other
cultures around the world, the more likely we are to
find common cause and harmony.
In the end,
travel is freedom. Freedom from the weight of possessions,
freedom from ruts, freedom to be the person you think
of yourself as being.
One last point.
I don't intend to travel to prove to terrorists that
I'm not afraid of them. I won't let them motivate me
one way or the other. I'll travel to experience other
cultures and challenges to help me reach my full potential
as a human being.