Having recently returned from our third two-week trek on Spain’s Camino de Santiago, the question naturally arises: why travel? Some of my friends seem content to stay at home, and these days with all the security checks, etc., air travel isn’t getting easier. Yet something keeps drawing me away, and coming home from one trip, I’m already visualizing the next.
My friends understand that the love of travel comes naturally to me, having absorbed it from my parents who flew to Europe in the fifties when it was barely heard of, sent me on a high school exchange program to Brazil when I was seventeen, took my sisters and I on road trips across North America, and visited all seven continents.
Shakespeare wrote, “There is a world elsewhere,” meaning I believe that we can become distracted by our daily life thinking this is the only way to live but travel opens new horizons. The explorer J.D. Andrews expands on this thought: “It’s a big world out there, it would be a shame not to experience it.” And Dr. Seuss simply says: “Oh, the places you will go!”
I asked a young man I met recently in our hostel why he traveled. He answered, “Why not? I think that anyone who doesn’t travel should ask himself why.”
I’ve heard and read about many reasons people travel – to challenge themselves, learn new things, for adventure, to build meaningful relationships, to relax, escape, enjoy different cultures, and try new foods. All these ideas speak to me, and as I tried to tie them together I came up with the word “curiosity.”
We live in an incredible world with such a variety of landscapes, plants, animals, birds, and fish (which I see every day as I snorkel in Eilat’s coral reefs). God’s creation calls us out to explore and experience all its colorful diversity. In my mind I can see before me Victoria Falls in Zambia with the baboons running around, the rain forest in Papua New Guinea with its illusive bird-of-paradise, Iceland’s geyser, the flamingoes on Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and so many more places I’ve been privileged to visit.
Yet one of the most enduring memories from every trip is the people we meet. How do you communicate with folks when you have no common language and your lifestyles are so different? I’m thinking of Lawrence in Papua New Guinea, Sita in Nepal, and Luis recently in Spain. As well as seeing the distinctiveness in every culture and people group, traveling shows me our commonality as human beings. We all seek friends, care about our families, want to live in a pleasant environment, and do something meaningful. Traveling teaches me to be open-minded, tolerant, and humble.
For those for whom traveling to faraway destinations isn’t an option now for any number of reasons, and for me in this season at home, we can gain some of the benefits by leaving our comfort zone and traveling to a new place closer by. I can listen for the birdsongs, observe the details around me, and find people to talk to. Cultural exchanges can also take place close to home through becoming involved with refugees, immigrants, or people from another country.
If God wants, I plan to keep traveling but in the meantime, I hope to never stop learning about the world we live in, about the people who inhabit it, and about myself.