Reflections on a turbulent year…

Reflections on a turbulent year…

There’s no doubt about it: 2016 has been a difficult year. With the ongoing refugee crisis, continued attacks of ISIS in the Middle East and Europe, and continued volatility and instability across whole swathes of the world making many places a no go area, it would be easy to throw up your hands at the state of the world and despair. With further fallout from Brexit, the prospect of Donald Trump in the White House, and the far right casting an ominous shadow over many European countries that are holding elections next year, it can be hard to feel optimistic about what 2017 has in store, too.

You know all this, of course, and you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about it on a travel blog, beyond the obvious point that such turmoil has a knock-on effect on where and how you are able to travel in more ways than one. There are plenty of places online where you can read about the practical implications of being, say, a Muslim who was hoping to visit the USA, or a British citizen fretting about the implications of Brexit on their freedom of movement with Europe. Here, I want to look at it from a slightly different angle, starting with some wise words once written by Vance, a friend of mine:

“I firmly believe travel is a requirement to straighten this world out — getting out and digging up common ground with others teaches that we are rather similar with no need to quarrel.”

Beautifully and concisely put, and says it all really. Done the right way – ethically, responsibly, and with as many selfless intentions as you can have – travel can indeed be a great teacher and healer. In a world where it sometimes feels like more and more people are subscribing to divisive, insular, ‘us and them’ rhetoric, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that there really are more people out there who can see past the barriers and share in our common humanity than you might think. Travel can open your eyes to that.

Case in point, the recent project I was fortunate enough to be a part of in Tanzania. Getting involved in such a project is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. A two-year long labour of love that culminated in leaving a long-lasting and tangible gift to a remarkable group of young people. I’m being totally sincere when I say they are remarkable. The hardships they have faced in their life are almost too upsetting to think about, and yet they are so happy and uncomplaining. The humbling hours we spent in their company taught us much; not least that they were not so ‘other’ as we thought. We did, indeed, find common ground to dig up.

I try to stay down to earth about what I was involved in Tanzania this past summer. We’re not kidding ourselves that building a library for one School in one area on the outskirts of Moshi is going to change the world. Nor do we think that it is going to automatically solve all the ongoing issues that the children of the School face. But we know for sure that they are truly grateful for their library, and that many of them will benefit from the new worlds and possibilities that it will open up to them too.

As I’ve said before, this project didn’t just change the lives of the kids in Tanzania. The 14 teenage girls we took out there had their eyes opened very wide to a world beyond that which they experience within the narrow confines of a privileged and sheltered upbringing. That, by the way, is not meant as a slight on them at all. They can’t choose the life they’re born in to any more than those of the children who stole their hearts out in Tanzania can. But the exposure they had to a culture they’d previously thought alien did, I think, change them and their outlook for the better. The lessons they will take with them from this experience gives me hope for what they might be able to do to shape the world in the future.

My previous experiences in other countries such as Uganda have also taught me that having our humanity in common can be enough.

Not everyone can travel. It is a privilege, not a right, and as much as the impoverished of Tanzania can’t travel, neither can many in my own country, or many other ‘first world’ equivalents. It is important to note that many of those who, say, voted for Trump are disenfranchised and alienated for reasons and circumstances that, often, prevent them from travelling like many of us can. Which is why those of us who can travel must never, ever take it for granted; and nor should we shun those who cannot.

I certainly don’t claim to have the answers on where we go from here. The best I can do is look to the simple, straightforward, almost innocent goodness that I witnessed and experienced in Tanzania this past summer. I saw the best of what humanity is capable of, and it made me believe that we can do better than recent events have suggested. I look forward to 2017 and all the storms we may (or hopefully may not) have to weather with faith and hope in humanity. I simply have to.

And if travel has only taught me to do one thing, it’s that.




  • Sumti

    December 27, 2016 at 5:56 pm Reply

    You are part of the good project. Wish you all the best for 2017 !!

    • Joe

      December 27, 2016 at 10:50 pm Reply

      Thanks, same to you 🙂

  • Sheena

    December 28, 2016 at 4:14 am Reply

    I’m definitely looking forward to a New Year – though 2016 has been rough in many ways on a global scale, there have also been positives, as in every year. While you may not have changed the world, you definitely had an impact on many young lives through your visit to Tanzania. We can’t control many things but we can control how we live our lives, so I’m sending big respect your way. Here’s to 2017!

