Why We Travel
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”-Pico Iyer, Why We Travel.
–Salt Lake City, Utah
This is an inevitable feeling we all have gotten at least once. The urge to hit the highway and keep on driving, or the desire to press our faces against an airplane window and watch the ground below slowly vanish into a mesh of clouds and sky.
Nothing comes even remotely close to the inspiration we get from traveling. Whether it’s a road trip to a neighbor state or an 18-hour flight to Japan, it immediately becomes easier to let our minds get swept away just as our physical beings are being transported somewhere else.
It’s a beautiful thing, really. Travel changes us in such a way that we are eternally grateful for, and we hold onto those experiences for the rest of our lives.
Here are four important things I learned from traveling:
Don’t just be a tourist.
As much as you may want to take that ferry ride to see the Statue of Liberty or take a photo with the I Amsterdam sign, make it a priority to explore on your own without the help of Google or a pamphlet you found in your hotel lobby. As much as I wished I’d checked out the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland, I instead spent that same afternoon stumbling upon one of the most incredible flea markets I’d ever seen.
So go ahead and get lost; not having a plan could pleasantly surprise you.
This is by-far one of the most crucial pieces of information there is when it comes to travel. No person is the same, regardless of where you are. My recent trip to Havana, Cuba, I was exposed to some of the most loving, affectionate people, and it was very obvious. That wasn’t exactly a part of my “norm,” but looking the other way or embracing it is a much better route than letting yourself feel uncomfortable.
Something especially to remember in the Third World Country: you won’t go overlooked. Just because they’re looking at you funny, doesn’t mean it’s OK to look at them the same way.
It is so important to remember that you are in someone else’s environment therefore it is vital to keep in mind the way things are done there and do your best to take it seriously. According to Julia Cooke, author of Life in the New Cuba, travelers should “be discreet, not paranoid.” Especially if you’re writing something that has the potential to be public, it’s always a good idea to change names in order to respect another’s privacy.
Every moment counts.
You never know if you’ll return to this place someday. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and approach people completely different from you, and never hold back from asking as many questions as possible.
Take photos. Write things down. Document everything. My favorite nostalgic moments are looking back on old photos and journal entries that transport me back to a time I felt something so wonderful, so inspiring, so alive.
In travel writer Pico Iyer’s The Shock of Arrival excerpt, he states:
“No drug I can imagine, few love-affairs I might dream of, can match that simple, shocking excitement of arriving in a truly foreign place. It is akin to the first kiss, the first date, all the firsts that have an intensity and life disproportionate to their duration; the first moment is worth a thousand others.”
These are the moments travel gives us that we should aim to preserve. Because just like love, it is a feeling we can never get back.