Why the freedom to travel matters

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott

Travel site Uncornered Market founders Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott explore what ‘freedom to travel’ means to them

After having travelled together to over 90 countries during the last 15 years, Audrey and I are often asked: “What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt?”

Deep breath.

I feel as though my attempt to answer each time is never really up to the task of honouring the experience. The evidence stacks up almost too high, even for a single outing. My travels leave such deep imprints in and on me that I must, on occasion, deliberately take time to unpack those lessons, much as I might my luggage upon concluding a trip.

“Countries are no longer shapes on a map or hotspots on the breaking news, but instead are places filled with stories of someone who invited you in for tea, wrote you a poem, guided you when you were lost, or helped you see life in a different light.”

Nowadays, we have the opportunity to embark on journeys that were not too long ago unthinkable. The opportunities to explore the world, to feel and experience and comprehend it, are so vastly different and more broadly accessible than they were even just a generation or two ago. As modern transportation has placed us within a day or two of most of the world’s destinations, we stand at a moment in the history of travel that speaks to a remarkable privilege – one that is almost too easy to take for granted.

Still, our attention is captured, our sense of mystery engaged. Travel is thrilling. If we look at it right, travel can be viewed as the ultimate act of appreciation.


Like running one’s hands through the soil of a robust garden at the harvest, travel is a vein of appreciation that seeks to know what’s at the root of our existence, of our being human – together.

A simple, yet powerful message: we should all have the right to travel freely.

Twenty-four reasons why the freedom to travel matters

1. It enables us to better understand ourselves, our world, and our place in it

You can stop here if you like. The rest is ‘the how’.

2. It helps transform our fears into curiosity

Travel is the ideal laboratory to question and test all the assumptions that underlie your fears, so that you may emerge with new conclusions and evolve not only your thinking, but also who you believe you are.

3. It expands the boundaries of what you thought was possible – not only for you, but also for others

Travel helps us press the edges of our perceived limitations, so that we may re-imagine them and continue to reach beyond.

4. It spurs us all to be storytellers

Travel provides a platform to tell your story and to hear the stories of others, then return home and tell a new story, a shared story.

5. It cultivates a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect

It does this in light of all the grandness and beauty, natural and man-made, around us, on the road…and curiosity begins at home.

Following a cheetah on his morning hunt in the Serengeti.

6. It reaffirms that in all of life’s struggles, we are never alone

Travel and you will realise that whatever physical, emotional, and financial challenges you face, there’s someone halfway around the world that struggles similarly.

7. It evolves our perspective and helps us see things in a new way

Travel not only shifts our thinking about the places we visit, but it can also help us carry back a spirit of innovation into our daily lives, personally and professionally.

8. It reveals the unexpected, if we open ourselves up to it

For as much as we all construct our itineraries, our innermost secret hope is that we will find something new, something we never could have planned. Travel often delivers.

Clouds lift, revealing the stunning Karanfil Mountains, Albania.

9. It enables us to accumulate experiential wisdom

It’s one thing to read about a place, it’s another to walk its streets, eat its food and engage with its people. Travel is among the most effective forms of experiential learning there is.

10. It develops humility. That is, humbleness

The larger the world, the smaller your place in it. Fortunately, this re-sizing of self is also simultaneously paired with a sense of how great our individual impact on the lives of others can be.

Get amongst it, New Zealand.

11. It allows us to open up and let go

When everything around you is changing at pace, as is often the case on the road, sometimes the best choice – the only choice – is to accept it, to surrender to uncertainty, and simply be present amidst all that swirls around you.

12. It bends stereotypes to the point of breaking

Travel helps unpack prevailing narratives about others and ourselves. In TED parlance, travel can aid a departure from the single story, to many stories and multiple threads.

Dancing at the market in Urgench, Turkmenistan.

13. It builds empathy

Travel continually exposes you to people and contexts much different than your own. Listening to, understanding and connecting with the feelings, thoughts, and stories of others helps to strengthen your empathy muscle.

14. It helps bind us to our history, our arc

The experience of travel reinforces that although we may appear very different from one another, we often are working towards a common goal of making a life for ourselves and seeking a better life for those who will follow us long after we are gone. This relationship ties us to our past, binds us to our present and links us to our future.

15. It re-shapes “other” into “us”

Fear of ‘other’ is easy, and frankly it’s often understandable. Travel helps to swap that fear with memories of people you’ve met in the flesh. When this happens countries are no longer shapes on a map or hotspots on the breaking news, but instead are places filled with stories of someone who invited you in for tea, wrote you a poem, guided you when you were lost, or helped you see life in a different light.

