I spent most of my adult life living out of a travel bag. And looking back on those years–four months every year–traveling, it occurred to me that thoughtful travel is, well, worthwhile. Travel opens us up to the wonders of our world. In so many ways, it helps you appreciate nature.
For me, a great day is walking high in the Swiss Alps–like tight roping on a ridge. On one side I have a lake stretching all the way to Germany, and the other side the most incredible alpine panorama anywhere–the Eiger mountains with its cut-glass peaks against that blue sky.
These connects you with nature as well as culture. I love this whole idea that travel connects us with various cultures around the world. When I’m traveling, I find that there are different slices of culture that I never realized people could be evangelical about. Take cheese for example. You go to France and you’ll find that they are crazy about cheese.
I like being a bumpkin in my travels. For me, cheese is always just an orange in the shape of the bread. When you meet the people in France, you’ll find that there’s a different cheese for every day of the year. You step into a cheese shop and it’s just a festival of mold.
I love going shopping with my Parisian friends. They’ll go into a cheese shop, pull a mold of goat cheese, take a deep breath and say, “Smell this cheese. It smells like the feet of angels.” When you’re traveling, you open up to new things that might smell like the feet of angels. A great thing about travel is that it connects you with people.
If I’m making a tour or guide book and I’m not connecting people with people, I’m kind of nervous because it’s going to be a flat experience. It is people that really make your experience vital. That’s the mark of a good trip. It doesn’t need to be earth-shaking encounters. They can just be silly encounters.
When I was in Italy recently, I met this little kid who was just staring at me, which I found rude. Finally his dad said, “Please excuse me son. He stares at Americans.”
I asked him, “Why is that?” The dad replied, “Last week while we were at McDonalds having a hamburger, my son noticed the fluffy white buns. He then asked why Americans have such soft bread. I then told him that the reason why Americans have such soft bread is because they don’t have teeth.”
So, I showed the kid my teeth to sort of straighten out a little misunderstanding between different people there. It also occurred to me that there are so many misunderstandings between people. And when we travel, we straighten them out.
I don’t know about you, but I was raised thinking the world is a pyramid–us on top and everybody else trying to figure things out. And then I traveled and I realized we have the American dream, which is a great thing, but other people also have their own dream. Norwegians have the Norwegian dream. Bulgarians have the Bulgarian dream, and so forth.
Travel wallops my ethnocentricity, and I’m extremely thankful for that. It is something to celebrate. Our dream is beautiful, but so are theirs. In my travels, I have really been impressed by the amount of pride on this planet; wonderful pride.
I was in Afghanistan once; just in a cafeteria where backpackers usually hang out. Someone then sat down next to me and asked, “Can I join you?”
To which I replied, “You already have.”
He then asked me, “You’re an American aren’t you?”
I said yes.
He then said, “Well, I’m a professor here in Afghanistan. I want you to know that a third of the people on this planet eat with their fingers like I do. We’re all civilized just the same.”
He had a chip on his shoulder. He thought I thought less of him because he eats with his fingers. That lesson stuck with me. And for the rest of my trip through Southeast Asia, I was aware of that. I went to restaurants–fine restaurants–with well-dressed professional local people that had no spoons and forks. Instead, they had some sort of ceremonial sink in the middle of the restaurant. People would wash their hands and eat using their fingers the way God intended them to be used.
It actually became quite natural for me. I had to be retrained when I got home. But these are the lessons you pick up. It is so fun to change something that you thought was a basic truth and well into adulthood you realize that other people–smart people–can see it differently.
I’m impressed at the many heroic struggles that are going on in this planet, which I’m completely oblivious to. Every year, eight or ten distinct languages go extinct. That’s eight or ten ethnic groups that lose a long struggle. I was raised thinking Nathan Hale, Ethan Allen, and Patrick Henry were the ultimate.
Well, they great but they’re certainly not unique. They’re a dime a dozen on this planet. It doesn’t diminish ours, but it’s really important for us to remember in our travels that there are other heroes and other causes. This is the value of traveling.
This blog is all about the different lessons and possible connections you can make while traveling to various places in the world. We will help you learn about what it means to travel; show you it’s true meaning. We reckon that if you can take home the understanding of travel’s true meaning, that’s the very best souvenir possible.