An email to a friend has inspired me to return to my good ol’ Germany blog to write about a topic that I believe many a traveler has faced.
Why do we travel?
Most all of us have left our place of birth at least once, either by choice or by default, and can say with certainty that we have, indeed, experienced some sort of travel. Even the most limited of distances can and should be considered traveling. Anytime we step out of our comfort zones and day to day routines we are donning our traveler’s caps and walking sticks and setting out on adventures big and small. My family, for example, is traveling three hours to Orlando, Florida this weekend to experience Disney World with our foreign exchange student. I believe that this is traveling.
I will admit to something. I used to be of the opinion that traveling was much grander a thing as a three hour car trip with your parents to a destination that remained within your state boundaries; especially to a tourist trap and extreme waste of resources like Disney World. (Sorry, Disney.) Traveling involved going somewhere beautiful and far off and a plane ride somewhere in the equation was a must. Traveling was for savvy globe-hoppers with giant back packs and those funny looking, Velcro strap sandals that everyone wears in Georgia and North Carolina. And it had to last for at least a week, or else it would be demoted to the "trip" category.
Amazing what a little perspective will do to a person, eh? I lived up to my very narrow idea of traveling when I went to Germany. It wasn’t until after I returned home, however, that I realized how narrow-minded and egoistic I had been on my views on what constituted traveling.
Vocabulary.com has nailed it right on the head; if you are going from one place to another, you are traveling. Pretty simple, isn’t it? It really strips away all of those mental images of places that appear to be off of NAT GEO Traveler magazine covers and involve expedition-like preparation and equipment. If we all stick to this definition, we are essentially all travelers.
But if traveling is the simple act of going from one place to another, why all the hype? Yes sure, you get to see beautiful places, experience new cultures, and eat weird food. That’s all fine and dandy. Let’s file it away with all of our other cool life experiences. (*NOTE. There is a lot to be said on all of these aspects of travel, and I belittle it here only to make a point.) But what else? WHY do we feel that calling to go out, to see, to hear, to taste, to experience lives other than our own? WHY do we have this intrinsic longing to go away from our “normal” and step off the beaten path?
Evolution may have a scientific answer to all of these questions, but I’m going to look at a more spiritual one. Miriam Bird said:
"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
I think every traveler can attest to that. Parents of teenage and young adult travelers call it “catching the bug”, but they only paint it in a negative light because they fear what may happen to their children out there in the big bad world. When you are young, especially, this need to travel, to delight in other ways of living to find out how you wish to live your own, it is essential.
You can learn a lot from observation. If you go to a country where you do not speak the language, sit there long enough, a few months at least, and pretty soon you will have picked the basic stuff up. Give yourself a year, and you will be fluent. And if you really work at just observing, you’ll start to pick up on the physical habits of the people around you; the way they carry themselves can show their demeanor; learn what a handshake means, when it is appropriate to hug or to kiss. We are natural observational learners. We were all babies once, after all. But looking deeper into that scenario, why do babies strive to learn so much so quickly at such a young age? They want the interaction with other people. They strive for the attention and affection of others, and the best way to make those connections is by learning the language of your people.
So why do I travel? Here’s what I told a friend:
“I know from my experience living abroad for a year away from family that often times it’s not nearly as glamorous as it looks when you read back through blogs, flip through journal pages, or even simply remember. It’s easy to forget all of the discomforts, loneliness, and boredom when it isn’t happening to you right now. I love travel, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I feel like we (or at least I personally) travel not just for the novelty and fun and beautiful sites, but to search for people who connect with us, who will love us and be a home, no matter where in the world we are. At the end of the day it’s the human element that makes us happy. Making someone else smile, and having someone there for us when we need to cry. Trying to find ourselves on our own is often counterproductive. I have found that the more I spend time away from others to just think (and think, and think, and think) I think myself into oblivion and become completely cynical of the world and humanity. When I am surrounded by friends that truly care for me and me for them, a person can truly focus on the right now, and be happy in that very moment, which as we know is one of the keys to over all happiness. Somewhere in there is a happy medium. I have yet to find it. “
At the end of the day it’s the human element that makes us happy.
I am not yet old or wise. I haven’t been around long enough to even know what Im good at doing. But I do know this: It all comes down to making contact with others. That’s why I travel, because deep down inside of me there is a longing to find others that I connect with and can call family and friends. The scenery is a perk, too.