Audrey shares a moment of laughter with the women visiting the sacred site of Paraw Bibi, Turkmenistan.

16. It serves as a platform to explore adventure in all its dimensions

Whether this is physical (such as climbing a mountain), emotional (such as doing something new that frightens you) or even psychological (such as re-imaging borders and barriers).

17. It cultivates your independence while revealing our greater interdependence

Whether you travel solo, with your family or in a group, travel flexes the ‘get out there’ independence muscle. At the same time, the experience of travel tells us that we need one another to get there and to enable those personal victories.

18. It connects us directly and firsthand to the environment and our impact on it

Ride water currents to glaciers halfway around the world that are retreating, and you begin to understand that your actions at home do have an impact worldwide.

New to the world, a young Gentoo penguin in Antarctica.

19. It empowers you to determine how and where you spend your tourism money

Spending in line with your values really can make a genuine positive impact on the local communities you visit.

20. It contributes significantly to economic growth and local job development

In 2014, the tourism industry was estimated at £5.13 trillion in annual revenue; it employed over 277 million people worldwide. That represents almost 10 per cent of total worldwide revenue, and one in 11 workers around the globe. Behind these staggering statistics, which are only expected to grow, are real people – mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters – all trying to make their way to better support their families.

21. It demonstrates that everyone has something valuable to share, something to give

Sometimes, it takes a visitor from the outside – wide eyes and all – to show us that what we sometimes take for granted in our daily lives is special, too. Next time: watch someone making the local bread or tortillas. Travel can serve as a remarkable platform of cultural pride and self-esteem.

Audrey attempts to make traditional Jordanian bread during a Zikra Initiative exchange.

22. It exposes our similarities, highlights our differences and reinforces our shared humanity

Travel exposes us to others, others to us, and each of us to one another – and uncovers the diversity of being and experience that defines what it means to be human.

23. It catalyses a feeling of inter-connectedness and greater community

When we go outside our front door, we find that we are part of a local community. Similarly, when we travel, we find that we are members of a worldwide community. This awareness binds us to care and to take responsibility for our own – that is, the world’s – wellbeing.

24. It reinforces that the more we seek to understand each other, the less likely we are to turn on one another

Travel may not ultimately deliver world peace, but it certainly can help.


The significance of travel ‘freedom’

So yes, it strikes us that travel is powerful, impactful, remarkable. But what’s so important about the ‘freedom’ part?

Not everyone has the same freedom to travel. Audrey and I carry American passports, providing us with arguably some of the greatest flexibility of movement of any passport in the world. Without our privilege, we would not be able to do a lot of what we do, in the way that we do it. Yet the freedom and right to travel can be restricted in various directions.

So what can we do?

We can act on whatever right we do have, and we can do so mindfully, pairing our freedom to travel with the responsibility to do so in a way that benefits everyone. We can help lay a foundation for others and make the case for a greater freedom to travel.

Travel is the act of movement. As you take your next step, your journey moves forward, and so it will for others, and ultimately for our planet.

This article was first published by Uncornered Market, winners of best responsible tourism blog at the 2015 World Responsible Tourism Awards. All photos © Uncornered Market.

Photo credit: © Uncornered Market

  • Anna Zimmerman

    ‘Collaboration’ (there is no explanation of what that means, but it is easy to guess) with any organisation whose sole aim is to promote excessive consumption by the rich West is not in accordance with the ethics of an organisation that purports to promote the interests of the whole of humanity.

    I’ve just found this on the WTTC website:

    ‘Policies for Growth WTTC campaigns for governments to implement policies that ensure the business environment is conducive to the growth of Travel & Tourism. This means planning and investing in appropriate infrastructure and creating a tax regime which allows the private sector to be competitive. WTTC has made it a priority to raise awareness of the negative impact punitive taxation has – particularly aviation tax – on inbound and outbound tourism.’

    So Positive News is ‘collaborating’ with an organisation that promotes investment in airports, fights fuel duties and supports low taxes for businesses (which means higher taxes for ordinary people).

    Apart from this, how about promoting the ability to obtain all of those benefits from simply staying put in one’s own environment? Perfectly possible…and spiritually/emotionally/environmentally preferable.

    Shame on you, Positive News. That is the last time you get any money from me. I’m really disgusted.

  • Wendy Skorupa

    I totally endorse Anna’s comments on this. I had thought Positive News editorial were clear-sighted and ethical. I thought they had totally ‘got’ the logic encompassed in the movement towards ever and more sustainable policies. This move to collaborate with an organisation who promote investment in air travel and all that goes along with it is quite inexplicable.