    • Joe

      December 28, 2016 at 8:36 am Reply

      Thank you Sheena 🙂 There have indeed been positives, and I guess we all need to remember that – plus angsting about things beyond our control probably isn’t particularly healthy! My best wishes to you for a great 2017 too.

  • Tatum skipper

    December 28, 2016 at 10:47 am Reply

    Through all the craziness going on in the world it is so refreshing to see people standing up and helping others. For some reason I recently have found myself wanting to volunteer and help others more. Thanks for being a great role model! Hope you have a great 2017!!

    • Joe

      December 28, 2016 at 11:47 am Reply

      That’s so great to hear – I hope you find a great opportunity for yourself soon, and feel free to drop me a line if you want any suggestions etc. Hope you have a great 2017 too! 🙂

  • Jesper, The Biveros Effect

    December 28, 2016 at 11:24 am Reply

    Can only agree, we cannot take the opportunity to travel for granted. There are so many negative things happening around the globe. Border that was once open are today closed and countries once on the top of a travelers list are on the lists of countries recommended not to visit. I usually think about Rajka in Hungary as a reminder. This is a town at next to the border crossing of three countries – Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Not too many years ago this was where the Iron Curtain kept people from crossing the border. Today you can walk around the stone that marks where the three borders meet, visiting all three countries within a minut. Hopefully the amount of borders like this one will increase instead of decrease. 🙂
    Jesper, The Biveros Effect recently posted…Our Top 20 Destinations 2016My Profile

    • Joe

      December 28, 2016 at 11:49 am Reply

      Amen to that Jesper. That is such a positive thing to read about: thanks for sharing it! 🙂 As you say, I can only hope that there will be more examples such as this fine one appearing across the world as we head in to the future.

  • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

    December 28, 2016 at 3:30 pm Reply

    My husband and I are Americans living in Europe, and we were just talking about this – whether the world is more dangerous or scary than in the past or whether it just seems like it. Yes, Brexit, Trump, Syria – these are what make headlines, but my grandpa survived WWII and my mom talks about learning to “duck and cover” in grade school because of the Cold War. Unfortunately, the media typically only reports on disasters and tragedies, which creates a false sense of doom. I agree with your positive outlook, and I firmly believe that the more one travels, the more one realizes that no country, region, or town is as the media portrays it. Your volunteer experience is a great reminder to all of us to try not just to travel for selfish reasons but to somehow give back to the communities we visit.

    • Joe

      December 28, 2016 at 5:00 pm Reply

      Totally get what you’re saying Carrie. It’s got a lot to do with our age of instant information, I think, which has made it easier for the media to whip things up in to a frenzy. Very often the people who spread the most fear are the ones who don’t have the direct experience; I’m thinking of a parent who wouldn’t let her daughter join us in Tanzania as she had the idea in her head that it was a hotbed of terrorism, despite the fact she had never been there and I had! I’m sincerely hoping that things won’t escalate to WWII/Cold War levels – I wonder what your grandad makes of it all. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Lisa Martin

    December 28, 2016 at 3:33 pm Reply

    Very eloquently written. 2016 has been a hard year across the board, it seems no matter who you talk to. Thanks for shining a little light for the upcoming new year, the world could certainly use it.

    • Joe

      December 28, 2016 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Thanks Lisa. My sincerest hope is that as many people who read this as possible will draw on the positives they have experienced in 2016, as we enter the new year.

  • neha

    December 29, 2016 at 4:35 am Reply

    I so strongly with you that travel is a very strong way of uniting the world. Only when people assimilate and respect the other cultures out there can they become better human beings. Your writing is very touching. 2016 was a hard year for us too. Lets begin the new year with new hopes

    • Joe

      December 29, 2016 at 8:39 am Reply

      Thanks 🙂

  • Dane

    December 29, 2016 at 11:35 am Reply

    Well written and completely true! It is so easy to take these things for granted! This was a nice positive thing to be able to read though at the end of a year like this. I find it is often the people from some of the most impoverished places that often offer the most hope to us.

    • Joe

      December 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm Reply

      Couldn’t agree more Dane! I’ve learnt a heck of a lot from my experiences in the likes of Tanzania and Uganda 🙂 Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by.

  • Hra

    December 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm Reply

    Wow !What an awesome experience!! Thanks for sharing with us.. Happy 2017

  • Kristina

    December 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm Reply

    Travel is SO important to broadening minds and understanding the earth more. I fear with everything that has happened this year, many people will be too afraid to travel. Hopefully that won’t be the case. Wonderful post!

