August 22, 2023


Travel Far and Often

By: Marcos Lopez

It is my steadfast belief that one of the most valuable actions an activist for liberty can undertake is to travel often and travel far. How can you truly value liberty without understanding how life varies under different degrees of it? It’s this firsthand experience that can ensure we don’t take it for granted. It is not enough to pontificate about liberty, we must also actively engage with it. Freedom of movement is, after all, one of the most fundamental freedoms of mankind. 

As you traverse diverse cultures and distant lands you not only acquire knowledge but also impart it as you actively participate in the exchange of ideas. By deliberately using our freedom of speech, we leave lasting impressions on the individuals we encounter. So, for the love of liberty and the human spirit, buy the ticket and take the ride. 

Travel enhances our effectiveness as an advocate and communicator for liberty. Without a worldly perspective, it’s all too easy to become trapped in an Americentric, inflexible worldview, blinding us to the ramifications of policy outside our borders and the interconnectedness of the world. 

The value of this advice became clear to me recently when I embarked on a month-long journey from Azerbaijan to France with nothing but a backpack and the companionship of my best friend. This adventure not only allowed me to forge new connections but also refreshed my understanding of the significance of our nation. 

Whether it was debating kleptocracy and LGBT rights in Baku at a smokey hookah lounge, watching the local news reporting on the failures of government healthcare in a Roman hotel room as your feet enjoy their well-earned rest or discussing the Dutch farmers’ revolt over green policy with locals at hazy coffee shops, traveling illuminated the global tapestry known as the human experience and clarified the role of liberty within it. 

When traveling abroad a little planning can go a long way but resist the urge to be too rigid. Things will go wrong. Flights will be delayed. The weather will change. Remember the Latin phrases millennials chirped through school of carpe diem and carpe noctrum? Well, embrace it; be open to spontaneous experiences and don’t be afraid to follow where the adventure might lead you but take the proper precautions. 

Do check your passport and any visa requirements. Do read the state department’s travel advisories and any diplomatic postings by the local U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate, whose contact you would want to keep somewhere near you. Make sure to have family or friends stateside who have a copy of your itinerary, and for goodness’ sake don’t scare them for shits and giggles, they might frantically call the embassies thinking you’re enjoying an ice bath with stitches up your torso as the friendly stranger googles “how many bitcoins is a kidney worth?” (spoiler: not even half of one). 

Speaking of money, have some idea what budget you’re playing with. There is no shame in being frugal nor glory in burning through it before you’re even halfway through the journey. Keep an eye on the FOREX markets. Your local bank can usually give you decent exchange rates and if you have the time, purchase increments in advance as the market fluctuates. I’ve found that exchanges in major airports usually come with higher fees and worse exchange rates. Also, check your credit cards and debit cards, you don’t want any ATM foreign exchange withdrawal fees to surprise you. I failed in that department once and realized I paid hundreds of dollars in fees alone over the trip.

When trying to get the best deal on flights, it all depends on where you’re going. I found for Europe you can usually find decent prices 3-8 months out. For the Caribbean you can usually wait a little longer, sometimes a month out. For major trips, I recommend setting alerts on Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak, or Hopper. You can find some great deals and save hundreds of dollars. Final note on flights: allow enough time for transfers in foreign countries. I spent time in Romania, and it was solely because we missed our connecting flight.

 Don’t get me wrong, I loved our time in Bucharest, and I will return in the future to truly experience it but at the time, it was quite stressful. We had 90 minutes to jump on our connecting flight but since the airport wasn’t very large, we had to disembark from where they stopped and walk to the next location only to find out, we had to grab our bags (because they were not being transferred for us), go to through customs, walk to the other gate and re-enter security. We were never going to make it but embracing the spirit of adventure, we explored the local town with some guidance from our uber driver. It was quite an experience. Romanian food is actually pretty good, the people were friendly, and, because of my Spanish, I could read the signs! I always knew Romanian was a romantic language, but it was something else to be thrusted into this situation and finding myself adept. Now, did I understand a word when they spoke? No, but I could read it and it’s the little things in life.

Do remember that popular destinations can be overcrowded and that not all attractions welcome walk-ins, especially the most sought-after museums, historical sites or unique experiences that often have limited entry quotas or timed visits. By researching and booking in advance, not only do you secure your spot, but you also bypass potential disappointment or long waits. For instance, on my last journey to Paris, we made a spur of the moment decision to visit Versailles but by the time we arrived, we were turned away due to the being sold out. The same occurred to me in Amsterdam when I tried to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Pre-booking often provides the advantage of exploring curated tours or added experiences that aren’t available for on-the-spot visitors. A little forethought ensures a richer, more relaxed and streamlined journey, allowing you to engage with the culture without the hindrance of logistical setbacks.

Now let’s discuss something important: how not to be a stereotypical obnoxious or oblivious American tourist. Remember that we are guests in these foreign lands. You might not agree with local customs and traditions, be it religious or otherwise, but when we engage with them, engage in a respectful manner, especially if you are challenging any of them. I recall the conversations alluded to prior with Azerbaijani locals that started as all great political conversations start in this region of the world – vodka and plenty of it. For those that aren’t aware Azerbaijan is near the Caspian Sea tucked in the Caucasus which harbors a resilient, kind people whose oil rich territories enable it to play an outsized role in the regions’ geopolitics. Ethnically Turkish, the Muslim majority is relatively tolerant compared to some of its neighbors. Our conversations extended from the inefficiency of government-owned enterprises to the treatment of LGBT individuals, and while the liquid courage empowered lively debate, ideas were exchanged without hostilities. 

The final point here would be to beware of scammers. People will know you’re a tourist. They can tell who is a local, and more nefarious individuals will try to take advantage of you. Do not make yourself a victim, if something sounds too good to be true or too far-fetched, don’t trust it or double check it on the internet. I remember when we landed in  Istanbul, we were trying to secure an uber and the taxi drivers tried telling us that uber was illegal in Turkey and we would be arrested if we tried using it. A simple Google search dispelled that lie but it illustrates the point. Ask locals what areas to avoid and where you shouldn’t flaunt expensive jewelry. They know the area best.

In closing, travel is more than just a leisure activity; it’s an education, a form of diplomacy and, above all, a celebration of the interconnectedness of the world. Each journey we undertake, from the shortest trip to the longest voyage, reshapes our perspectives and can enrich our understanding of liberty. Every traveler is a student and a teacher. So, pack your bags, buy the ticket and take the ride.