5 Reasons NOT to Travel

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I tried to find a meme poking fun at “wanderlust.” This is the closest I could find. HA!

Not many blogs today are going to discourage any readers from traveling, but, though I believe in the power and importance of cross-cultural experiences and travel, sometimes we need to check our motives. This post is a follow-up to my last, “5 Reasons to Travel” (sorry I didn’t post this a week later like I originally said…first year teacher probz). This is sort of my caveat post because I would like to continue some of the exciting trends and destinations in travel. However, I don’t want to perpetuate the narcissism machine that often plagues my generation, i.e. “Look how great I am because I travel!” So go out and see the world. See the world abroad. See the world in your neighborhood. See the world in your own country’s cultural centers (check out this great Nat Geo article “Five Ways to Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown”). But try to avoid adventure for the wrong reasons. Here are some examples.

1) Narcissism 

As already alluded to, many of today’s social media posts are incredibly me-focused. There are all kinds of psychological studies out there about the use of social media to create a sort of avatar of our perfect selves. Global adventures can easily devolve into hollow attempts to demonstrate just how great and exciting our lives are–sometimes a tool to mask our own insecurities. I’m preaching to myself here. So, keep sharing your adventures; don’t be ashamed. Your friends and family want to celebrate with you (I hope). But travel is not a game. There’s no trophy for most exotic lifestyle. In fact, a lot of travel is much less sexy than you realize. Though I’m incredibly thankful for some of my solo voyages, they have also been some of the most lonely and soul-searching.

2) Freedom

Like most things, freedom is a case of moderation. Independence is good. Being a drifter unwilling or unable to maintain long-term community and relationships is not. In fact, it may be a good indicator of deep brokenness rather than a free spirit. This realization I learned more experientially in my own travels. Some of my adventuring was really just an escape from people and personal pain. However, such getaways often left me even lonelier than before. Writing from a Christian perspective (I realize not everyone subscribes to my personal beliefs, but I believe this wisdom is universal), humanity was not made to live in isolation. We were made for relationships. I don’t believe that a lifestyle of wandering (unsustained community) harmonizes with who we are on our most fundamental level.

3) Savior-complex

Living in El Salvador I had some good conversations about the perceptions of locals towards gringo missionaries (this is not me being overly critical but rather raising awareness). Though there was always a respect for the work that many mission groups were doing (building projects, medical trips, youth camps, sports camps, etc.), there was also some frustration towards a savior mentality often manifested in the people of prosperous nations. Here they were trying to save the locals from their poor, tragic lives and often unwilling to appreciate or respect the culture they were entering. This was probably most realized in long-term missionaries unwilling to even try learning the local language. It was perceived as an arrogant presupposition that English is superior, that American culture is superior. Imagine the hubris of entering my culture, my country, and expecting me to speak to you in your language. Of course, the realities of these situations are often more complicated than they seem, but it is a reminder that all aid should be given with humility and respect. Even on a short-term trip, learning 5-10 phrases in the local language communicates appreciation towards the host culture.

4) Complete self-actualization

In response to my previous post’s point about the beauty of self-discovery when traveling, we need to remember that travel will not save us. We grow. We mature. But travel will not completely fix us. Minus the nearly unattainable exceptions of people who have been able to travel as an ongoing lifestyle, most of us have to come back and live in the real world of real jobs and real relationships, and we must learn to live and thrive in that reality. Travel can be an awakening or a recharge, but it will not save you.

5) Getting wasted

The purpose of this final point is not to make a judgment on readers’ drinking habits (what is wise or not or, from a religious perspective, what is moral or not). Rather, this is my soapbox from personal travel experiences. I remember staying in various hostels throughout Europe and meeting travelers who basically spent their whole time partying all night and sleeping all day. While in Rome, I vividly remember thinking about how tragic it was that some of the Americans needed to spend thousands of dollars to fly to the seat of their Western cultural roots just to get stupid drunk every night. The Vatican was just down the road. The Colosseum was just down the road. And they missed it. That’s what I was processing as I got myself up each day to explore the city and pass by their passed out bodies. Come on, guys. We can do better than this.

In closing, let’s remember that traveling is an incredible privilege that MOST people around the world are unable to enjoy. Please stop acting like some people are somehow second-class citizens because they’ve never been overseas (I’m looking at myself on this one sometimes). I am a proponent of prioritizing your finances towards travel and new experiences (money to buy memories and not just bigger stuff). However, adventure looks different for different people, and if you’re from a prosperous nation like the United States, remember that most people around the world could not afford the adventures you have even if they wanted to. This does not mean that you should feel bad for traveling. Get out there. Explore. But do so with understanding and wisdom.

So, let me ask you, are there any other bad motivations for traveling that you’d like to share? Comment below.

 

Saying Goodbye (and Understanding Home)

Home is one of the most powerful motifs I’ve ever found in literature or theology. 

