I am a traveler.
As of writing this, I’ve been on three extended (more than one month) trips abroad, and have set foot in (I think) nineteen countries. Travel is something that I’ve always held in extremely high regard, and my case of wanderlust isn’t fading.
I’m aware, however, that not everyone feels the same way, and some may even question a travel-enthusiast’s life decisions. If you’re just looking to have fun, why not do it stateside and save all of your money? Why do you feel you need to go somewhere else to become a better person? Aren’t there lessons to be learned and work to be done here?
Perhaps. But I think that travel is not just having fun, nor can it be compared to a more expensive version of life at home. It is a different animal entirely, one that has unique lessons to teach that cannot be found anywhere else.
And so, here are my answers to the question of why I travel, and why I believe that this experience is so vital to becoming the best person you can be.
- “Living in their pools they soon forget about the sea.” –Neil Peart
I live near Lake Superior. At one of my favorite places along the shore, there is a point of rock that juts into Superior’s tempestuous waters, and in the middle of this rock is a small pool filled with minnows. Protected and kept in their small confines, these minnows have no idea what lies in the rest of the sea. They go about their little minnow lives oblivious to the greater picture beyond them.
Whether we think it or not, a lot of us exist in this same kind of warped reality, assuming that the way we’ve constructed our tide pools is how the rest of the ocean operates. And that changes how you view yourself, your community, and your world. It isn’t until you dive into the rest of the sea that you realize what about life is the same and what is the result of the small boundaries of the tide pool.
- “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain
I used to have this quote posted by my bed in college as a daily reminder to do the things that scare me. I was reminded of it my first time in Ireland when I met a traveler who explained that he took this quote seriously and wanted to live life to the fullest. Not only do I think that it’s a beautiful way to live, but I am inspired by people who live this way, and hope that I can harness that and use it to inspire others as well.
- “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Scott Cameron
A symptom of tide pool living is the skewed percentage of space that you take up in your environment: too much self for such a little space. Travel is a humbling experience; in a new place you are not significant or known. The human tendency to think highly of yourself, to draw attention to yourself, to think that you need more things: travel shoots them all dead.
When hiking in the mountains, I saw people in the distance that looked like the smallest specks, and thought that’s what I look like to them too. Travel is an exceptional cultivator of modesty. That time I lived two small bags with no reputation to my name was hard but eye-opening, in a good and refining sort of way.
- “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
I am convinced that few things grow empathy quite like travel. When you meet people from different parts of the globe, those distant names and places on the map become real and emotionally charged. You come to realize that more and less important space on the globe does not exist; every square inch is preciously valuable and intricate.
Travel also thrusts you into situations that put you in the shoes of others. In college, I studied speech therapy, and spent a lot of time considering how to help people who have trouble communicating (an issue I’d never personally experienced). When I was in Belgium, I got horribly lost. And not only that, but my lack of fluency in French meant that I couldn’t even ask for help! I experienced for the first time the frustration of being the outsider, the one who can’t communicate, and I found myself coming back home to my studies with much greater empathy than I had before.
- “I am not the same having seen the moon on the other side of the world.” -Mary Ann Radmacher
We should live with the flexibility to be changed by our life experiences. Whether we like it or not, every life experience leaves some kind of an imprint that molds you into who you are. So where are those imprints coming from? I think if we’re not careful, too many can come from the same direction. Think of a good piece of pottery: it is shaped on all sides, constantly moving into what it is being created to be. Being molded by many experiences, places, and lives will produce the most well-rounded result.
- “People don’t take trips; trips take people.” –John Steinbeck
To be left speechless, to be in a place where all is chaos and all is peace, where nothing and everything makes sense, and to have it spin you and change you and become you: that’s what this is all about.