Archive for the 'Why We Travel' Category

TDT’s Why We Travel: Reason #4

Reason #4: To appreciate where we come from.

I remember once reading a narrative written by a struggling Zen Buddhist living in Manhattan who said, “I had to leave New York in order to come back to it.” I never really understood what he meant until I found myself similarly frustrated with life in my own hometown, itching to venture elsewhere.

To people who aren’t from Seattle, the idea of getting sick of it may sound nuts – it’s a beautiful city, and home to some of the most laid-back, nature-appreciating people Stateside. But stasis anywhere (even in the Emerald City) can grind a person down to bare nerves. The grass, they say, is always greener…

But as we travel to other destinations – newly attune and appreciative of the simple, the lovely and the mundane – we inevitably begin to recall and miss even the smallest aspects of home. Our own bed, the street we lived on, or that cafe around the corner. After the novelty of our new space has worn off, we begin to long for what we know, for the places where our memories reside.

In the course of traveling, we adjust to dealing with these feelings; we may even develop a new sense of home in each of our destinations. Yet we realize that so much of who we are is intertwined with where we come from – and as much as we travel or as cosmopolitan as we become, a part of our identity can only be understood in the context of our home.

And so when we finally return, we look at familiar things with a fresh perspective. We soak it in and appreciate feeling entirely comfortable in our surroundings – able to speak our native tongue, able to navigate without a map.

But despite this newfound affection for home, the true traveler will certainly get the itch again – perhaps sitting on a familiar beach, deeply inhaling the salty air of Puget Sound, we look out into the distance and wonder, “Where next?”

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TDT’s Why We Travel: Reason #3

Reason #3: People

Seattle-based hip hop group Blue Scholars lyricizes in their track ‘Sagaba’ that “we hardly know ourselves if we know nobody else.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Against the backdrop of family and old friends, it’s easy for us to settle into an idea of who we really are. But it is in meeting people from other places, who perhaps hold entirely different values and whose life experiences resemble nothing of our own, that we are forced to flesh out a new understanding of self and develop our own philosophy.

At a pre-study abroad seminar I attended, a speaker likened this process to the putting together of two triangles – in order to become close, we must sometimes flip ourselves upside down.

But another aspect of meeting people in this world is learning that beyond the superficial, at the core we are perhaps not so different. Sometimes, this truth is expressed in the simplest of ways.

When I was living in Seoul, I once heard my Korean neighbor playing electric guitar. A few days later, we got to talking while he was in the hall (he had heard me playing acoustic), and he invited me to check out his CD collection; I was stunned to see one of my favorite bands – Hi Standard – among the albums. A few nights later we went out for drinks and chatted about music, girls, and politics. Though we struggled a bit with non-native tongues (it seemed to get easier the more we drank) our conversation felt entirely familiar, like one I might have with an old friend in a Seattle coffee shop.

My as of yet limited travels have wonderfully entangled me with networks of new friends, some of whom I know I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. It’s mind-blowing to think that I would have never met many of the people who are so valuable in my life had I never thrown myself out into the world.

I imagine it’s this drive to meet people that pushes many of us to travel on – after all, the beauty of earth’s destinations truly rests not in marvelous buildings or unfamiliar streets, but within the stories and cultures of their inhabitants.

Happy Travels!

TDT’s Why We Travel: Reason #2

Reason #2: To escape.

The author Stephanie Elizondo Griest wrote in the opening lines of Around the Bloc about having nighmares of being “at a washed-up twenty-five, roaming Mary Carrol High’s halls in my letterman jacket and getting plastered in the Taco Bell parking lot for fun.” From that moment she knew she had to get the hell out – it was an impulse led her to a four-year journey through 12 nations, and to an entirely different life.

Having been raised in suburbia myself, I identified immediately with Griests fears (I shamefully remember reading her memoir while sitting outside a Starbucks across from the mall). Similar nightmares drove me out of the country for nearly a year; a sense of not wanting to settle brought me across the country, and it continues to stir my wanderlust.

Without condescension, I have to admit that I sort of shake my head when I see people I used to know who never made it out and never had the desire to – I feel so glad to have traveled beyond that place and time.

But escape in this sense is more than just physically traversing space. It’s about breaking out of your natural habitat and escaping a comfortable frame of mind. Traveling in a foreign country for an extended period of time can challenge everything you previously thought about yourself, your values or the world; it is this transformation that allows us true escape.

(Edited: 04/30/2007)

TDT’s Why We Travel: Reason #1

It continues to baffle me that the structure of our society (at least, U.S. society) is designed in violation of a fundamental principle of human life: that experiences are more valuable than posessions.

I remember talking to my dad not so long ago about the things he regretted doing in his young life. He told me wistfully that he spent so much time and money accumulating stuff – cars, furniture, etc. – and in turn feeling bound to his investments, that he never took to the time to simply get out and see the world. My mom, similarly, felt so bound to her work early in life that she didn’t take the opportunity to follow my dad to Europe while he was there with the air force.

Undoubtedly, my parents have led wonderful lives and still have opportunities ahead – but there will always be that tinge of regret, and I imagine it’s a feeling we all know well.

But this is what we are imbued with every day – that work and things are important, and that we must work to pursue things because these things will make us happy. And despite the movies and greeting cards and novels that tell us opposite, for some reason the majority of us still buy into this idea…literally.

When we travel, we defy this notion that things are important. We pack light, we roam and we spend money and energy on experiences – on delicious dinners in far-flung restaurants, on introspective train rides, and on filled journal pages. We remember forever our days spent with friends, new or old, in unfamiliar places. These are things we can hold even as other elements in our life come and go .

And so we travel, in that sense, to live – to remember that life is a string of experiences, not a conglomeration of posessions now gone.


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