About an hour into our drive home from the Chicago airport to Cincinnati, my husband and I pulled over at a McDonald’s to grab a cup of coffee, and noticed smoke creeping from beneath the hood.
Long story short, we had to have our car towed two hours to Indianapolis in the middle of the night, stay with my parents, take the car to a mechanic the next morning — only to discover we’d need to start looking for a new car ASAP.
This wasn’t the way we expected our two-week trip through Finland, Sweden, Denmark and England to end.
I’ve traveled to 21 countries throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Africa since childhood, and I’ve learned through those trips that travel never goes as planned. There is jet-lag, sickness, missed flights, lost baggage, toilets that don’t work and cars that break down on your return home.
Yet despite the frustrations, I’ve learned that travel is always worth it. This most recent trip gave me a reason to step back and consider four ways that travel has shaped me.
Travel inspires me.
“The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time,” writes Bill Bryson.
When I travel, my routine is shaken up, my habits are paused, and my work of the day is novel. In the day to day of life, it’s easy to get mired down in the humdrum of the quotodian and miss the beauty and wonder around us.
Enjoying cappuccinos in Stockholm encouraged me to walk to my own neighborhood coffee shop and enjoy a drink. Hiking throughout England’s Lake District spurred me to hike the beautiful parks in Cincinnati. Staying at our Airbnb in Copenhagen prompted me to cultivate hygge in my own home. Each of those experiences not only enriched my time in that country, but they caused me to return home with new eyes for my daily life.
Travel pushes me.
I’m one of those people who thrives on comfort and daily rituals. Travel pushes me out of my comfort zone and (perceived) ability to control my world. This recent trip was the first trip I’ve taken as an adult to non-English-speaking countries. I was nervous to be in a place where I didn’t know the primary language. Would we be able to find our hotels? The sights we want to see? Figure out the public transportation?
Fortunately (and unsurprisingly) everyone we met was very kind and quick to help us, and we didn’t encounter any translation problems. But the experience of going to places where I didn’t speak the language pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Obviously, my personal travel is not some grand example of costly vulnerability. But by intentionally jolting myself out of my comfortable life into a potentially uncomfortable experience, I exercised new “muscles” that strengthened my character.
Travel humbles me.
Whenever I travel, I’m reminded of how small my life is — in the best possible way.
Living my day to day life, it’s easy to become obsessed with my personal concerns or, at best, those of my community or country. I believe it’s important to be invested in my community, but sometimes I can forget to look around and remember that my story and the stories immediately around me are just one part of the story God is unfolding around the world through the ages.
While in Helsinki, we visited a Lutheran church and I learned about Mikael Agricola, the father of the Finnish Reformation. Though I’d wager I know more church history than the average person, I’d never heard of Agricola before.
As I read about his life and work, I was humbled thinking of all the men and women around the world I’ve never heard of who have worked to advance God’s kingdom and love their neighbors.
“Traveling makes one modest — you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world,” writes Gustave Flaubert. The physical, emotional and spiritual place I occupy in the world matters, but it is simply one place among many that God is using for his glory.
Travel shows me the beauty of God’s creation.
In my 27 years of travel, I’ve seen gorgeous cities and stunning landscapes. More than the beauty of the world, I’ve seen the glory of the diverse people who bear God’s image.
Popular travel writer Rick Steves describes traveling to new countries this way:
Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity, helping us understand and appreciate other cultures. Rather than fear the diversity on this planet, celebrate it. Among your most prized souvenirs will be the strands of different cultures you choose to knit into your own character. The world is a cultural yarn shop, and…travelers are weaving the ultimate tapestry.
It’s too easy to think that my way is the only way to do something, whether that’s how I prepare salmon or approach a problem. Travel introduces me to cultures different than mine. Travel challenges me to consider my way of living and learn from people unlike myself, appreciating and celebrating how God’s image is manifested throughout the world.
For me, travel is not a tool of “self-discovery” or simply something I do because I fit a particular demographic (millennial, middle-class, 20-something without children). Traveling is a way my husband and I have chosen to stretch ourselves, learn about the world and delight in God’s creation. It’s come with trade-offs in our day to day life as we’ve chosen to pinch some pennies to make it happen.
I realize that not everyone likes to travel, and that is absolutely fine. There are opportunities to learn the lessons I’ve learned from travel wherever one finds oneself. It might look like getting involved with refugee or international student ministries, learning about your home city, reading books about different cultures, or simply looking at your daily habits with new eyes.
“This world is huge; it is majestic; it is worth exploring just for the sake of knowing it,” writes Tsh Oxenreider in her book “At Home in the World.” However you choose to explore this huge and majestic world, may you walk away humbled and inspired by the beautiful people and places created by God for His glory and our good.