The Art of Good Travel
A corner cafe. Freshly brewed espresso. The scent of baguettes. The atmosphere and culture of Paris, and indeed all of France, continuously caught me off guard. It was the simplicity of lifestyle that never failed to surprise me: how friends could carelessly spend four hours a day sitting in a restaurant, enjoying their food and engaging in real conversation. How the city seemed to bustle about without seeming rushed. As I walked the ancient cobblestone streets and gazed at the distant outline of Notre Dame against the sky, I felt more at home than I ever had. Yet, I thought, one can always feel at home. I had felt at home in the rainforests of Costa Rica; on the beaches in Mexico; even within the taxi-infested streets of New York City.
I feel at home now, writing in my dorm room in Moorhead, Minnesota.
You see with each new place I go, a tiny connection forms between myself and that place; a small establishment of home. Through creating these bonds I have also found that I feel much more a part of the world, and much more aware of its multifaceted beauty. In the words of the poet Maya Angelou, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” This internal desire to feel at home is mutual among all human beings. The key to satisfying this aspiration is, as I have illustrated, creating those bonds of home no matter where you go. In other words, travel.
But wait! This is not just any type of travel. To truly begin building this ability to feel at home, one must first master the art of being a good traveler. Their first, very basic step: keep cool. When traveling, anything can happen and it’s impossible to be completely prepared. For instance, in our month-long trip to France and Italy, my family and I came back to the train station feeling very tired after a long, hot day in Rome. Everyone was longing to get home and go to sleep. However, something very curious was afoot; there were no trains in the station. Our dreams of slumber were soon dashed when we were informed that the reason behind the missing trains was that the conductors had decided to go on strike. There was no telling when, or if, the trains would come. Thankfully, using their “good traveler” skills (and the very generous help of the mobile camps we were staying at) my parents were able to arrange for a large taxi to bring us, happily, home. Now in such a situation, a bad traveler might get stressed, scared, and whiny at the thought of sleeping in the train station- which of course was the main thought going through our heads. A good traveler however, never loses their head, but perhaps even embraces the surprises of traveling as an adventure. For traveling is an adventure, and the unexpected moments become the future well-worn dinner table stories.
The next step to being a good traveler is to be a wholehearted traveler. A whole-hearted traveler does not hold any stereotypes or prejudices against the culture they are about to enter. Instead, one must engage in that culture with new eyes, and experience the lifestyle without pre-judgement. Interact with the people of that culture; hear their perspectives, eat their food, speak their language, feel their pain, feel their joy. Perhaps the greatest, albeit more rare chance to being a wholehearted traveler, is to develop personal relationships with the very souls of that culture. I can testify to this experience.
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to travel with my mother to France in February of 2010. We stayed in Lyon, at the house of her old friends from a jazz group, where she would be recording a CD. The experience was unforgettable. While my mom worked with jazz musicians from all over Europe, I toured Lyon with our host’s daughter, and now my “French sister,” Natacha. Together we walked the backstreets she took to school, chatted with her friends, and walked through the market (where I would ask ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est?’ At each fruit and vegetable, and she would patiently teach me the names). Our activities ranged everywhere from riding La Grande Roue (the ferris wheel), to watching Innvictus and I am Legend with french subtitles. The most memorable time was in the evening, when we would sit down with the whole family, and any guests that happened to be over (there was usually a guest) and enjoy a scrumptious three or four course meal, complete with wine and good conversation. It is the heart of French culture, right here in the ordinary home. That week, Lyon became my home just as much (if not more) as California. Likewise, Natacha came and stayed at our house for a month in the summer, making it her home as well. She has seen American culture at its heart, through my family and I. This is the key, the joy, of wholehearted traveling.
While there are many other steps to being a good traveler, I shoal conclude with what I feel is most relevant to you and I, as college students. Travel now. Take every opportunity. A good traveler can only exercise his or her fantastic skills if they are, in fact, traveling. Woe to the student who uses the words “It’s too expensive” or “not right not.” Although the former argument can and is a valid issue, for many the real issue lies in the will. Blogger Anna Czaczkowski writes,
“Many of them (Americans) feel that they need to have a large flat screen TV in the living room of the apartment they are renting… that’s a few thousand dollars which could have been put towards an eye-opening, horizon-expanding adventure abroad. My argument is not that everyone can afford such travel, but that Americans are making all the wrong choices- and prioritizing consumerism over their own personal growth.”
This argument is true, to some extent. While some honestly cannot afford the financial costs of travel, others issue lies in prioritization. By recognizing the vital importance of developing those personal connections with different parts of the world and experiencing firsthand the differences in other cultures, re-prioritizing can allow for the means to travel. There is truth to the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
As to the latter argument; to say “not right now” is almost equivalent to condemning that potentially life-changing traveling experience to doom. Furthermore, it is depriving oneself of the opportunity to break out of one's personal comfort zone. As students, we are at a crucial point of developing values and ideas. It is a time when we are forming and solidifying worldviews, and actively opening our minds to new ideas. By saying “not right now,” one is losing that chance to travel wholeheartedly into a culture without any preset biases. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Without opening our eyes, minds, and hearts to the beauty of different lifestyles than our own, we remain at an ignorant standstill in life.
It is for all these reasons that the time to travel is now: to travel adventurously, wholeheartedly, and earnestly. The world is in constant need of unity, and by traveling with the desire to learn about, and most importantly, to love the people of other cultures, we can help to strengthen that unity. And in the process, we may find our souls enriched with a global feeling of home.