Traveling changes us.
It takes you out of familiar and sets you down into different and new. New tastes and smells, different language and lifestyle. You get a glimpse of how other people live and do the very same things you do every day.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
I was fourteen the first time I stepped foot into a different country and culture. I went on a mission trip to the Bahamas with my youth group. I don’t remember a lot of details from that trip, but I do remember feeling challenged in my faith and left impacted by seeing the way another culture lived simply and modestly.
Little did I know that experience would plant a seed of wonder and curiosity about the world.
Five years later, during my sophomore year of college, I participated in a study abroad program in Oxford, England. I had been saving to buy a car since high school, but decided to put all of it (about $5K) toward Oxford and use the opportunity to travel around Europe on weekends and holidays. Something in the back of my mind told me I wouldn’t get many opportunities like it.
That semester was a turning point in my life. It took me completely out of my comfort zone and pushed me in ways I didn’t know needed pushing. I began to see humanity in new and different ways.
It’s been seventeen years since that semester abroad and I still have an image in my mind from a train in Italy. As we traveled from Florence to Rome there was a man (30’s maybe) playing guitar, and something about him impacted me. The man played with such joy and contentment. He offered his talent to those around him and found delight in it. While he wanted money there was no sense of desperation about him. He inspired me. It was right there on that train that God began speaking to me in a new way- through people very different from myself and where I came from. I couldn’t even speak to this man, yet he had touched my heart in a way that’s still hard to put into words.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain
Oxford was a turning point in my life and where I felt God calling me to invest my life in full-time ministry. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I began making decisions with that in mind- for the first time I was truly asking God what He wanted me to do with my life and, more importantly, I was willing to follow Him.
After returning from Oxford I transferred colleges and moved back to the east coast. The week classes began one of my pastors introduced me to Filipe- this weird Brazilian guy I would later marry (we were both uninterested in a relationship that day and solely focused on ministry.) When we met I knew nothing about Brazil other than where it was on the map, but having my eyes and heart open to the world gave me a new interest and curiosity for another part of the world- Brazil.
I’ve traveled to Brazil several times now, Portuguese is almost as common to me as English, and two of our kids were adopted from there. Marrying into another culture continued to push me out of my own “normal”. A “normal” I didn’t really need to hold on to.
“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg
This week Filipe and I returned from a two week trip in Europe-Italy and Greece. We studied and experienced so much together. While I continue to process it all and figure out how to connect it with my current reality, I’m reminded once again the power of traveling. How going to a new place and mingling amidst a different culture changes us. I am a different person today than I was three weeks ago simply because of our trip.
While in Athens we took an Uber from our hotel to the train station to go to Corinth. Filipe asked the driver if he’d ever been out of Greece. He replied- “Only in Europe. I’m afraid to fly so I don’t go on airplanes.” I loved that he was so direct and honest about it, but it kinda made me sad for him. He allowed his fear to keep him from experiencing more of the world.
Fear keeps people from traveling and stepping out of familiar. Next to money, it’s probably the number one reason people don’t travel. But after the various experiences I’ve had traveling, I can say without any doubt, the benefit far outweighs all of the risks (I do acknowledge there are risks). Facing our fears and feeling a little lost in the world is so good for us- especially our pride.
Start planning your next trip now.
As the summer winds down and school and schedules pick back up, add it to your goals for next summer (or the summer after). Cross an ocean if you can, or at least travel to a new region. If you’re in the north, go south, if you’re east, go west. Go and intentionally experience parts of the culture that are completely different from your own. Do not travel to Greece for a week and eat KFC.
Maybe fear isn’t standing in your way, but money is. Start saving. We didn’t go on a vacation at all last summer and we got creative this summer. (We AirBnB’d our house while we were gone paying for a significant portion of our trip.) We pay for what we prioritize. If traveling is a priority and something we value, we will find what costs to cut and where to sacrifice.
I’ll share more in the coming weeks, but for now, figure out how to go and explore the world.