Austinite, journalist and traveler Shelley Seale is passionate about cultural exchange. Her blog Trading Places is all about the recent tourism shift from just snapping photos and checking off bucket lists to more “eco-friendly, hyper-local travel experiences.”
Shelley’s an expert at getting into the heart of a place and knows why travel matters. Here’s what she has to say about it:
Latitude: How long have you been traveling?
Shelley: In the states, since a child; internationally, since I received a month-long tour of Europe as a high school graduation present in 1984.
L: Where have you been?
S: According to my Trip Advisor map, I’ve visited nearly 500 cities in 46 countries.
L: Why did you start traveling and why do you keep traveling?
S: I have always had wanderlust in my blood. I think it maybe originated from being a bookworm – as I read about all these different places, people and experiences around the world, I realized how small my corner of it was. It sparked a curiosity in me to see different places and ways people live around the world.
Once I started traveling, I was hooked. That high school trip in 1984 absolutely created a travel bug in me that has never been satiated. To me, I don’t understand why anyone would be happy just experiencing one little corner of this magnificent world.
L: Why is travel important?
S: I think it’s HUGELY important in terms of the human thread of existence. Coming together to learn more about each other. There are so many different histories, cultures, traditions, beliefs, ways of life, etc all around the world – and to travel and both experience and understand them a little more, is incredible.
At the same time, you also discover just how much various people around the world have in common. A person across the globe with the MOST opposite type of life than you have – it’s so incredible to find out all the things you DO have in common. Most of us want love in our lives, to be happy, to have families or a social structure; we want a better life for our children, education, health. There are certain things that are just common in people all over. I personally think that if everyone traveled to somewhere very different, at least one time in their life, it would go a long way toward reducing/eliminating prejudice, fear, bigotry, war and the like.
L: How do you achieve “cultural exchange” in your trips?
S: I just really try to immerse myself in local traditions and try to find activities in which I can learn more about the people and culture. This can be anything from taking cooking classes in someone’s home; letting a local show you around their neighborhood; finding out what some of the favorite local spots and activities are; etc. Many tourism companies, especially LOCAL ones in the destination (not bigger outside ones), are really great for setting up small cultural experiences.
Another great way to get a true cultural exchange is through volunteering in the place you visit. In this way, you are often allowed into a place and a way of life that you simply aren’t in any other way. And you’re giving back as well. Home stays, home exchanges, staying in small independently run B&Bs etc are all good ways to really immerse yourself in local life.
L: Is it safe?
S: I’ve never had any real safety issues or concerns where I’ve traveled. I’ve been some crazy places that are sometimes unsafe (Kenya, India, etc) – but I would never go to some places at the moment, such as Afghanistan or Syria or Egypt. However, I just exercise appropriate caution and am careful and don’t put myself in too risky of situations.
And the truth is that home isn’t “safe” either. It’s not like we don’t have crime here in Austin. When you travel other places in the world, it’s always amazing to me how many people consider the US a very dangerous place to live (and rightly so).
L: What are the biggest lessons traveling has taught you?
S: I think mainly it’s what I said above – that the more you explore the world, the more you realize how different people and places are – yet at the same time, how very much alike we are as humans. It’s also taught me more about myself than probably any other experiences in my life.
Shelley’s got some more great insights on her blog, be sure to check it out!