  • aaron millar

    Hi Anna & Wendy,

    Thanks for your comments … I’m the travel editor of Positive News. I just wanted to clarify that Positive News is in NO way collaborating with the World Travel and Tourism Council. This article was syndicated from another website, Uncornered Market, which has just won the world responsible tourism award for best responsible tourism blog.

    It’s true, unfortunately, that travel and tourism has not always been a force for good – and, like many industries, there are still many problems. This article is a result of the bloggers trying to work with the people at the WTTC to address some of those concerns and highlight a more positive and sustainable approach. There’s a growing movement in the travel industry now to create more sustainable practices and use travel as a means to spread good around the world. Some great examples of this include G Adventures new 50 in 5 initiative that will provide $5million of funding for 50 social enterprise projects in the destinations they visit – everything from conservation and animal rights to projects that empower women around the world. But there are hundreds of similar examples. I believe that (and this is my personal view, not necessarily connected with PN) that we should be working with the travel industry to accelerate these good practices and shout from the rooftops about the kind of travel that benefits the people and destinations we visit. That’s what a lot of this section is trying to do.

    PN is not collaborating with the WTTC, we’re not even in communication with them. But we should celebrate the success of Positive Travel initiatives around the world, just in the same way we celebrate positive developments in the energy field or medicine or any other global business. I think the points Uncornered Market outline above highlight the positive attributes of travel and advocate a mindful and conscious approach to exploring the world. I’m sorry you misunderstood the use of the word collaboration and I hope I’ve clarified why I decided to run this article. Please get in touch if you have any further questions.

    All the best,


  • Nikki Woodward

    A thorough article exploring the benefits of travel. As a student studying for my Applied Diploma in Permaculture I, as Anna and Wendy, have debated the sustainability of travel and the impact on the environment and exploitation that can happen. However, after much contemplation I am definitely decided that done in the right way it has so many benefits and in fact myself or my partner would not be who we are today without it. We have been lucky to travel quite extensively and to some very unusual destinations.

    I was not brought up with a strong sense of community, family, knowledge about the environment or other cultures. I didn’t know about vulnerability and poverty, what global warming meant, what deforestation and population were doing to the land. I knew little about our own history in Britain, I couldn’t picture it because I wasn’t there. I know I learn from experiences and for me, this is what I needed so I could develop my own values and share them with others. If travel can be avoided and these lessons can be learnt in alternative ways then that would be preferable. I just don’t know if it can.

    Watching the news I used to think the world was largely a bad place, war, terrorism and people you can not trust. So wrong was I. It taught me the kindness of strangers, sincerity and trust, and how communities could rely on each other, having little but sharing so much. If you believe the FCO advice you wouldn’t travel to where we have been, but infact there are only small pockets of dangers in countries and I am now not so naive to believe everything I hear or read in the media.

    With what I have learned I can challenge the views of others to make sure the world we live in is as fair and diverse as possible.

    In Ghana, I learned the value of work…everybody had a purpose. We need to fight for this as there is too much unemployment and mental health issues. I am trying to get young people into conservation volunteering.

    In Pakistan I saw how gender roles were defined and I have supported Central Asia Institute and World Pulse to educate more girls.

    I have seen how tribal people have become marginalised and I have supported Survival International to carry out there campaigning.

    I have seen how reliant people are in the high altitude area of Ladakh on ice melt for their drinking water, so I have campaigned against global warming.

    I have shared picnics with people in Iran who were so proud that we were visiting their country, I have challenged people’s views on Islam.

    I have witnessed the hard and simple life people face living in rural areas, making me realise how our own heritage in farming has changed e.g. churning butter, cooking from charcoal. I am striving to work for heritage conservation in my local area.

    When I am planning my work, I can see how everything is connected…soil, weather, land use, chemicals, food, transport, work, people, family, wildlife etc. Having this knowledge allows me to see more globally, to think of the impact of one thing on another. For example, take palm oil. Seeing the devastation of rainforests in Indonesia by plantations of Palm have made me look for products that do not contain it and I can express this with others with respect and justification as I have seen it. What concerns me now is the ‘alternative to sugar’ as far too many companies a not thinking about the environmental impact of this. I am just writing to Runners World and the One Show as they do not mention the negatives of alternatives at all.

    Most of all, I now believe in family and community. We organise street parties and have great relationships with our neighbours, we look out for each other. And the most important, we will hopefully become foster careers in the next few weeks. Without travel we are both pretty certain this would not have happened. We are open to diversity and want to share our life experiences with young people to hopefully ensure the next generation has great humanity and assumes environmental responsibility.

    Thank you for publishing this article.

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