1. Travel forces you to solve problems: There is nothing like being stuck in a country where you don’t know the language, you don’t know what a celebration hamburger is, your cellphone doesn’t get any service, and the bathrooms are gender neutral. So, you pick up new skills that your ordinary life would never permit: how to read a map, how to follow people’s hand gestures (because you can’t understand the language), how to estimate the time of day based on sunlight and to be extremely descriptive and on time about setting meeting spots, and you bring these newly acquired things home.
2. Travel gives you opportunities to connect with other people, both home and abroad: Before my trip, everyone who had ever been to Paris wanted to tell me about their experiences, and give me advice on what to pack, where to go, how to navigate the metros. And, upon my return, they wanted to hear about my experiences, compare their own, listen to the different things I did, and how they can’t wait for their next trip. They wanted to talk about Picasso, and about the very crowded Louvre, and if I would recommend Disneyland Paris, about the weather, the magic of the Eiffel Tower sparkling, and their own international travel horror stories.
And along our travels, we met many different people we would have never crossed paths with. Sitting in the cafes and riding the metros, I always listened for a familiar American accent. We encountered many other American tourists, of which we talked about where they were from, and what they were doing in Paris. I not only learned about Paris, but also about Washington D.C, about this couple’s magic proposal at Tiffany’s on Champs Elysees, about traveling to Morocco for an oil company. I met a couple Parisians, who were able to explain the school system to me, France’s perception of Obama, and which neighborhoods to avoid. Listening in to other conversations, I was able to get a glimpse of life and customs in England, Australia, Brooklyn.
3. Travel allows you to appreciate what you often take for granted: On our 12-hour layover in New York City, my travel companion and I decided to ride the subway into Manhattan. We sat down next to a resident and asked her how much she thought a cab would cost to take to the airport tomorrow morning. She said, “Oh, pretty expensive. Probably about $35″. In my world, a “pretty expensive” cab ride would be $100, not $35, and it made me realize just how fortunate my own life is.
And, being away always reveals which relationships are the most important to you. When I booked my ticket to leave on Christmas Eve, it didn’t even cross my mind that I would miss my family for Christmas. And, as I sat at the gate to board our plane, and I thought about the fact that my family hasn’t missed having some form of Christmas together for the last 24 years, I realized how much I would miss them, and how much I do actually love them, and how excited I was to return home to them.
Of course, I noticed myself missing other things as well: vegetables, ice, my Corolla, yoga class. And when I got home, I couldn’t wait to bring those things back into my life. It is true: you never really know what you have until it’s gone. The fortunate thing about travel is, it’s probably still there when you return.
4. Travel helps you learn stuff about yourself: Fun fact, I am actually an introvert. I didn’t really know this about myself, because I am actually pretty outgoing and I talk a lot until I spent 12 days with my travel companion.
I read somewhere that the difference between introverts and extroverts is that, once extraverts think of something, they feel like sharing it with everyone, and once introverts think of something, they don’t see the point in sharing. One time, I was accused of being “hard to read,” “having a wall built up,” “digging a moat, plagued with sharks, and leeches, and other sharp objects that people have to somehow find a way to swim across” (pretty sure I found the moat at Chateau Vincennes though). I honestly was kind of offended by this, because I personally thought I shared lots of things about myself. But, it wasn’t until this trip that I realized that this person was actually right: I am on lockdown, and I can’t really get mad at people for not acknowledging my needs or for not knowing things about me if I don’t tell them.
And, since it turns out I actually am an introvert, there is a likelihood I won’t tell them anyways.
Travel teaches you a lot about things you like (citron macaroons), and things you don’t like (duck confit – never again). It teaches you how you react in stressful situations, such as when your bag is the last one on the carousel, or you miss your flight. It teaches you what kind of people you get along best with, what kind of aspirations you have for yourself, how rigid or flexible your personality is, that you way over pack, how much sleep you can actually function on. And, the good thing is – traveling as a 20-something, you can always change any of those things that you learn about yourself and don’t like.
5. Travel causes you to break habits: Last semester, I worked on a project for my grad class about power structures, and was on this huge, unhealthy kick about how people try to manipulate and control situations to gain power positions. I started seeing some unnerving and corrupt power structures in my everyday world that I did not like. And, I couldn’t stop it. Everywhere I went, people’s power plays jumped out at me, like I was looking at one of those book fair hieroglyphic bookmarks. And then, I went to Paris, where my brain was occupied with travel-related issues (such as connecting the written French words to the spoken French sounds). And, suddenly, the presence of power structures floated away.
Perhaps some of these other habits are eating too much sugar, skipping the gym, not following through with engagements. In our lives, we need constant; we need to wake up at a constant time, so that we don’t get sick. We need to work a constant job, so we aren’t constantly re=inventing the wheel. We need to eat at constant times, so that our bodies know when to expect nourishment. But we also need change; without change, we become static, monotone, robotic. I think travel gives us a natural affordance to re-vitalize, re-align, and re-set ourselves.
6. Travel shows you the world is much, much greater than yourself: As humans, we are innately selfish and narcissistic. We want what is best for OURSELVES, and we want OUR desires met. The longer we stay in one place, the more ethnocentric, and egocentric, we become. I found myself wondering what makes me ‘better’ than any of the other 2.3 million people in this city that I would deserve special treatment. Why do I have the privilege to push and shove through the crowd to make sure I made this train over someone else? What makes me a better person that I deserve that last seat over someone else? Even though I don’t live in one, I always love visiting big cities, because it reminds me of just how expansive the human population is. Paris alone has a population of about 2.3 million people, which means that 2.3 million other people also need to feed themselves, to get themselves to work, to use the bathroom, to dress themselves, to take care of their families. I am really no better than anyone else.
