“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
While no stranger to prejudice and arrogance of his own, Mark Twain had this much right for certain: travel changes you. Travel challenges you. Travel holds a light up to the things festering in your soul and makes you question them, and hold them up for comparison. And like all those who cherish the stamps in their passport, I realize the truth: travel is also? Addictive.
The act of stepping outside your environs, of meeting people, of hearing their stories and sharing your own; it’s alchemical. The mundane tasks of life take on new significance, the minor irritations become less problematic. Every time I leave my door, and travel somewhere I have never been, meet someone I’ve never met; I return a different creature.
Anyone familiar with the narcotic sweep of the pages of a novel will tell you the same thing. Meeting those new people, seeing places that NOBODY has seen before. I wonder sometimes how I will ever really know myself, because every week I read at least one new book, every quarter I travel to one new place, and meet countless new people.
Maybe that’s the biggest gift of all. We get to rediscover ourselves after every trip.
I suspect that you, the person reading this right now, are hardly in need of convincing about the transformative power of travel and the written/spoken word. “Preaching to the choir” is the common term… tho now I want to know what the equivalent is for other areas where Judeo-Christian culture is less prevalent. (Anyone? Please do let me know… I’d love to know if there’s a slang for this in Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu dominant cultures. Stick it in the comments)
I’ll be frank: It worries me… to see how few people travel either in body and spirit or in mind today. While the statistic of 35% of Americans having passports appears low… it’s definitely more like 45%… that is still a sorry comparison to – say, Canada’s 60+% and the UK’s 70%. I grant you, The United States of America is a huge and spectacular country, and you could do worse than to spend your life traveling it, you could. But still.
Seriously people? Less than HALF? Statistics are that only around 5% of my countrymen went out of the country last year. (The number is 11% of the population made trips, but that doesn’t seem to factor in repeat trips)
We do a bit better on reading… 70% or so adults read a book in the last year. A. Book. (Essentially you and I are seriously skewing the average books read per year percentages.)
We NEED to be challenged. We need to be uncertain. We need ideas that change, beliefs that are shaken, and assumptions that have holes poked in them.
I am fortunate in my life to be able to travel some, both within my own beautiful country and outside it. I spend every working day of my life immersed in stories up to my eyebrows. I have seen places desolate and desperate, exquisite and exotic. I have loved and fought, eaten and cooked, died and been born, killed and saved. I’ve been confused and enlightened, shocked and seduced. I’ve done these things in body, and in mind.
After all these travels, and looking ahead to so many more; like a writer hero of mine, I am certain of only one thing:
I am certain of nothing.