I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative travel experience staying with someone else. Lucky? Perhaps. But the more I hear from other travellers, the more I’ve to conclude that it’s not just me. Dan Ross, my housemate and friend who cycled the world for one whole year concluded that one of the main things he learnt from travelling, was that everyone is so nice! And he visited tens of cultures, stayed plenty of nights with locals and was well prepared for things not so nice!
And so, we join with the common hashtag #FaithinHumanityRestored. Or do we?
Partly because I’m a cynical git, and partly because I’m not so sure humanity is quite so nice, I wonder whether these experiences could be explained by some other things?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a Couchsurfing host and when no friends are around for a weekend, I’m all for sharing life with passers-by, and enjoying the wide-ranging flavours of various cultures. No person is ever the same, no visitor a bore. (except perhaps those ones who think they are [in one evening] culturally on a wavelength, and pretend that they know all. And even they’re good craic to be laughed at.)
But even the peskiest Couchsurfers I’ve ever had (and I’ve had some pesky ones), have normally been worth the experience getting to know. Someone who I can have the craic with for one evening and know that they’re gone in the morning or in a few days, never to be seen again. What’s not to like? And if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it.
But that’s it isn’t it. Hosting people for a night or two isn’t really proving how wonderful humanity is. It gives me something to do that entertains me, educates me, lets me express myself, and makes me feel like I’m being generous and a better human all with little cost. It’s the perfect pat on my back.
That said, I still do it and I’m not knocking those who do. It’s brilliant.
But if that restores our faith in humanity, our faith is easily conjured up and isn’t based on much! Recently I was at a prayer meeting where they’d heard of an international student who got pregnant and wanted the child but wouldn’t be given funding from the state. Whilst praying, several of the group set about ways to keep this woman as long as she needed to remain in the country to study, even though virtually every landlord she approached threw her out. Raising 700euros/month and finding 2 Christian landlords who’d not mind her being pregnant, this woman is now being sustainably looked after.
And in case you think this is a nice one-off example, I could tell stories of many of my friends in this city who in their spare evenings or half hours, will sit down next to a homeless person and continue getting to know them and helping them. One who took one homeless man home recently to shower him, scraping faeces off his clothing and legs and giving him dignified things to wear.
Now that, regularly and sustainably done, would restore my faith in…whatever has changed those people to make them like that.
Restored faith in humanity? Some instances yes, but generally not through travel. Perhaps the fact that we’re even so surprised at such positive experiences in travel means there’s something more wrong with humanity that we thought.