Political awareness in travel

Cairo, Egypt

Part of the totality of a place is its politics, and in long-term travel you’ll likely pass through a variety of political landscapes that affect the lives of the people who call a place home. The Egyptian man above, for example, challenged the legitimacy of his President’s 30-year-old rule and on February 2 of this year had a flying rock rip loose part of his lip. (Interestingly, if you were to walk about 60 seconds to either his right or left, you’d find several travel agencies offering deals on Nile cruises, desert excursions, and Sinai beach resorts; they were, however, closed this particularly day, and most travelers were packed into the Cairo airport trying to get out of the country.)

Political situations are worth paying attention to, but not only in order to gauge the stability or safety of a potential travel destination. Understanding the basics of Thai politics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the Colombian civil war will go a long way in helping you understand a country and will help you make the most of a visit there. Sometimes, of course, we go to a place knowing next to nothing but, once there, experience something that alters the course of our lives. A powerful example of this is the life of Sean Carosso, who while traveling in Africa in 2007 wrote the following in his journal:


I yelled at thieving monkeys and saw Nelson Mandela yell from stage. Cried in refugee camps and laughed during moonlight dances. Saw a baby born and parents buried. Went south to scream from the bottom of the world and made my way north to see Ugandan children become visible. Slept in mansions and huts, ate porridge and gazelle, swam with otters, fended off pickpockets and rarely showered, stopped, or stood still.


For two months, there was death and destruction,

failure and fear, adventure.wonder.motion.

But all around was a pervasive hope moving steadily

toward what could only be described as progress


Stories of change everywhere to be found. Until I walked into the chaos of Congo.


The so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, home to one of history’s deadliest wars.

Strange circumstances led me to her doorstop, but there I stood ready to see

what she might show my western eyes.

The following is what they saw.


You can read the rest of his entry and learn about the organization that emerged at www.fallingwhistles.com/story. It’s a powerful site.

The U.S. State Department’s Background Notes is one source for a quick political overview of a country. Idealist.org is a popular site for checking out volunteer opportunities, including ones that might intersect with political issues. For example, Bustan Qaraaqa is listed there; it’s a community permaculture project based just outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | July 26, 2011
Category: Ethical Travel, Images from the road, Volunteering Abroad

2 Responses to “Political awareness in travel”

  1. GypsyGirl Says:

    Joel, I respect the fact you returned to Cairo to document the events. I find it both puzzling and sad that violence is still acceptable to solve problems. My heart skips a beat every time I think of the Congo; like the epicenter of hell on earth. Thank you for sharing the link for the rest of Sean’s entry. I’ll be sure to check that out.

  2. Heather Says:

    Similarities in his post with some of my experiences and reading about his experiences in Congo wishing I could find circumstances that would permit me to go, hoping I can find my way to Rwanda and from their a visit to Congo. Then as I read on, you mention Bustan Qaraaqa, I stayed their during a research trip during Christmas! One of my favorite ways to travel, I got to feed chickens, help with a break in their irrigation and learned to prune olive trees. Plus I got to spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem with all new friends, bottles of wine, and my very first fruit cake that was stronger than a shot! I love traveling and I love the traveling community!