“The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing. The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together.” — Bill Gates
As humans, we’ve always been interested in exploring and expanding our world. Historically, we crossed deserts, climbed mountains, and sailed the seas mostly to grow empires, spread religion, fight wars, or find new trade routes. The “discovery” of flight played a huge role in traveling for travel’s sake, because travel could be done relatively quickly and cheaply. This helped create a global community, as we met our neighbors out of a curiosity to see and experience unfamiliar cultures.
The increased ease and accessibility of travel happened relatively quickly. Although our earliest ancestors have been around for millions of years, civilization as we know it began just 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s only been about 2,000 years since we (mostly) all agreed that the world isn’t flat. And we’ve been flying for just over 100 years: The famous Wright Brothers flight took place in 1903, and modern airlines emerged about 30 years after that.
At first only the very wealthy – and very patient – were flying. Flights cost as much as $20,000 when adjusted for inflation, and overseas flights took up to a couple of weeks to complete. A flight from London to Brisbane in 1938 took 11 days, with over a dozen stops. One British advertisement for an especially speedy flight boasted, “By air to South Africa or India in less than a week!”
But the excitement of going somewhere that very few people get to go rouses the imagination. It’s what put 2,224 people on a British passenger liner bound for New York City in 1912. It’s what spurred the Wright Brothers to make one of the biggest discoveries of the modern era. It’s what took us to the moon.
In the 1950s and 1960s, it’s what had movie stars and business moguls jet-setting across the country and even around the world. Today, traveling even to the farthest reaches of the globe takes less than a day and is much more affordable.
The impact of world travel on our evolution as a species has been huge: As we’ve experienced new cultures, we’ve come to appreciate and honor the differences. Our travel has become much more peaceful in nature, without the need to overtake or somehow manipulate the places we visit. Often when we visit a place, we come back home and find ourselves incorporating small bits of that culture into our everyday lives, such as by enjoying a new food, art form, or activity.
The first time my family visited Mexico, I was 9 years old. To say that I had highly anticipated the chance to use my very beginner’s Spanish with real Spanish-speakers would be an understatement. For weeks, I had become much more focused in my after-school Spanish class, trying to remember words that would come in handy during the visit. So when my family and I walked through a Mexican street market and a miniature bright pink sombrero covered in colorful sequins caught my eye, I knew this was my chance. I nervously smiled at the street vendor and began bartering with him. I was doing it – I was communicating with this person who seemed so different than I.
Yes, I had read and possibly learned a little about Mexican culture. But nothing compares to the moment I held that sparkly sombrero in my small hands and smiled up at the man who had bartered back and forth with me, smiling back down at me.
By Rebecca Fischer
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