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When Travel Lost Its Shine

How visiting Greece gave me a broader perspective on travel

Greece was my 18th country. I stepped off the plane in Athens and felt my usual sense of excitement and adventure. The thrill of a new place, new culture, and new food hummed through me.

But by the end of the week, I was starting to understand why Anthony Bourdain felt small (and perhaps insignificant) in this world.

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” — Anthony Bourdain

(Photo taken by Author | Naxos, Greece — May 2022)

Walking around the island of Naxos I was struck by a feeling that I was wasting my time. Whether that was based on where I’ve been or my own path in life, I don’t know.

I’ve wandered cities across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. And by country #18, it all started to feel the same.

The buildings had the same shape, the culture was generally the same, life was — essentially — the same. Usually, I prefer the cities because they embody variety. No day is ever the same, and it fascinates me to observe the daily life of the typical person who lives there.

But not this time.

Maybe this was a realization of the deeper human connection. A keen awareness that we’re all human, regardless of where we are born. A sign that all our personal histories are intertwined like threads of a tapestry.

I’m acutely aware of this in Europe and Northern Africa. Centuries of history mean that many countries influenced the cultures of each other. The buildings in Naxos were the same as the buildings in Marrakech, white instead of red. But as I walked those streets I had no knowledge of the history that created such an overlap.

Instead, I wandered aimlessly around taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, wondering at the evolution of culture on a small island such as this.

Life continued around me, regardless of which restaurant we sat at or which street we wandered. Just like in the cities where I’ve resided, life continues.

And maybe Anthony Bourdain was right.

This is the turning point of realizing how small I am in this world. The knowledge that the steps I take in thousands of cities in hundreds of countries make no mark in the grand scheme of life.

And maybe this is how life should be, trying to find a way to enjoy the world and learn about its history. We’re on our own journey to enlightenment by way of observation and cultural exposure. Tapping into the larger human experience is the hurdle we all have to jump.

Now that I’ve developed this awareness, it’s on me to be better.

It’s no one’s responsibility to teach me the history of another culture but my own. And while I love visiting Europe, I think it’s time to widen my aperture.

Eighteen countries only 9% of the world.

There’s a lot left to see. South America, Africa, Australia…all on my list. I’ll be going into those experiences with an open mind and ear for listening.

And I know that travel will gain its shine again.



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