  • sophie

    December 29, 2016 at 2:48 pm Reply

    Well Well Well it looks you had one of the best experiences of your life in this year, Happy 2017! Cheers 🙂

  • Anthony Jury

    December 30, 2016 at 4:24 am Reply

    “I firmly believe travel is a requirement to straighten the world out”
    Great quote and I couldn’t agree more. Travel is what makes everyone so happy, social and at the end of day it is a common peace. 2016 was a hard year, so much tragedy and the last week is hitting as hard as it did the whole year. Onwards and forward, i wish you a happy and safe new year.

    • Joe

      December 30, 2016 at 8:14 am Reply

      Thanks Anthony: I will be sure to pass on your words to the man who wrote that quote 🙂 Yes, I agree that the last week or two has been tough – the year in microcosm, really – so the best thing to do is to look forward, not back! I wish you a happy and safe new year too.

  • Cameron

    December 30, 2016 at 8:16 am Reply

    Many of us live very privileged lives there is no doubt about that. However, travel is such an incredible thing. Have a great 2017.

    • Joe

      December 30, 2016 at 8:18 am Reply

      Indeed, which is why those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to do it should seize the opportunity with both hands. Happy New Year to you too! 🙂

  • TheRedRidingHood

    December 30, 2016 at 8:18 am Reply

    I made this as my favourites ? you write in a very touching and sensitive way. All the best!

  • Mike

    December 30, 2016 at 10:51 am Reply

    Tanzania sounds fantastic and it’s lovely that you were there to see and experience a bit about their lives. I totally agree with you that travelling is a privilege not a right. Many of us take it for granted now. Thanks for sharing your beautiful post.
    Mike recently posted…Favourite Pictures from my Travels in 2016My Profile

    • Joe

      December 30, 2016 at 1:24 pm Reply

      It was – especially as we had been working toward our trip out there for the best part of two years! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • stacey

    December 31, 2016 at 8:07 am Reply

    A great post, unfortunately the prospect will be a reality on January 20th. But you are right politics have a lot to do with travel but it also has the prospect of t=changing the course of politics. Oh the irony.

    • Joe

      December 31, 2016 at 8:42 am Reply

      Thank you Stacey 🙂 Enjoy the next 20 days I guess…and keep your fingers crossed that it won’t turn out as bad as we fear it will. That’s all we can do!

  • Wanderlust vegans

    December 31, 2016 at 1:19 pm Reply

    Good for you for getting involved and trying to make a difference. It sounds like you are being modest saying you know your contribution isn’t going to solve the world’s problems all of a sudden. I understand but you are doing more than a lot of us are and you contribution does help. Indeed, us travellers need to be grateful for the opportunities we have.

    • Joe

      December 31, 2016 at 1:32 pm Reply

      Thank you 🙂 I get what you’re saying, and the point that all of us who travel should be grateful does bear repeating, but travelling in of itself can be a great help to other people, if done in a responsible manner that helps to contribute to the local community. Small gestures can be important too!

  • Jure

    January 2, 2017 at 8:43 am Reply

    It’s refreshing to read an article like this on a travel blog. Far too often we travel bloggers only focus on writing about superficial aspects of travel.

  • Adam, Bite of Iceland

    January 2, 2017 at 10:59 am Reply

    What an amazing experience! It’s such a beautiful post 🙂 I must say, that you’re a big inspiration 🙂
    Adam, Bite of Iceland recently posted…Christmas in Iceland – Watch out! The Yule Cat is coming!My Profile

  • Sudipto

    January 2, 2017 at 2:07 pm Reply

    This is such a beautiful project you’re part of. Changing lives through travel is a very novel idea. Do tell us a bit about the food of the place as we would like to travel there too.
    Sudipto recently posted…Viking : A walk into the history, Roskilde DenmarkMy Profile

    • Joe

      January 2, 2017 at 4:30 pm Reply

      Ah, I’m fortunate to be in a position to undertake a project such as this: not everyone can be so fortunate! East African food is great, particularly if you like our food a bit on the spicy side! There’s a misconception that it’s all about Ugali and grilled meat. Whilst these are widely available, the best chefs can whip up some very tasty dishes 🙂

  • Abhinav Singh

    January 2, 2017 at 6:04 pm Reply

    Personally 2016 was a miracle year for me. I even did a blog on this yesterday. But I understand what you are saying. World politics does have an impact on individuals and the way we travel. I hope sense prevails in 2017.

