Before I started traveling, I was showered with advice from friends and family. They said things like travel is dangerous, those people don’t like Americans, and you’ll be back home sooner than later (a home that I never, by the way, returned to.) They all meant well, of course, but I’m not sure how many of them had done any traveling of their own, especially to destinations across the pond. In retrospect, I’m thinking maybe they were giving me their often fear-based advice based on what they had heard or assumed. Fact is, I’ve enjoyed all the places I’ve visited, and I’ve never felt ill at ease. Learning about new cultures is fascinating to me. I love hiking and biking new landscapes, towns, and villages. It’s thrilling to see with my own eyes the ancient structures first glimpsed in the textbook of my college Renaissance Art and Architecture class. And the people I’ve met couldn’t have been nicer, both the other travelers and the locals, who are always more than happy to direct me to the nearest train station or cafe, or point me in the right direction when I’m lost. In fact, I have come to believe that travel is a gift with life-long benefits, and I’m so grateful for my experiences (as well as the opportunities that await!)
As a result, my advice is much different: I feel you’re selling yourself short if you don’t travel! Of course, it’s never a bad idea to check for travel advisories, read guidebooks in advance, and be aware of your surroundings (which is true at home, as well), but there’s no need to be fearful with good attention and preparation, even if you’re not part of a group. Below, you’ll find some of the reasons I feel travel can be a gift for all of us, both individually and collectively.
Experiencing new places and cultures allows you to get to know some of the populations you’ve heard about in the news, and therefore reduces fear. The idea of hate, or intense aversion, is often rooted in fear. Being in a distant land, whether in this country or another, you learn that people are fundamentally like you: they love, care for their families, work, take part in community, walk their dog, prepare meals, and treasure their beliefs. It’s truly an affirmation of life to witness the similarities.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain
Second only to the benefit of reducing fear is the fact that travel is one of the best educational experiences there is. While you’re experiencing new cultures, you learn about history, politics, religion, art, language, food, flora, fauna, geography, topography, and on and on. You may gain a new understanding of why things are as they are in that part of the world. Additionally, you might be challenged to plan your train or bus route, communicate with native speakers, find a restaurant, or locate a merchant who sells good wine and crusty bread or locally sourced souvenirs for the folks back home. Being outside your daily norm can really augment your brain activity.
Travel will broaden your appreciation of nature and humanity in general. This planet is amazingly diverse and beautiful, and that realization could lead you to the ideas of protecting and preserving Her for future generations. During your travels, you may come upon trees, flowers, or animals you’ve never seen. You might be delighted by waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, green seas, or volcanos. And after getting comfortable with the folks you once considered foreigners, your capacity for empathy expands.
The world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them. ~J.K. Rowling
Moderate stress, the kind that traveling causes, can be good for you. Being in a strange land, interacting with new people, doing new things, trying new foods, and simply going outside of your normal routine brings about moderate stress, which can result in increased energy and focus, improved memory, and bolstered immunity (https://www.learning-mind.com/positive-effects-of-stress/).
Travel changes your perspective on life in general. With a broadened worldview, you’ll find your conversations will change. You may read or hear news stories with a different understanding. Your spending habits may shift, after realizing the value of experiences over objects. Your beliefs may even become less rigid and appear less black or white.
Finally, as I mentioned before, the benefits of travel last a lifetime. The memories, photographs, knowledge, new ideas, and increased cognitive abilities experienced can be with you forever. Perusing travel photographs and journals always brings joy to my heart and a big smile to my face. And you know I enjoy sharing them with you!
As soon as covid-19 allows, show yourself some love and gift yourself with travel. Every chance you get. For a month, a week, or even a weekend. In this country or elsewhere. Even if you do it on the cheap, like many of my trips. You’ll come back home with an enhanced sense of what it means to be fully alive. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor . . . Explore. Dream. Discover.” I couldn’t agree more.
Blessings for Travel,