When I first started working for Lonely Planet (who I left last year), in fact in the first week, I posted on this blog a rather scathing criticism of the Trades Union Congress who had called for a boycott of Lonely Planet:
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The very existence of a travel guide to Burma encourages people to visit a country they might not otherwise consider. We want to see the travel industry drop Burma from their list of destinations and taking the Lonely Planet guidebook off the shelves would help enormously. If enough people sign our petition and stop buying Lonely Planet guides, we hope we can encourage the BBC to think again.’
That post caused a 2am phone call from the then CEO of Lonely Planet asking me – very politely – to remove it as it was an exceptionally sensitive issue and Lonely Planets stance on it was to not comment beyond the statements made by Tony Wheeler (founder). The issue turned out to really be about the fact I’d provided a detailed way for people to tell the TUC what a dim witted and stupid thing they were doing. To tell the TUC quite how fantastically moronic they were being – I provided tools (a pre-written letter complete with email, fax and postal addresses) in order for other travellers – who I thought would flock to my flag – to tell them what they thought. The post wasn’t removed or rewritten, but the tools were taken down.
I’m raising this again now, not because I want to have another go at the TUC, but because it highlights something that is crucial in the understanding of our world. Particularly at a time when we are seeing an increase in troubled areas that could quite easily get thrown in the pot with Burma. I want to attack the premise that if we don’t agree with what a government (or dictator for that matter) is doing – then we should not ‘support’ that authority by travelling there. You Have Got To Be Kidding Me.
Travel is the single best way to support people of any country where the government is less than, shall we say, supportive of the general populous. By buying from the local stores to paying for the bus you’re helping people earn money and most importantly you’re doing two other things.
- Helping them see something of a world they may not be allowed to see.
- Letting you see the reality of that country unhindered by a media lens.
The second point is the most important, but only if you share that understanding. What happens when you come home? You tell a few friends, you maybe do a talk somewhere about this amazing journey – about what you got out of it. Perhaps you’ve even posted photos and short updates from the road on Facebook to your friends. But we now live in a world were you have an absolute responsibility to share not only what you learned on a personal level – but also what that country and its people are like at the ground level – to as wide an audience as possible.
You’re not a citizen journalist, you’re not an author, you’re not a journalist from a large media organisation ‘on the ground’. You’re a real person, coloured with prejudice and misunderstandings – you’re just like the rest of us. That view is vital to the broader understanding of the realities of the country you’re visiting.
I’m sure I don’t need to go into the various ways you can share what you’ve learnt, your journey of discovery, with the rest of the world – but please do consider the next time you take a trip – start a blog, create a public facebook page, start a twitter stream, shout from the rooftops – anything to let people know what the world is really about, and let us learn from each other – warts and all.