7. Travel teaches you really are also no different than anyone else in the world: Of course, cultures have their own little nuances. In France, they eat a Gillette cake for New Years, and whoever gets the bean is supposed to have luck for the rest of the year. In New Orleans, they stick a baby in a cake for Mardi Gras and whoever finds the baby is supposed to have a good year. During Thanksgiving, whoever gets the wishbone is supposed to have their heart’s desire granted. But, all of these traditions have relatively the same purpose: to give us the false illusion that good things will happen to us.
As I walked around the museums (and, let me tell you, Paris has PLENTY), all I could think about was how, since the beginning of time, humans are relatively the same creatures. Humans have always searched for something to explain the unexplainable, whether it be through sacrificial ceremonies, diagramming the constellations, or praying to a god. Humans have always strove to make their mark on the world, whether it be through elaborate castles with dazzling halls of mirrors, or building large and impressive tombs, or tattooing themselves in a snake pattern, forking their tongue, and swallowing a sword. And, humans have always needed a find to way to feed themselves, to cloth themselves, to shelter themselves, to communicate with each other, and to entertain themselves, whether that be through catching fish with their bare hands, or dining over an exquisite pot of fondue, wearing animal fur and beads, or factory-made plastic heels, digging a hole and living in the ground, or building a stone castle with secret passageways, to speak in French, or English, or sign language, to watch operas and ballets, or movies and video games.
Across cultures, while we may represent these traits differently, the root of who we are as people is the same. And, for that matter, as long as no one is getting hurt, I can’t judge people for living their lives in different ways than I choose to live mine, because while these gender neutral bathrooms and absence of queue lines and words that certainly don’t look like they are pronounced may seem strange to me, other people might think it’s strange that I shower every morning, that I pollute the earth by driving my Corolla by myself everywhere, that I like to drink cold beverages and could carry a gun with me if I wanted.
8. Travel enhances your illusions of the world: Before I left, I told my sister, “You know, I have been experimenting with reading books. Like, I might read two books at once, and compare themes, or I might re-read a book I read when I was a kid, and think about how my connection to it has changed, or I might read a book set in Paris, while I am in Paris. It really enhances the reading experience” (ultra nerdy, I know). So, when people asked her why I was going to Paris, she just replied, “I don’t know? Something about a book?” Although not my only reason for taking the trip, seeing Paris will inevitably change my experience of reading books, and watching movies, and buying products that are anything related to Paris. While my comprehension of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway was in no way subdued or inhibited, actually seeing the monuments, and understanding how cafes work changed the way I was able to visualize the characters, understand the conflict, and interpret the messages. We can always look at pictures, and we can always watch videos, but actually being in places – actually walking up from the subway to Notre Dame rising in majesty above you – is a completely different thing.
9. Travel gives you a lifetime of enjoyment: One of my favorite parts of going on a trip is catching up with everyone upon my return. Especially going somewhere like Europe, you are so inundated with information, history, culture, people, lack of sleep, etc. that you do no necessarily realize the full impact of the trip, and appreciate all the super cool opportunities you had until you are able to go back home and ruminate on it. When you look back on a trip, your memory never focuses on the stomach pains you felt from ravage hunger, or how miserably cold you were while waiting in line for Crush’s Coaster, or how badly it hurt because you had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to pay. Instead, you think about how funny it was that you threw away your boarding passes and had to hurdle a wheelchair to retrieve them. You remember standing at the discotheque, and retrieving your fork from the trash because you can’t understand French, and realizing that you can see over everyone’s heads. You remember the awe of the Moulin Rouge, or the magic you felt when Ana and Elsa drove down Main Street at Disneyland Paris.
And, it’s always a pleasant reminder when you find a ticket stub in your coat pocket, or come across an unspent euro (and you remember the time you were scrounging up 6,70 euros at the airport to buy those last minute presents because your shuttle came an hour earlier than planned), or when you see something that reminds you of your trip. The trip certainly doesn’t end when you arrive home, but rather exists forever in your memories.
10. Travel inevitably always changes you: I always love the anticipation leading up to a trip, because inevitably, I know I will come out a different person than I started. When I start the trip, I am not sure what that change will be, but I know that I will never be the same. Experiences change us. After climbing the 14er this summer, I was somehow more at peace with The Unknown. After going to Iowa over Labor Day weekend, I somehow gained the ability to analyze a situation, and then compartmentalize it after I drew my conclusions so I wasn’t such an anxious mess all the time. After re-reading Gone With the Wind, I was somehow able to appreciate and revel in the suffering we undergo on a daily basis.
And, of course, it’s not always immediately evident what those changes might be, but they will subtly infiltrate the everyday behaviors and perceptions. I can’t tell you just yet how exactly I have changed since returning home from Paris. I can tell you that I now understand how food can be a form of entertainment, and not just nourishment. I picked up a few new French words, perhaps a slight accent, and some extra pounds from eating so much bread. I know that I really value my time alone, iced drinks, and my Corolla.
But, the other slightly more meaningful changes – the ones that will change and alter my soul forever – the ones that will change my perceptions of and interactions with the world–I will just have to wait and see.
Money always finds a way to replenish itself; experiences can never be bought. So travel, see the world. Learn about people, learn about cultures. Learn about yourself. Be changed.