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My dad, my mom, my girlfriend Elena, and I at San Martin, basically El Salvador’s version of Panera Bread Co.

In my senior’s English Literature class we’re reading Robinson Crusoe (I needed something in our textbook that would hold their attention amidst senioritis better than old poetry they couldn’t understand–remember, English isn’t their first language). At the beginning of the story the main character is being persuaded by his father not to set out on his adventure. Let your imagination wander a little bit, and it’s a rather tearful, dramatic account. Robinson Crusoe’s brother has already died on his own adventure, and his father withholds his blessing (and God’s) if his son insists stubbornly on his journey to the sea.

Now, my experience with my parents has never been like that. They’ve always been supportive of my adventures, the path of my life (and it’s taken quite a winding way). But it’s always so difficult to say goodbye. I said goodbye last July when I moved to El Salvador. I said goodbye after visiting them at Christmas. And I just said goodbye to them last Tuesday after they were in the country for a week. My parents are beautiful people, and we are very close. It was difficult to say goodbye. I love them dearly. So this is an important lesson to adventuring.

Always remember where you came from. There’s a worn-out statement packed with meaning. Nobody is so alone in life that they would not be missed if they left. Stay in touch. Send a postcard. Love the ones you leave behind. Visit. And when your journey’s over, it’s okay for your tired feet to find their way back home. Home is one of the most powerful motifs I’ve ever found in literature or theology.

A little bit out of context, but I’ve always loved the sense of this statement from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

“What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again?”

Adventure: Reflection and Looking Ahead

 

Seven years ago today I embarked on an incredibly transformative life-adventure: backpacking through Europe by myself for 3.5 months as a freshly graduated 22 year old.

I spent time journaling and reflecting this morning. Here’s today’s entry:

January 14 [2017]:

On this day seven years ago I flew from St. Louis to Dublin. That experience ended up being one of the most transformative of my life. In some ways I can directly link to that experience as a point in which everything changed. I learned to see life differently. I grew independent. I grew quieter and more reflective. I became imaginative and wanted to see the world through experience rather than didactic moralism. I fell deeper in love with books and writing and creativity and art. I have wanted to explore the depths of knowledge and adventure. Suddenly I was dissatisfied with a normal (9-5) life. Some might say I’ve become “unhinged” ever since; I’d just say “unsettled.”

When we have experiences such as these there’s a temptation to try and re-create them. But we can’t; it does disservice to the memory and the experience. In a sense, we can’t look back in life. We can look in the mirror (self-reflection and growth), but we can’t turn around. Re-creating sublime moments is a sort of prostitution [soiling what is supposed to be pure]: we’re plucking at the divine fruit we were meant to taste once. We forget we’re in the garden of mystery where every tree bears a different fruit. Savor that which you’ve already enjoyed, remember it, cherish it, but search for new fruit.

I’m thankful for the adventure that started my adventures. Let’s keep moving forward.

Since that trip in 2010 I’ve had the incredible privilege of backpacking around Scotland (and the West Highland Way), hiking the Na Pali coastline, traveling and getting my CELTA in S. America (Ecuador and Peru), Scotland again to hike with a friend, and Italy with my family. I now live in El Salvador. I’m not rich monetarily; but I’m rich in experience. Travel itself will not fill emptiness in your life–it will not “fix” you. You can be filled in so many ways. Nevertheless, don’t settle for mundane. Keep pushing at the seams of life.

Here’s a link to my inactive blog that recounts my Europe trip in full: Go.

Finally, read it or don’t, but below is a final piece of warning/advice. Happy Saturday!

 

[Note: As I scan webpages here and there, I want to leave this warning/advice to any readers. Don’t commercialize travel. I hope that’s not what I’m doing by blogging about this. There are a zillion travel tips and organizations and resources (many of them helpful, many of them that I have used from time to time), but don’t lose the spirit of travel. It’s not an industry for some Fat Cat to get rich off of…feeding into the Western world’s dissatisfaction with life. Travel, done correctly, is painfully intimate–no one can understand your experience like you can. It is sublime. It is mysterious and soul-seeking. Stepping out, I mean really stepping out, was never meant to be a two-second affair, snapping off a bunch of photos and scampering back to safe and normal. Now, it’s okay to return to what the world might call “normal” because YOU know that you’re no longer normal, and you adjust your life accordingly. You bring that spirit of change and  new eyes back with you. I feel that I’m rambling a bit here; I don’t know how to put this into words. But I see some people’s travel posts and sites, etc. from time to time, and it seems that they are more interested in how their experiences are perceived by others rather than letting those moments be their own. Remember when Sean O’Connell in Walter Mitty explains that “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera…”? Leaving aside the irony of using a major Hollywood quote to make my point, let’s take a page out of O’Connell’s book and not feel the need to prostitute our moments, OUR OWN. Let’s pursue truth and beauty and self-discovery, not gimmicky tourism-industry shenanigans. I hope this makes sense. Thanks guys!]