Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
I sometimes have conversations with people who do not like to travel. They might not like to upset their routines, are afraid of the unknown or are just not interested in the world beyond their daily life. My husband and I love to travel and are constantly trying to figure out how to travel more. Between us, we have been to some great places, but still have so much more of the world we want to see. We live with a constant case of wanderlust.
When we were in New York, I was laying on the bed thinking about all the things we had seen, learned and wondered about, and also about how our family functions at our best when we are on the road. And I asked myself, "why?" Why do we travel? What are our motivations? (it is certainly not glamorous or easy, the way we do it). Why is this so important to us? And this is what I came up with:
1. To use different parts of our brains. I literally think we activate new connections and synapses when we are out of our element. We walk paying attention to different traffic patterns, we eat differently, the process to enter homes might be done differently and we probably sleep differently. We are encouraged to think differently and that plasticity is probably the best souvenir that comes home with us.
2. To learn to navigate different environments. I want my kids to be able to go anywhere and get around comfortably. From urban cities, to overgrown jungles or mountain tops, or places where no one speaks your language; they need to be able to experience and evaluate an environment and figure out how to function successfully within it.
3. To witness different ways of living. We can only choose lives that we have witnessed (in real life, books or our imaginations). It is important to have as many "stories" as possible when (re)creating and becoming yourself. I need my kids to know that there is a spectrum of possibilities beyond what they experience in their everyday lives. And they are all possible.
4. To encourage open-ended, organic learning. Well, this is pretty obvious. But, I have been turned on to so many new interests by just walking around with an open mind and the willingness to ask questions and engage with a place. Even seeing the typical tourist sites fuels our imaginations and enables us to make connections. We became interested in George Washington watching Liberties Kids, then went to Mount Vernon and learned more about his daily life, (I became interested in the hospitality of colonial times and my son's botanical interests we broadened). A trip to NYC's Trinity Church brought us to the place Washington walked to worship after he was sworn in as president, reminding us that Washington, DC and the White House were not fully realized yet. Even a trip to the Hall of Presidents show at Disney adds more pieces to the puzzle. Life is so much richer when we are able to make these connections and synthesize all that we learn and experience into the epic story of man. OK - maybe I am getting a bit carried away - but traveling supports organic learning in huge ways we try to maintain when at home in our routine.
5. To get uncomfortable. I wrote about this a few months ago here. It is so important to get scared, to be more tired than you thought possible, to carry more than you can, walk longer than you are able, and to ultimately feel stronger than you are or somehow pushed far beyond your limits. Being lost and on my own in a foreign country, getting mugged, scrounging for food, or holding tight to my unrestrained children in the back of speeding van on a foggy Central American mountain, were all stressful but still so much less that what others have endured. I do not put my self in dangerous situations for no good reason, but if one presents itself, I try to embrace it and learn from it. My husband recently read that the temporary flight or fight type of stress is really good for you, as opposed to the all day, nagging, corrosive stress of daily life. The short bursts of stress when traveling are yet another gift of a life on the road. By expanding coping kills, I become stronger and a much better problem solver.
6. To awaken the senses. The variety of smells, flavors, sounds and energies is actually enough to get me on a plane. I love to smell the earth in different places. To hear the rhythm of a different language or traffic, or church bells. And even things like exhaust and cigarette smoke attach themselves to different narratives when traveling.
7. To be inspired. Some inspirations are immediate and others come later, even years later. The first time I traveled to Europe, we stayed with a Swiss couple and seeing the way they lived; picking their own tea from the forest, making dinner from a pumpkin grown in the front yard, having evening musical jams sessions with homemade instrument.... well, that trip changed my outlook on life forever, and continues to inspire me every so often. My kids frequently mention things from trips that I never thought they even noticed.
8. To call into question our lives. This is the big one. I do not think I can go anywhere without questioning everything in my life. Luckily, I usually come out of this interrogation just fine - but what a useful exercise it is. To be reflective and contemplative is not an easy state to inhabit, but the more we do it, the better. And what a great mindset for children, to wonder about their own lives and in non-absolutism of it all.
A great thing I have realized in the past few years, is that you do not have to travel far to get many of the benefits. You can cultivate a traveling mindset, a beginner's mind to the environment you spend your days in.
Why do you travel?