In the age of the War on Terror, youth travel programs are a powerful antidote to ignorance and fear.

Photo by Asian Insights

A global perspective is essential to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

Addressing big problems like global warming and nuclear proliferation will require unprecedented levels of international cooperation.

Likewise, big opportunities like the chance to end poverty depend on our ability to extend compassion, knowledge and resources to the far reaches of the globe.

Many of the global citizens who will spearhead new levels of international cooperation in the next century are still young, students in high schools from Pittsburgh to Phnom Penh. We need to give the leaders of tomorrow the chance to get to know each other today.

Youth travel and grassroots exchange programs are one of the most important and cost-effective investments we can make.

Photo by Asian Insights

Travel is the Best Education

With travel comes both empathy and knowledge.

Travel – real, rugged, authentic travel – is the best sort of education. In this day and age, knowing Africa is more important than knowing algebra.

For our brightest students, taking a year to vagabond through China and study Mandarin looks more and more like a wise and practical alternative to a prestigious internship with Lehman Brothers or Bear Sterns.

Dragons in Cambodia

I recently had the opportunity to lead a group of 12 remarkable high school students on a 6 week Where There Be Dragons program in Cambodia.

The experience electrified me. I could not be more inspired.

The real world connections the students made in Cambodia are the seeds of future peace.

The courage they found in themselves to embark on an epic and challenging journey created a confidence that will carry them through life.

I don’t take any credit for the personal growth and profound education the students in my group experienced in Cambodia. The act of travel was what did it – the magical experience of confronting the world with clear and open eyes.

Photo by Asian Insights

Peace Depends on Knowledge

Where There Be Dragons is a funny name for a travel company. The thing about dragons, of course, is that they don’t exist. Our fears of the unknown are rarely justified.

We need young people who are willing to dream big.

Fear and ignorance are always dangerous, but especially so when institutionalized in the most powerful country in the world.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead on when he told Americans “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In the era of perpetual War on Terror, we must nurture individuals who can distinguish between genuine threats to our security and paranoid fantasies born of ignorance and fear.

Photo by Shannanigans
Asking The BIG Questions

Travel forces the big questions.

The older we get, the less willing we become to question everything and make our choices as if we really can be the change we want to see in the world.

America needs smart, conscientious young people who are willing to dream big.

By empowering youth through authentic travel experiences in places where they are confronted with unvarnished truths, we create future leaders with the skill and motivation to work for peace and justice.

It’s not enough to drink away a study abroad semester in Florence, or traipse through Southeast Asian backpacker zones for a few months after college graduation.

Reaping the real humanitarian benefits of travel requires traveling close to the ground in places that provoke hard questions.

Overcoming a Foreign Policy of Fear

Photo by Shannanigans

We need young people who are not just clever, but also courageous.

We need high school students eager to break out of their sheltered suburbs and cozy Facebook networks to confront the world first-hand.

It costs billions of dollars to send cruise missiles and Predator drones to distant lands, but only thousands of dollars to help future leaders discover the world.

If you’re a parent, encourage your son or daughter to travel. If you’re a student, I’m envious – you can choose from a world of possibilities. If you’re a citizen who wants peace, please support youth travel programs.

The global challenges that lie ahead are too big to solve without profound, intimate knowledge of the outside world.

Community Connection!

For more inspiring essays about the value of travel and global citizenship in the 21st century, check out 10 Ways Travelers Can Change The World and A Manifesto From A Young American.

Where There Be Dragons offers youth travel programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

If you’re passionate about travel, dive into the Matador community and connect with like-minded innovators from around the world.

To help send inner-city youth on a Where There Be Dragons program to Asia, please support The Matador Fund.