Monday, May 23, 2011

Traveling at home: It's in your backyard

I have not written about traveling for the past few weeks, and that is because I have been involved in helping a group of students understand the complexities of urban planning, justice, and sustainability. I am back in Ann Arbor now after having spent an incredible two weeks in Delray and Detroit, away from the privilege of this town. How the experiences of these past two weeks have changed me I am unsure of. What I do know is that I have changed. In-depth conversations with the residents of Delray and animated discussions with the students in the class have provided me much to ponder about, much to mull over.

Travel is about time and space, just like trash. I feel as if I have come back from a long voyage of two months, not a two week trip to a neighbourhood forty miles away. Caleb had a reason why. He told me, "Time is a measure of change." It seems that a much longer time has passed because much has happened in my life (and the lives of the students taking the class - I can attest to that...I've been reading their journals) and I have learned much in these two weeks...all of this in our backyard, our backyard of Southeast Michigan

When we think of traveling, we think of faraway places, we think of exoticism, and we think of new people. Fundamentally it seems then that most traveling comes down to new experiences. Traveling takes you away from the routines many of us have become used to; traveling provides us a fresh look at the world and our neighbourhoods. What we learn on our travels impacts the choices we make and the way we live. What these past two weeks have further reinforced to me is that traveling can happen right here, right now. A new destination is in your backyard, on your street, and possibly in your own room. It is just a matter of perception.

This may be quite obvious to say, but the difference we can make in the world depends on how we choose to be affected by and respond to what surrounds us. It is possible to walk down the streets of Ann Arbor, or wherever you live, go on the same walk you've been on many times before, and have it change your world view, or at least modify it slightly. As I have mentioned before, reality is what we make of what surrounds us.  Now while I am not saying that people should not go to faraway places, what I am saying is that despite all the pressures of being "upwardly mobile" and gaining "social capital," traveling, and learning and action more broadly, consists solely of opening up ourselves to the possibilities that constantly surround us. Such a mindfulness will hopefully make us consider the ecological impacts of our choices.


  1. This is right on, but I think another important dimension of travel is the sense of wonder and exploration that a "foreign" place so easily conjures in our minds. Attaining the same degree of wonder and desire to explore in our own backyards requires more effort and intentionality, whereas it can be more of a passive event when we are away from home. Perhaps that is why we are less prone to search our own hometowns for travel-like adventure... It takes more concentration, and is therefore more depleting of our directed attention, to achieve the same feeling of "being away" in our hometowns than when we are actually far from home.

  2. Definitely true. In some ways I think some people have a sort of local blindness that is caused by a glamorization of travel. Definitely have to learn to appreciate what we have before we don't. Great post.