There are so many travel blogs on the internet and so many people who make their living heading from one place to the next and writing about it. It’s an exciting life, full of novelty and fresh faces, beautiful scenery and the percentage of the world that they’ve seen is constantly creeping up a little bit higher. It’s an important rite of passage into the well-traveled community to do a year long RTW trip, or something along those lines. But I have a confession to make: I don’t want to perpetually travel. I don’t want to wander without limits, forever. I don’t even want to dedicate a year of my life solely to seeing things in different countries. I’m not a vagabond.
So, why do I write a travel blog? Why did I go to Istanbul or Germany or Argentina and why the hell do I live in South Korea of all places? It’s not that I didn’t enjoy going to all of the places I’ve been privileged enough to see, on the contrary, I’ve had the time of my life and hope to continue the trend. But I don’t want to simply travel the world. I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to see all of the UNESCO Heritage sites. I don’t want to color in all the countries of the world on a map, one day. I want to do something in each of them.
How vague, Sally. Let me elaborate.
I want to spend time with the people in each region and make their lives better in whatever way I can. I’m talking about volunteering or meaningful employment, sharing, discussion. I really believe that every single person in the world has something to offer someone else that can improve life for both of them. It could be simply getting a cup of coffee and filling an hour with mutual laughter, or spending the time to braid someone’s hair or just sitting on the ground and creating sidewalk chalk art with a neighborhood kid. I’m not talking about monetary resources or marketable skills, although those certainly can be used to create happiness in someone else’s life. But those aren’t necessary: I believe that everyone has something to give, regardless of wealth of experience. It’s one of my priorities to use what I have, wealth, experience and otherwise, to add value to lives around me. It’s not enough to see the world for me, I want to create something positive in it.
One of the ways that I believe I can add happiness to the world around me forms the second and maybe the biggest motivator for my travels: I want to learn. The more you know about the people around you, the better you can make decisions that are considerate and kind. The entire world would be vastly different if each and every one of us took the time to understand and appreciate the strange cultures on the other side of the ocean. I think national politicians from every country should probably be reeducated in that regard. But that knowledge, that understanding and appreciation is why I want to see the world. It’s because I want to learn about it… all of it.
So while I’d be thrilled to spend a year traveling the world, I would hate spending that year only traveling the world. I want to volunteer with the world, I want to talk to the world, I want to learn about the world. The Taj Mahal is breathtaking, but the story behind it is infinitely more valuable and fascinating. Just like Croatia: the scenery is spectacular and it’s a beautiful place to vacation, but the history of Yugoslavia and each individual city in Croatia makes my eyes light up. I want to see the evidence of a different life in older times, or perhaps evidence that life was the same. I want to see how today’s economy is influenced by that history. When the history is sad, I want to cry with it and remind myself that there are things that we can prevent as moral human beings and it’s ultimately our responsibility to do so: the monkeys and camels of the world aren’t likely to intervene in an ethnic cleansing.
So while I don’t have itchy feet, longing to see something new and discontent with where I am, I certainly have a curiosity that has me by the neck. My insatiable thirst for knowledge and history and understanding cultures has the reins and is pushing me to ask questions. It pushes me to read books and talk to people and investigate the lives already lived and those that are still living. I’m a student and the world is teaching me every step of the way: division, reunification, love, hate, war, peace, destruction, restoration, cries and laughter. The how and the why of the past and their connections to everything going on today are what drive me forward, onward to new lands and people.
Traveling for the sake of travel has benefits and there are countless articles on that topic. Self confidence, understanding of your own culture, empathy and the release of materialism are all wonderful reasons to leave your hometown and set out for a bit to see something new. I’m not knocking the good in this, it’s real and it’s valuable. But, for me, travel has pushed me into all of this and then into a new arena: passion and a sense of justice. Everyone should have the chance to worry about “first world problems.” The entire world should be able to complain about their significant other buying the wrong kind of jelly at the grocery store. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to forget perspective, but it’s an evil thing to have perspective forced upon you by poverty, war, dying family or dysfunctional government. I want to contribute to eliminating circumstances like this, because I can and therefore I feel a responsibility to do so. I can’t simply sit back and watch, traveling country to country, buying the souvenirs and checking off the list. I need more.
So this is my confession: I’m not a perpetual wanderer of the world. I’m not a vagabond. I’m not pulled by adventure to see new horizons or complete a list of things to do before I die. At heart, I’m really just a slave to my curiosity, my need to know more about someone else, my desire to understand better and contribute where I can and add something positive to another’s life. At the end of the day, I’m nothing more than a naive, compassionate and curious nerd with no limits. I will go anywhere, give everything and talk to anyone in pursuit of knowledge and then follow that up with my time and dedication to making life better for all of us. That’s my big secret. My full, written and signed confession that I’m not a gypsy soul and I never will be.
And with that, I’m completely happy.
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