Travel is a joy and a privilege, a fact never so evident as now, when travel is halted for the immediate future. Perhaps things will never be the same for those of us who are wanderers, we don't know. All I know is that the privilege of travel has allowed me to more truly appreciate this amazing world. It has allowed my horizons to be expanded in a deeply personal sense.
I will never forget my first experience of traveling to a really different culture. My young 19-year-old self had transformed through the mind opening experience of that first foray into adventurous travel. A three month student trip to Syria had me feeling as though my life had been a kind of lie. I asked myself why I hadn't previously understood how differently other people in the world lived? Why had I assumed that my kind of life was the normal for most people? And most especially...what else was out there?!
To me it literally felt as though my understanding of the world and it's inhabitants more than doubled. My mind and vision were expanded. Enlarged. And, I was changed forever. When I returned home everything looked a little different as I was seeing it from a different perspective. A perspective of greater empathy, curiosity and love for peoples and cultures who were different to me. I came home with an appreciation for things I had hitherto taken for granted, and with a new maturity and richness to my very soul.
I was more. I was deeper. I was more capable and more reaching in my aspirations than I had been previously. The rebirth of this new, more interesting, more able self was attributed to this one thing - the privilege of travel. The privilege of travel with a caveat - an open heart and mind. Combine those two things and magic happens!
The results that were forthcoming from that one offering of heart and mind superseded any superficial desired outcomes for a positive experience in a foreign country. Yes, I wanted to learn new words, taste new food and shop for exotic souvenirs. But even though I was basically terrible at the language and I was all sorts of imperfect in how I handled independent travel and study abroad, and even though I occasionally disliked the cultural differences and general lack of first-world cleanliness...the magic was there.
In my young naivety and inexperience on foreign turf, I sometimes shied away from opportunities because of shyness or self-doubt, and I was often sick and often struggling with culture differences and the ever present discomfort of being so totally out of my comfort zone. But, and this is a big BUT, despite all of those inherent challenges and imperfections, the result was both life-changing and grounding because I went in with a heart willing to learn.
Fast forward many years to when I, as the mother of 5 children, was able to show my kids the beautiful works of Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci. We ate gelato and spaghetti and waited among throngs of tourists for the first boats of Carnivale in Venice to come gliding down the canal, and rooted deep in my heart was a conviction born from those early days in the Middle East. In my heart, I knew. I knew that simply by being there with an open heart and mind, that we would all be changed.
And we were, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Our souls expanded and were made richer from the excitement and appreciation such travel elicited. We appreciated more, laughed and smiled more, looked at the world through a lens of eagerness and openness, and doing such a thing changes a person. It is not possible to sit stagnant or marinate in cultural biases and narrow mindedness when you force yourself to move, to get out there and see what this world is like!
There is so much beauty in the world, so much creativity and wonder. So many people and cultures and histories to learn from. On our family travel experiences I was still hoping for cute souvenirs and tasty food and excitement. I was still terrible at the language, occasionally frustrated and still ever imperfect, but I knew, I absolutely knew, that the act of getting out into the world with my family would change us for the better, and it has. We learned from our interactions with the new people around us - new thoughts, new customs, new words and perspectives. This led to a richer understanding of ourselves because we challenged our previously held notions of normality. We slowly learned that being different is good, it is interesting, it is beautiful.
Now we are not able to travel. Planning and dreaming of adventurous travel has come to a screeching halt. What to do? What about those of us who are not simply after a fun vacation, but who see the experience of traveling as a necessary part of opening up our minds and heart to the rest of the world?
For starters I believe that the topic of travel is not taboo. The genuine appreciation of travel experiences and how they have impacted our lives is still as much a part of us as ever. Although I accept I must wait, I look forward with hope to a future when I can still share this amazing world with my children. I remember the times and adventures of past travel with ever more gratitude. As travel articles around the world fall by the wayside in favour of helpful tips for surviving the global virus apocalypse, I want to still remember the world in it's beauty. I want to remember my adventures and to hear someone else's stories about an amazing place they've experienced. I don't want to put off learning about incredible places in the world, because although we can not physically go there right now, the personal expansion and growth that results from experiencing different places around the world is still needed.
Travel stories and connection with others about a love for exploring and appreciating this incredible planet are like soul food. It feels good to think about a hopeful future. It feels good to remember past joys and life lessons in different parts of the world. It feels good to appreciate and laugh and marvel still. Perhaps a shift is needed from the ever abundant 'how-to' articles that flood the web to a more story based travel scene. Maybe we need to tell how all of those tips and tricks have changed us. How did we feel in that moment? Was it worthwhile? What was amazing and what was disappointing? How did we change from the experience?
So while I continue to wade my way through the copious amounts of truth and error flooding my social media feeds and the television networks, while I try to maintain that fine balancing act between caution and courage, I will tell my stories. I will tell the stories I know and still love; stories about the joy, the privilege and the learning that comes from travel. Past travel and the hope for the future.
A brave continuation of the sharing of personal travel stories may be more relevant than you might suppose. During this horrible and unprecedented global epidemic, our experiences of the beauty of this world are a celebration, a belief that travel and exploration - the quintessential form of engaging and joyful learning, is not forever halted, but is only temporarily disabled. While we wait and hope and pray, we can remember to laugh with delight. We can remember to learn from those who are different and who are far away. We can remember to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and challenge our conceptions of things we take for granted. And by sharing these experiences and parts of ourselves, we can above all, remember that the world and it's people, are truly beautiful.