I love to travel. I love being immersed in a foreign place, experiencing the peculiar range of a society’s “cultural artifacts” — their food, their language, their architecture, their landscapes, their way of thinking, their parks and markets, their entertainment, and so on. I cherish having been able to spend months in Mexico and Colombia, and weeks in Singapore, Germany, Italy, France, England, Wales, Canada and other places. I think my travels have enriched my life and help me better relate to a variety of people from a variety of cultures and subcultures.
While I advocate travel for the sake of growing in wonder and appreciation of the breadth of God’s creativity, one of the most overlooked benefits is to be able to return home with new eyes. G. K. Chesterton said, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own land as a foreign land.” T. S. Elliot expressed something similar when he said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we first started, and to know that place for the first time.”
Acquiring an awe of God’s creation and renewing an appreciation of one’s own culture are but two benefits of travel. But travel can also affect people in negative ways.
Some who travel take on a subtle arrogance. As though flying across 1,000 miles of water somehow makes them more of an expert on “matters of significance.” Others may speak highly of their having done a week-long overseas missions trip, and how that has been so impactful to the nationals and to themselves. Sometimes it is, of course — my week in Mexico during my early 20’s did in fact change my life. But sometimes a week in another country only gives someone a skin-deep excuse to feel culturally relevant.
It can be argued that the most culturally relevant person ever to have lived was Jesus. And Jesus wasn’t much of a world traveler, having never gone more than a few dozen miles from his town of birth. His life demonstrates that ultimately how much you travel is irrelevant to how effective your ministry can be and how rich your life can be.
That said, if you’ve got the opportunity to travel for either a short period or for a semester or more, I’d strongly encourage you to go while you have the flexibility to do so. It will enrich your life tremendously. Just be sure to use your experiences to bless others, and not to puff yourself up.
If you’re simply not able to go yourself, I’d urge you to consider experiencing other cultures vicariously through good books or documentaries. While munching on something from your local ethnic restaurant, of course.