Kris Gage wrote a very interesting piece on her dislike for travel, which is a huge self-awareness and self-improvement topic that has been the centerpiece of most of my adult life (yeah, I left Kent State University for Europe at the ripe ages of 22–36).
Traveling around these foreign places, with these foreign languages and people, it all started to feel like home (after a long while of suffering and misunderstanding). I’d come home every summer and wonder why more people didn’t travel to experience trying something different, to struggle with that voice of internal awareness that happens when you approach travel and new culture as a personal growth experience.
You either approach travel as a chance to grow, or you don’t — basically, you get in what you put out.
Most people pay to travel outside the United States to find their version of the United States outside the United States. The lush all-inclusive resorts. The gaudy tours. The hand-holding. The touristy bullshit. The self-indulgent orders and demands that make Americans look like spoiled brats abroad.
The real grime and grit and personal growth of travel is in the dark bars, the hidden beaches, the small towns that haven’t changed in thousands of years, and the people that care to practice their culture and traditions, while still connecting with strangers.
Try to break bread with these people. Let go of your fears and get to know them. If you are an introvert and don’t like meeting new people, or traveling outside your comfort zone, then travel may be tough for you.
This isn’t easy.
Seriously, try befriending someone French in France, and then let me know how that goes.
There are a billion amazing people in this world that you could meet, try to understand, or share a story with, and the beauty of it is they could change your life for the better if you allowed it to happen. If you can somehow unlock the mystery of understanding the French, you can do the same when you get back home.
I really love to travel because it forces me to open up to people I don’t know or understand, it shows me the insane amount of difference our world has, yet still remains at its core, a very similar human experience.
Everywhere I’ve traveled, people wake up and scuttle into their lives, they eat, fuck, live, raise kids, cry, laugh, smile, and do it within their culture, their routines and traditions. Maybe a Turkish man goes into a hamam, while an American goes to the gym. A French woman smokes Gauloises while an American hits a vape pen. In Belgium, chocolate mousse is made for the Gods.
Yet, human habits change according to where they were born and how they were raised, but the core of people that understand how we are all connected don’t change.
Most Americans have won the genetic economic and resource lottery, but don’t know it. In reality, we should be the happiest culture in the world, but we aren’t.
You can’t be grateful for what you don’t know you have.
The Bangkok coconut chicken curry panang is less important than the person making your dish. Their story, his family, her rise to the place in that kitchen through that country. The similarities of another human in a completely different place is a truly special thing; to know people that live halfway around the world are struggling with the same shit (usually with less economic opportunity) as us is a very important life lesson to experience.
It offers us the chance to be grateful.
Even with all the shit humans encounter, foreigners in Europe especially, tend to live their life at a different pace. They take time with connecting. Siesta is real. Work days are less. Holidays are longer. Dinners last forever. Mothers get nine months off and still get paid. Families are happier.
How would we learn what other cultures do to be happier without travel?
Americans don’t take their time, ever. Okay, well most of them don’t.
To only enjoy the creme brûlée, to devour the Italian stracciatella gelato, and to only see the Eiffel Tower or quick hitting sights is, for lack of a better description — a shortsighted, over-indulgent way to approach what travel is really good for…
to help you understand who you are in relation to the millions of other people and their cultures are.
I must be Traveler #3 — travel is my lifeblood, my want of moving in and out of the places and people and ideas that seem to get stale and old. Dusty ass places scare me (Trump understood this). As I get older, it seems I have to accept my location and place of living, but your thoughts of not really feeling anything special while you travel make me think of how I feel (at times) while living here in America.
The longer you stay somewhere, the better you get to know yourself?
Is that true?
It seems like that’s what you are saying Kris.
Do I need to quell my need for more, but why?
To want something is a universally engrained DNA code because when you get it, your brain releases some chemicals and you feel something. You feel more. To travel is to want that feeling of something more. It’s why humans still play slot machines. Yet, that want is the same reason why people try to do what they love. It’s why the woman hunts with her hawks. It’s why I played professional basketball. It’s why you write. It’s why horses gallop and birds fly and kangaroos jump.
