My longtime readers may have noticed a change to the look of my blog this weekend, in the form of a rather flashy, somewhat annoying, repetitive banner, encouraging you to vote for this site on the Big Blog Exchange. If you’re a new reader to the site, welcome! I hope you like what you see (and vote)!
The competition, sponsored by Hostelling International, seeks to find 16 bloggers from across the globe to travel for 10 days and write about the experience. Of course, I would jump at the opportunity to travel (especially on someone else’s dime), but the more importantly, this is a wonderful chance to meet new people, exchange ideas, and share my thoughts and writings with a new, otherwise inaccessible, group of people. It is my belief that my desires and ambitions closely match those of “The Exchange,” and thus, it is a competition in which I felt strongly compelled to compete.
The stated goal of 80 Couches, aside from my dream of circumnavigating the globe through Couchsurfing, is to explore the world on all levels, including travel, knowledge, and philosophy. Exploration can occur on so many levels, all of which are important. We live one life on a small globe. Our lives are getting longer, and the globe is getting smaller. It is easier to explore than at any other time in our history. And we live in a time when we know more than ever before, and ironically, one in which we have more questions yet to be answered.
Jet travel and the Internet bring us closer together, and yet, they can also divide us like never before. We can no longer take an “us vs. them” mentality, because we’re all in this together. Alternatively, Carl Sagan put it better than I ever could in his book A Pale Blue Dot:
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Through media and everyday interactions, we see that our cultural differences have never been more stark, and yet, we are confronted with encroaching multidiversity within our own communities. We are forced to acknowledge these differences, and somehow incorporate them into our cultures. It is not easy, and at times, it can lead to discrimination, and unimaginable violence.
Our exploration can bring us knowledge, or it can lead us into the realm of superstition, pseudoscience, and nonsense. For every well-documented fact online, there are enough wild accusations and conspiracy theories to fill a stadium. In the “Information Age” we can choose to be well informed, or we can choose to disregard fact in lieu of opinion. Sometimes the choice isn’t consciously made, but rather the result of lazy reporting, nonexistent fact-checking, and a willingness to believe what fits with preconceived notions.
It is my goal, on 80 Couches, to gain new and unique perspectives from my travels. By seeing new cultures, sleeping on strangers’ couches, and seeing first hand how other people, even those within my own society, live, I further my understanding of the human condition. Only by directly interacting and experiencing new cultures first hand, can I fully appreciate the breadth of the human condition and understanding.
Further, and counter-intuitively, exploring the world often makes me appreciate my own culture and values that much more. Indeed, the first hot dog when returning to U.S. soil is by far the sweetest (or whatever adjective fits a hot dog best). Only after an extensive stint abroad can I return to those with similar backgrounds and begin to see the qualities that make my home unique and special. There are phrases, cuisine, and ways of doing things at home that make it unlike any other place on Earth.
But there are similarities too. For every local peculiarity and colloquialism, there are things seen and heard everywhere. For every couple making a joke at the local sports team’s expense and speaking in an incomprehensible dialect, there’s another enjoying a Coca-cola, talking about their dog, and frequently using the word, “OK.” And somewhere in the background, a Beatles song (or at least some terrible Muzak version) can be heard. When I see these moments, moments that could be happening to any person, anywhere on the globe, I take it in and smile, and know we’re all far more similar than most would care to admit.
As I’ve continued to learn, grow, and experience life abroad, this website has continued to evolve to match these experiences. This evolution will continue, regardless of the results of the Big Blog Exchange, but the opportunity was too great to pass up.