Travel as a Labor of Love and Learning
In May, I spent a few hours at the Memorial of the Shoah museum in Paris and was thinking (a lot) during and after the experience.
One of many things on my mind was the impression of travel and how my actual experience varies tremendously from outside expectations.
People don’t realize (or acknowledge) my globe-trotting lifestyle involves considerable time spent on serious thought and learning.
When I tell people that I’ve been traveling for 3+ years and have been to 40+ countries in my life, they assume that I exist on constant vacation. I watch their eyes play absurd scenes of sandy beaches and luxurious hotel rooms and sumptuous meals.
There is no easy way to talk about this, at least as far as I’ve found so far. No tactful way to dispel the myths of their imagination and talk about my travels as an attempt to bear witness and a pursuit of truth as well as pleasure.
I am constantly seeking out places to learn about the histories and cultures of the places I visit, not only because is it a critical part of really getting to know them, but because it helps me see these threads weaving together and realize that the world isn’t just interconnected today with the internet, but that it always has been.
Sometimes I see art that is awesome and inspiring. Sometimes I see human horrors that make me ache and cry.
I daily see things that are conflicting and confusing: beauty paired with bias — the complexity of the human experience.
History is so much more engaging than our current culture acknowledges. We categorize and compartmentalize, and we don’t realize that everything and everyone are woven together.
The world isn’t just interconnected today with the internet — it always has been, we always have been.
We’ve covered history in dust and drawn lines around artists and storytellers. We say, that’s entertainment! and tune in to sensational television that tunes out nuance.
People dream of traveling, of the escape from daily routine, of vacating their reality in exchange for an environment of hedonistic reprieve — all of which can be valuable and restorative, to a point.
Ultimately, though, we don’t feel fulfilled and purposeful when we disconnect. We aren’t creatures that thrive in isolation, and our realities are inextricably, albeit often invisibly, linked with others past and present.
Our stories are written as part of a large volume with endless references to other pages, characters that move between plot lines, and events that are the foundation and foreshadowing of our future.
We grow bored with superficial narratives. When we treat the world as a playground and other people as flat characters, we will continue to tire of endlessly hollow engagements.
Depth demands attention, and learning provokes reflection. But through the challenges of sometimes uncomfortable confrontations with other truths, empathy is born and bred. And it is in that feeling with, sometimes suffering with, others that our humanity is strongest.
We aren’t creatures that thrive in isolation, and our realities are inextricably, albeit often invisibly, linked with others past and present.
Vacating life for brief periods of time has its purpose and place. But truly traveling as an endeavor to learn and connect to people and history is more gift than burden.
Perhaps we can treat learning as the labor of love that it is, whether in a classroom, far from home, or our literal and proverbial backyards.