It’s in our blood and genetics to want to feel happy.
Travel is more than feeling happy to me. Being in a new culture teaches me to assimilate other people, to listen, to smile, and to feel your energy. That is what travel is to me. Digging my toes into the black sand in Costa Rica brings that peaceful happiness to me (because you don’t actually need a lot to be happy), but then again, so does writing in my Bucktown apartment in Chicago while nibbling on my version of a doppio con panna.
Taking an espresso back to my lonely AirBnB in Venice is that to me. It allows me to feel more, to understand our differences and still be happy about who I am. To understand we are more than our society’s environment that silently changes us, and that true peace and understanding is just found in being where you are. The old Zen trick. Love your neighbor as you love yourself and then shit man, accept where and what you are doing.
That love can be in your hometown French Lick, Indiana, or that can be in the cobblestone streets of Lisbon, Portugal.
Truthfully, I love to see the differences of the world. I love the magic of being alone in a place that few Americans are willing to see. It’s much like being an explorer, that tinge of panic and fear that comes from getting to the edge of what you thought was possible for yourself.
Yeah, shit, people don’t like to feel that way, but even the French butter wears off and you have to deal with yourself if you stay long enough. By traveling, you learn how to deal with not only yourself, but other’s differences.
If travel helps me try to accept my uncomfortable feelings of being different, I can then understand and embrace those feelings when I arrive back in my society. Of not being able to talk the same language. Of not wearing the same clothes and being the same skin color. Of ordering the wrong things and driving the wrong ways and not understanding why they don’t have stop signs at their corners.
Travel isn’t about comforts, it is about the lack of comforts, the mental and spiritual challenge to travel and live there, and be where you are, wholly (holy). Most people lose their shit after about two weeks of travel. The culture shock sets in. The lack of choice kills them. The silence of simplicty irks them.
Fuck this, I remember saying my first year in Germany.
Travel isn’t for me.
Damn, I’m glad I didn’t give up on traveling because life isn’t easy here, or there, or anywhere and Costco is a really, really convenient thing after all.
A majority of our country lacks the thousands of years of architectural history, progressively small cars, roads, renewable energy, and simple foods that come with traveling Europe. The simplicity and difference is hard to assimilate, but it teaches us a new way to live — to take what they do best and what we do best and merge them together.
Their foreign pace offers us less online distractions so we have to sit with ourselves, and not work, which again, means good things for Americans that don’t like that process.
To take the time to relax, connect, and break bread with strangers, or European friends was always one of my biggest achievements in life.
Yet, I don’t live abroad anymore. USA is my home, and it is the very place I question living in for a variety of reasons:
- Our American values of consumerism, things, status, money, shiny shit, and greed over experiences that give us perspective into the meaning of our lives. There are 365 degrees of living here, but yet, Americans like to live within 30–50 degrees of what they can see and know is in front of them.
- Travel changes people. Change is good. If you don’t like to change, then stay home and invite the foreign cultures to you. Living and traveling was an experience that gave me meaning and perspective on what I have, what I’m grateful for, and what I can appreciate about my culture and others.
- Without travel, I’d be wondering about this. Americans seem to love our fill of competing, working, and moving up on the ladder of corporate and financial success over finding the true meaning of what we want to be or do or raise or love or play our way into.
- A cafe au lait, quick “merci” and a tip for a waitress in Paris is a shared experience with a stranger that doesn’t understand why we gave her a tip in the first place. Not as many people sit down for just a coffee or espresso in America to reflect because we got too much shit to do.
Why is that?
Adjusting to a new culture takes time. Working and communicating with strangers in a culture not your own. It helps you appreciate the little things you miss like wondering why you are flushing a toilet with two buttons and then shitting on a porcelain tray underneath your butt and wondering why the hell anyone would design a toilet to with a tray under your butt.
This is enough of a reason to travel and continue loving it.
But to each their own, Kris, touche.