People are always saying that if you’re in a position of privilege you should use it to advocate for the rights of those who are not in the position to do so. Okay, well here goes – as a seasoned nomadic retiree, I would like the internet as a whole to calm down on urging everybody to travel LIKE RIGHT NOW.
Here’s the thing.
I have lived on three different continents in the past five years. I’ve attended universities on the other side of the planet from where I was born. I’ve collected paychecks from a bank whose official language I do not speak. I’ve slept with men who escaped religious cults, I’ve slept with women who led civil rights movements. I’ve learned about the world in a way that has opened my eyes and sent shivers down my spine but at the end of the day, not a single place on earth has taught me as much as the community I grew up in.
People compile sky-high lists about the benefits of travelling, and many of them are true. New experiences. Different perspectives. You should GET OUT WHILE YOU’RE YOUNG, they’ll tell you. GO FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE. Maybe a peyote experience in Mexico will change your religion forever. Maybe the streets of San Francisco will change you. Maybe you’ll find yourself lost in the Guatemalan rainforest, realizing life’s big truths for the very first time.
But I don’t know.
When people ask me my most incredible travel experience I usually tell them about the Great Barrier Reef. Or skydiving. Or exploring the remote locations of some developing country and what the locals of that society taught me. I cater each story to the personality of who I’m interacting with, impressing them because they want to be impressed. Because they want to know what more is out there. Because they want to believe in an escape and who am I to deny them that great fantasy?
I can tell you the real best stories of my travel though. You want to hear them? Here they are:
- I am walking through the streets of Chicago and I spot a new Fro-Yo shop. I stop in and purchase 3.50 worth of Red Velvet Cupcake and I eat it on the porch. I am thinking about someone I slept with for the first time last night, and it wasn’t in a drug-induced haze. It wasn’t somebody I stayed up until 3 AM debating the philosophies of Nietzsche with. It was just a nice boy who I’d grown quite fond of, and the sun was shining and it was a nice day and I thought “I think I’ll stay in Chicago for a while.” Because I had found some people I connected with and the rent was OK and the Fro-Yo was marvelous. I was happy that afternoon. Simple, plain old happy.
- I am working on my thesis when I get a call from a friend telling me GUESS WHAT she’s arrived in Fiji on vacation and she’d LOVE to meet up with me if I’m around, am I around? And I ditch what I’m doing and I meet her in a coffee shop and we sit and we talk for hours about the times that we had back at home when we were kids and the experiences that changed us together and we sit there until we run out of coffee and run out of air and then I give her the biggest, hugest hug that I have ever given anyone and I am happy to see an old friend. Happy to catch up. Happy to be wherever she is, and that could be any coffee shop on earth.
I can tell you about the Brazilian Amazon, if you would like. I can tell you about the Nile. I can describe the Northern lights as they are seen from the Icelandic shores and I can let you touch the sands of Jordan that I keep in a box on my dresser. But the most important truths of life, the most incredible stories I have, are of the people I’ve loved. The connections I’ve made. The friends who have been on skype at four in the morning their time because it was midnight for me and I was lonely. It’s love that changes us, not pins on a map or footsteps on the globe. It is the ways we create and adapt and begin that shapes the people we become, whether we do those things in a tiny village in Vietnam or from our boring old hometown in Connecticut.
If you want to travel, travel. But don’t feel as though you have to do so. Don’t feel as though you’re missing out, watching life pass, becoming a slight and less dignified person by finding opportunities within a 25 mile radius. You will become who you’ll become because there is a specific genetic makeup that makes you you. The same oxygen reaches your brain and the same blood gets pumped to your heart anywhere you are on this earth. And if you are committed to continuous learning, you’ll learn.
Oh you’ll learn.
The classroom’s anywhere you want.