“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” These words by David Mitchell really hit home for me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of travel lately because, well, I haven’t been traveling. None of us really have to the extent we’d like.
Whether due to restrictions or personal choice, the pandemic that’s rocked the globe this year has changed everything about travel. It’s changed us as human beings and not in a good way.
Of course, it’s not good for any of us to be stuck at home, to be away from people, to cancel all the important events that make our lives meaningful.
There’s a reason we’ve all put on the “quarantine 15” and depression rates are skyrocketing. There’s a reason liquor stores are deemed essential – and we’ve proven that they are.
The core of humanity is connection and it’s just not good enough to connect on Zoom or Facetime. It’s not really enough to see the same faces and places every day. And it’s really rough when we feel the future is unknown.
If you think about it, none of us knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next. But by connecting with people and places – old and new, both reassuringly familiar and vastly different – we feel like everything is going to be ok.
And that’s why travel is so important.
Travel not to escape life, but so life doesn’t escape you. – Unknown
It’s a big world out there, but travel makes it just a little bit smaller. The ability to connect to different people and cultures all over the world in just of few hours is a pretty awesome thing.
Only within the last hundred years or so have we been able to fly wherever we choose, or drive all over the country, or take a ship across the sea (at least for pleasure, and without dying of scurvy, being overrun by rats or captured by pirates).
Human beings started out having no choice but to travel. We had to go where the food was or where the climate and terrain better guaranteed our survival.
Then we banded together and created tribes and communities, towns and cities. And here we are – needing each other for the sake of our sanity.
That’s why we’re all feeling a little lost right now – alone, disconnected, trapped.
People seem to have a couple of different responses to this pandemic – they either know we’re all gonna go sometime, so they keep on living their lives like it’s 2019…
or they’re living in fear and barely leave the house, adhering to every regulation set forth by the almighty elected officials.
No matter which category you fit into, you’ve still been affected by all the regulations put in place.
There were places you planned to go that shut their doors. There were events you had on the calendar that were cancelled. There are limitations on traveling abroad, and annoying mandates for traveling on local public transportation.
University of Maryland travel psychologist (I didn’t know there was such a thing, but it totally makes sense) has done a lot of research on why human beings need to travel to feel complete.
He says, “Travel is just about the single most human experience we can have because it’s a unique opportunity to make connections…”
So not traveling is, well, soul crushing.
These are the times that try men’s souls…
And women’s – especially women’s — because we’re mostly stuck at home with men and children (all too often the same thing).
Thomas Paine understood that freedom was vital to our human spirit.
We don’t like to be told what we can and can’t do… where we can and can’t go. And being told to sit home and basically put our lives on hold this year is not conducive to sanity.
And it’s not just that we can’t travel as we’d like right now.
A great deal of why we’re not traveling has to do with the other things that make us human.
It’s a social media world right now, you know, and we post every aspect of our lives for everyone to see.
We want to be “Liked” and accepted. We want others to give us positive feedback and, heck, if we’re honest, we want to make our friends envious of what we have.
It’s a survival of the fittest kind of thing. We used to boast about getting the biggest buffalo to feed our family through the winter, painting a portrait of our conquest on the walls of a cave.
Now, we post about our ski trip to Aspen with our matching gear and perfectly posed smiles pasted on our faces. We take photo after photo until we get it just right, sucking in our guts and getting our best side.
But boasting on social media right now, especially about our travels, is a bit frowned upon. People have lost their jobs, we’re all struggling in one way or another, and we feel bad for showing off (at least there’s some human decency left).
Or we feel judged for flying in the face of danger and traveling when Big Brother tells us not to. We don’t want our 475 friends on Facebook to think less of us because we’re putting our kids “at risk” by going to Disneyworld or acting like all is right with the world by sunning on a tropical beach.
And we especially don’t want to be judged for visiting our elderly grandparents or friends who may be more susceptible to this virus. What kind of person are you anyway?!!
But when you combine all these feelings of loss and guilt and missing out, it can wreak havoc on your spirit.
There’s a song about everything, and there’s one about this: People need people when the highs get low… The world’s a bit too heavy for one shoulder to hold.
Travel doesn’t just connect us to other people, to other places and their cultures, it connects us to ourselves. Yep, pretty deep, but true.
When we travel to other places, we try new things. We gain knowledge. We get out of our comfort zones. We feel more adventurous — and free.
The problems of our little lives can be put on hold when we travel – no matter how near or far we go. That’s why the anticipation of a trip is almost as good as the trip itself.
Actual scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of travel. The mind-body connection is real, and travel is good for our mental health – and can lower blood pressure and risk for disease because it decreases stress.
Unless you’re having a National Lampoon-like travel experience, it’s exhilarating to escape the familiar, if only for a short while.
Not only can we get away from the hum-drum monotony of our daily lives, but doing and seeing new things renews our creativity. We did something different, and we’re inspired to do more of it.
Travel makes us more compassionate. Experiencing different cultures can teach us a lot about just how lucky we are to live in the land of the free – and God willing, it will stay that way.
And then, when we do get home, we seem to appreciate it just a little bit more because, well, you know what Dorothy says – there’s no place like home. But you’ve got to get away once in a while to realize it.
The bottom line is, travel keeps our spirits afloat. And this year, we’re all circling the drain.
Traveling means dreaming. It means adapting. It means being adventurous and taking risks – finding a new part of ourselves.
While our travel plans may be on hold this year, our dreams are still there waiting to be fulfilled.
And that’s the cool thing about human beings. We always seem to look ahead with hope, knowing there’s something better coming our way… some new opportunity or experience awaiting us.
Right now, we can look ahead with hope that this disaster of a year is almost behind us and, as time goes on, this disaster of a year will become a faint memory.
We will (hopefully) survive this, and we’ll get back out there. We’ll learn and grow as we take up our travels once again. We’ll always come back home, but we’ll dream of a place outside our four walls and actually get there.
“Because, in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in an office or mowing your lawn. So climb that damn mountain.” Wise words from Jack Kerouac.
Keep the faith… I’ll see you back out there soon.