I’m a traveler. I always have been. My family moved to the US from Montreal when I was very young and spent nearly every Friday afternoon heading north and Sunday afternoon heading south. In the summers, we’d pile into the car and spend a day and a half driving down to South Carolina for a week on the beach. We’d listen to Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon when it got dark, or my dad would invent stories about the origins of words. To this day, references to Tomato Butt, Raw Chester, and Chalk Al Ate make me smile when nothing else does.
My parents took us to Europe for the first time when I was 14 and the rest, as they say, is history. I was absolutely hooked. In a plethora of ways, my parents taught us to love adventure, experiences, new people, new foods, beautiful places, mass transit in languages we didn’t understand, grocery stores and local markets selling wares we didn’t recognize.
Wanderlust and I are very good friends. These days, my airplane-approved cosmetics case is always packed and my luggage tags still show my address from three addresses ago. I usually have at least one upcoming trip flagged in my email inbox and I’m always looking out for the next one. I have additional visa pages in my passport and a tattoo I got overseas on my ankle.
Traveling is a huge part of who I am and what I love to do, which is probably very clear from this blog. I wanted to take some time to explain why travel is a priority for me. So here we go!
Learning About the World
First and foremost, I see travel as accelerated learning. I love learning and make an effort to learn something new every day. When I travel, I’m constantly seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting something new. Being outside my comfort zone leads me to ask questions in order to understand everything around me. That’s not going to happen if I’m drinking the same cup of coffee in the same café with the same people!
In order to make sense of what I’m experiencing and to begin answering the questions that come up when confronted with a new environment, I find myself acutely aware of my surroundings because I am assessing my place in the world. I wonder why places are the way they are, why people do what they do, ways my expectations are accurate or inaccurate, and what similarities/differences are apparent in culture and behavior. All of this wondering leads to and from observation, and the observation helps me understand how I fit in a global landscape. Essentially, my travel experiences are opportunities to understand more about people, systems, and patterns.
Travel has also allowed me to see the world develop, which has broadened my worldview. I have a much deeper understanding of the traditions and customs common to different regions, as well as ways that religion and politics do or do not have an impact on different societies. Travel has made my world a lot larger (there’s a lot to learn out there) but also a lot smaller. People are people, no matter where you are.
Learning About Myself
If you clicked on the link above, you’ll see that I included “seek out and do things that scare me” on a list of rules to live by that I posted a few weeks ago. If you didn’t click, now’s a good opportunity. I’ll wait.
Travel allows me to take a temporary, non-threatening step out of my comfort zone. Sure, I’ve felt unsafe while traveling. But I also regularly feel unsafe in America First. The point is that there’s no risk to trying anything new when there’s no commitment. By its very nature, traveling is non-committal. If something doesn’t work, that’s okay – it’s temporary. Traveling allows me to practice doing new things when the stakes are low, which makes me more likely to take the leap when it actually matters.
For me, the occasionally uncomfortable experiences that I can laugh about now are about clarifying personal values. When confronted with situations that differ from the norm, my internal moral compass is quick to pass judgement, both positively and negatively. Recognizing these reactions and checking myself to determine their origins and biases has led me to reconsider what matters to me and, more importantly, why.
Likewise, anything that is a break from daily life allows me to approach experiences with a clear head. Without distractions or any real obligations, I am better able to be fully present in the moment. I can take in what is around me without feeling like I’m compromising something else that needs my attention. In a different environment I find that I am better able to reflect on experiences without pull from routine tasks or obligations, which acts as a complete mental reset. A forced step back from the everyday, a complete break with the norm, is thoroughly rejuvenating.
Time is Finite
People like to remind me that the world isn’t going anywhere and that I don’t have to do everything right away. The world may not be disappearing (though that’s not far from happening), but it is undoubtedly rapidly changing in a myriad ways. Coral reefs are dying. Low-lying cities are sinking. National parks are in need of funding. And developing countries are developing!
At the risk of sounding morbid, I do plan my travel experiences with a mind to what I know I can do now, and might not be able to do later. Right now, I am relatively young, single, employed, and physically fit. It’s important to me to make the most of that. Museums will always be accessible; hiking in rainforests might not be.
There Are No Rules
When I talk about moving overseas, which I hope to do again, someone usually asks, “But aren’t you afraid you’ll never meet someone? Get married? Have kids?”. Of course, but that’s not any more or less likely if I go somewhere else than if I stay where I am. I don’t need to follow a prescribed path of school, job, marriage, house, baby. If I can’t live the life I’m living, what’s the point of living at all?
Ultimately, I prioritize travel because there’s no reason not to. I have a career that allows me to travel and to work around the world. I don’t know if that will always be the case. So I prioritize travel because I can. And I love doing it. If I didn’t, I’d prioritize something else!
Travel can be really simple, like going to a town or city you’ve never visited before, or very complicated involving visas, passports, multiple destinations, and multiple modes of transportation. Travel is just exploring somewhere new.
So go. Go somewhere new, even just for the day. You’ll be glad you did.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. – Robert Louis Stevenson