There has been a lot of talk about the so called “social media” revolutions going on in the world. Is what happened in Tunisia and what is going on in Egypt and Yemen the result of an increased global communication? Twitter and Facebook might be the tools for global communication, but they certainly aren’t the first. Travelers are the first.
People often remark about the countries we’ve chosen to visit. Eyes widen when we discuss travel experiences in places like Colombia, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Uzbekistan. “Isn’t it dangerous?” people ask. “Your visa fee goes to support a repressive regime,” they sneer. “Isn’t their president indicted by the International Criminal Court?”
There are many arguments for and against traveling to countries whose government’s fail a moral litmus test. These arguments are completely valid and of course not to be taken lightly, but can tourism achieve what diplomacy cannot?
Before you laugh, let’s take a look at what tourism actually is. It’s a one-on-one industry. One that brings people from different cultures and backgrounds together. It’s one of only a few industries in which citizens of these regimes can have legal interaction with foreigners. Tourism, even if government controlled, like it is in Uzbekistan, pours money into private pockets. We may stay at a government sanctioned hotel, but we shop, eat and spend money on the street. Remember what happened to us in Asiyut, Egypt? Even with police escorts we still were able to shop and spend money wherever we wanted, even making friends on the street. Independent traveler’s often have the opportunity to distribute cash in a way more than any government or international aid organization could ever dream.
Most traveler’s don’t set out to change the world. They set out to explore a new country or meet some new people. Maybe they’re hoping to change their own world, but I doubt most of them are hoping to be a part of a revolution. The fact is every conversation, every personal interaction and every negotiation, exchanges ideas, encourages sharing and becomes part of our global communication.
At this very moment there are backpackers, just like us, in Egypt and across the Levant. Are they diplomats in their own right? Will their conversations, interactions and dealings provoke or continue the political change? With everything that’s going on surrounding them, I can only imagine what their stories will be like when the smoke clears. I can’t help but wonder what conversations and ideas they can share, even without modern day social media.