We have never taken for granted how lucky we are to have the freedom to travel and how lucky we were to have our first opportunity to visit a faraway land in 2000. If it weren't for travel, we may not be together today and we would certainly not be living our dreams.
Freedom to Travel
Dave and I often talk about how strange life can be. Who decides who has access to opportunity and how were we so lucky to be born where we were born? As a couple of middle class Canadians, we have always had a comfortable and privileged standard of living. Even if we weren't considered rich in our own country, we could enjoy the luxuries of life. There was always food, clean water, air conditioning and heat, and of course opportunities and freedom to travel. It was those opportunities to travel that helped shaped who we are today.
Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
We agree with this quote whole-heartedly. We've been lucky to have the freedom to travel to places like the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, we were exposed to cultures that we could never understand or comprehend had we stayed in our own little corner of the world in Otterville and Burlington, Ontario. When we come home we have a new perspective on the beliefs and ideals from other walks of life. Travel has helped us appreciate and understand other views on the world and it has helped open our minds. We have often said that travel is the best education. We both studied foreign lands in school, but we never truly understood anything we learned until we visited those foreign lands. Through the past 15 years of travel, we have become more open minded, compassionate, tolerant, and patient.
Read more about the impact of Visa facilitation at the World Travel and Tourism Council
Appreciate and Understand Culture Through Travel Freedom
As Canadians, we've always been taught to accept other cultures, but how can one truly understand how another person lives, unless they experience that way of life first hand? We are the lucky ones. Canadians have the privilege and freedom to travel to 173 countries and territories without having to obtain a visa. That is a lot of travel freedom that many other citizens around the world don't have. But times are changing. Travel couple Savi and Vid of Bruised Passports have visited more than 250 cities in 40 countries on an Indian Passport. They shared their experiences with us on how they have managed to work through the trials and tribulations of traveling on a restrictive passport and have made it work. More and more people from developing countries are starting to have more freedom to travel and that is exciting.
People are beginning to have opportunities to see our way of living here in North America and they are starting to enjoy the beauty of the world. We have always believed that if more people travelled, there would be less conflict in the world. We have seen first hand through our travels that most people want the same thing out of life. No matter what religion, race, or culture, humans simply want to be happy, safe, and surrounded by friends and family. We are all far more similar than we realize.
A couple of years ago, we attended the Adventure Travel World Summit and saw just how much the world is changing as more people experience the freedom to travel. According to Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, “1 billion people are now crossing borders, and instead of fighting it, countries should look at this as an opportunity rather than a crisis.” This statement always stuck with me. That's a lot of people travelling.
Freedom to Travel by fixing Visa Restrictions
I understand countries are worried about security issues, but there has to be better ways to screen threats than to just charge a lot of money.
A couple of months later we travelled to Turkey. Like many countries that we travel to, Canadians don’t need a Visa before entering, they simply need to obtain a Visa on arrival. But we noticed that Canadians were charged more than US and EU Citizens. When I asked the officer why at the desk, he replied, “You should see what Canada charges us to enter your country.” That really hit home. While we only had to pay $60 to enter, he said Turks must pay $600 to enter Canada. Upon further investigation, we learned that Canada actually charges $500 for a family to enter the country, $100 for an individual and an extra $85 for a biometrics fee. When you consider the average income for a Canadian compared to that of a Turk, the fee is extremely high. So why does Canada shut it’s doors to so many potential tourists and take away their freedom to travel to our country?
The WTTC says “Freedom to Travel means ensuring that people have the right to cross international borders safely and efficiently for tourism purposes. It means smarter visa processes, more visa waiver agreements and trusted traveller programmes.“
We value our freedom to travel and explore the world and when we learn about what other countries must go through, we realize how lucky we are. Whenever we have to buy a visa in advance, we complain about the complexity and expense. When we took part in the Mongol Rally driving a car from England to Mongolia, we actually rerouted our course based on the cost of Visas. It’s a big world out there, why should we visit countries that charge us an arm and a leg to enter?
We understand that Visas have been, and are an important part of immigration policy. They help regulate tourist numbers, they are a source of revenue for countries, and to a certain extent, they help with security. But, with the technology we have access to today, I know there must be a better way.
We have said it before the world is a better place with the freedom to travel. As the earth shrinks due to expanding technology, everyone now has access and freedom to do business across oceans. New jobs are being created each day and prosperity is crossing borders into new lands. Even we have become mobile in our business. I never thought I’d be working regularly with companies on 5 different continents. If we had these restrictions, we couldn’t do our job. It's an exciting time for travel, let's open our minds to allow everyone the freedom to travel that we have enjoyed for so many years.
Have you run into Visa restrictions that have made you change your travel plans? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
The WTTC will be watching for compelling stories and may publish your message on their Medium account. Let’s start spreading the message of Freedom to travel for everyone
For more information regarding Freedom to Travel, visit the World Travel and Tourism Council and if you missed it above, be sure to check out the video, above. You can leave your story in the comments there as well.