Luis Vargas: Travel More & Buy Less at TEDxPortland (Transcript)

In fact, in a study of hundreds of people that had gone on a gap year, these were the top three outcomes. I have a better understanding of who I am; I have a better understanding and empathy towards others; and I have some more context to help me choose my path and to build skills to carry forward.

Let’s talk about the second reason people don’t travel, and that’s fear. I was watching the Super Bowl — I was watching the Super Bowl last year when I heard the advertisement for this television show, and it said Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. Americans travel, study, and work abroad but sometimes they never come home. And this is what millions of us are watching before we get a bed at night.

Now it is nearly impossible to consume media across any channel and not hear about terrorism or ISIS. Now that is not to say that these horrifying things aren’t happening, but of the 1.1 billion people that will travel internationally this year, very very few will encounter any of this. And of course, there’s always a health scare somewhere in the world.

I spent two weeks in Brazil last year and I didn’t meet anyone who had first-hand experience with Zika. And again it’s not that this is not happening, but perhaps they’re not reasons not to go.

The third reason we don’t travel: no money. We don’t have any money because we spend it all on stuff. In 1930, the average American had nine outfits. Now we have over 30. In the UK right now the average woman has 22 unworn items in her closet. We have so much stuff it doesn’t fit in our homes. We’re spending over $24 billion a year on storage, over 2.3 billion square feet of it in the United States making it the fastest-growing segment of commercial real estate over the last 40 years. And it is often less expensive to travel outside the United States, and my wife and I took a six-month honeymoon in Nepal, India, and Thailand and we spent just over $4,000, all to say in this quote by one of my favorite writers Pico Iyer that one is reminded at a level deeper than all words how making a living and making a life sometimes point in the opposite direction.

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Now travel is the ultimate truth teller, mythbuster and stereotype killer, because after I had the opportunity to spend extended time in Mexico and collect my own first-hand data, I realized that Mexicans aren’t lazy. In fact, they’re some of the most entrepreneurial, ingenious and hardworking people that I had ever met. And in all of my time in Mexico, I never felt in harm’s way. In fact, looking at the data Mexico City is safer than many American cities. In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula is safer according to the FBI than many US states, including Oregon.

And of course, I also got the context to appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to having grown up in the United States and becoming a US citizen. And that idea of a gringo completely shattered by the experience of driving around the 50 states with a van full of international tourists and the most common reaction that we would get is a big smile and the question where y’all from, often followed by an invitation to a backyard barbecue, and an appreciation for the natural beauty and open space of the backyard and that ultimately regardless of where we sit in the political spectrum that we live in a country where we can raise our children with our values and our ideals and our beliefs.

Now travel has truly transformed me. I met my wife almost 20 years ago in a campground in southern Mexico in Palenque, Chiapas and I stand before you on this stage right now a proud Mexican-American. But also with the knowledge and the greatest gift when we go out and see the world is that it doesn’t matter if we’re Mexican or American or Canadian or Syrian or Australian but ultimately that we are all human. And that what we want and dream and desire is so much more similar than it is different.

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So what about — what about you? Well, I invite you to make thoughtful choices, so perhaps instead of going to Cancun, travel a little further north and visit Isla Holbox and swim with whale sharks. Or, instead of going to Las Vegas, extend your stay and visit Zion National Park and walk this beautiful red rock to the top of angel’s landing.

Or, instead of going to Hawaii, or to Honolulu, perhaps consider the Big Island of Hawaii and see lava flow literally the earth forming at your feet. Right now with an American passport you can visit 174 countries without a visa or get a visa at the point of entry. Even with the challenging things that are happening in the world, it is an extraordinary time to be a traveler.

So what does this mean? If you’re young, it means go. You’re living a moment in your life where you have more freedom and flexibility than you may ever have before. Right now the lights are shimmering over Kuala Lumpur and a group of young people are enjoying a cocktail and a laugh. Why are you not there? Why?

But if you’re older, it also means go; it’s likely that it will take more planning but you have more resources than you had before. Right now in a remote Rolandic fjord the chef is ringing the bell and calling you to a three-course locally sourced dinner; why are you not there?

Now if you have young kids, you’re fucked! That’s not true. I stand here. It’s not a vacation but it is a trip and it is a fuck. And as a father of three, five and under, it takes a lot of work, but family travel can be extraordinarily rewarding.

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