    • Joe

      January 2, 2017 at 7:49 pm Reply

      I just read your post you’re referring to – very inspiring, congratulations 🙂 Fingers crossed that sense does indeed prevail. Let’s wait and see…

  • Brown Gal Trekker

    January 2, 2017 at 7:27 pm Reply

    It’s great that you’re contributing in addition to traveling. I was hoping to see more of this when I started 3 months ago as I launched mine with a focus on promoting mountain trekking tours and local sustainable tourism. Very inspiring. Thanks for writing this.

    • Joe

      January 2, 2017 at 7:51 pm Reply

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s important that you are focusing on responsible and sustainable trekking with what I assume is your trekking company? It does make an important difference too. We went with a trekking group when we explored the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania after our time at the KYGN School. I will get to blogging about this at some point 🙂

  • Ivana

    January 2, 2017 at 9:53 pm Reply

    2016 has been rough for sure. It’s admirable that you were able to be part of that project and help others while travelling. This will inspire others to do the same. Happy 2017!

    • Joe

      January 2, 2017 at 11:19 pm Reply

      For it to inspire others would be my greatest wish. Happy 2017 to you too 🙂

  • philip

    January 3, 2017 at 4:31 am Reply

    What would you say are some ethical travel resources? Do you think you could develop one?

    Thanks for your insight. It’s great!

    • Joe

      January 3, 2017 at 8:25 am Reply

      If you mean what would I define as an ethical travel resource, it would be an informative post on a blog, or a section in a travel guide book, that advises you on how to travel responsibly and ethically. An example of this would be a post of mine on being responsible when volunteering overseas:

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Travelpeppy

    January 3, 2017 at 4:38 am Reply

    It is very easy to take these things for granted. A very well complied post, It is really great that you were able to be the part of this project. Well done
    Travelpeppy recently posted…Best Places in South East Asia for Christmas & New Year DestinationsMy Profile

  • Indrani

    January 3, 2017 at 7:30 am Reply

    Very well written. Yes traveling is a privilege only the lucky few experience it.
    Wit changing political scenarios I hope the world becomes a better place to live in and safer place to travel. Happy new year!
    Indrani recently posted…2017! Happy New Year! and my Best Sunset Pictures of 2016My Profile

  • Matt Hulland

    January 3, 2017 at 10:28 am Reply

    Fantastic project. You’re right that one library may not change the world, not everything has to, but it will change lives, especially for the kids nearby. Education is so important, you are helping them to change and projects like this are priceless. Great work!

    • Joe

      January 3, 2017 at 11:53 am Reply

      Thank you Matt 🙂

  • Stefano

    January 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm Reply

    What a great experience 🙂 . It’s really admirable you dedicate yourself to this important initiave. It’s such a great inspiration for us :). We’re thinking to do the same for our next travels…thanks for sharing this amazing post
    Stefano recently posted…The first EVER 3D One Piece exhibition in the WorldMy Profile

    • Joe

      January 3, 2017 at 6:37 pm Reply

      Thank you Stefano, that is such a lovely thing to hear. I hope you do indeed get to do something similar on our next trip – look forward to hearing about it 🙂

  • Jitaditya Narzary

    January 4, 2017 at 6:01 pm Reply

    You seemed to have a great year in terms of learning. Even I had an uneven year. There were lows but there were highs too. Eventually I think this is what travel teaches us, to take eveything into the stride.
    Jitaditya Narzary recently posted…Make traveling to Bangalore a care-free experienceMy Profile

    • Joe

      January 4, 2017 at 6:41 pm Reply

      Yep, agreed – can’t think of a better way to gain perspective than through travel 🙂

  • Brian

    January 4, 2017 at 10:09 pm Reply

    “Optimistic” is a Radiohead song. Who knew (that’s an Eminem song) that Harry Potter was such a philosopher? Your friend Vance has it right. Is he a Rick Steves fan?
    Brian recently posted…5 Ways to Experience Luang Prabang, LaosMy Profile

  • What a wonderful experience of life. You are really a inspiration to me, to all of us. There are so many problems in the world… So bad there aren´t more people like you.

    • Joe

      January 6, 2017 at 7:14 am Reply

      Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you to say so 🙂

Post a Comment

CommentLuv badge