Today I had planned a cute little post with a recipe for panzanella, but I’m not going to do that. With horrific events piling up left and right - Orlando, Dallas, Turkey, Nice - I can’t proceed with business as usual.
When these things happen, my first thought is always “why.” Why? I think one of the reasons is both simple and complex: fear of the unknown.
I believe passionately in Mark Twain’s quote, and I keep coming back to it when events such as these unfold. Because it’s true. It’s all too easy to sit back and make judgements about entire groups of people when you’ve never met them, talked to them, or shared in their daily lives, culture, language and art.
With travel, the unknown becomes the known.
You see that, just like you, people in far-flung places love their kids, take pride in their work, cry when they’re sad, and enjoy a good meal. Or, you might find “your people” and discover a place where thousands of them gather to freely be the best versions of themselves. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a young girl on a plane for the first time, getting out in the world always expands your boundaries in more than a physical way.
You’re from a small town and have this nagging feeling that there’s something waiting for you out there. Something more than Friday nights spent on aimless driving, visits to Dairy Queen, and drinking. You’re taunted for your love of art, music, language - or whatever it is that isn’t quite acceptable in your circles. You go to a big city for the first time with a school group, and see people living and breathing museums, fashion, theatres, and Picasso as though it's their right. Little by little, you start to see a path to a different kind of life.
You’re a college student who’s never even been out of state. But a scholarship to study abroad for the summer changes your life in a pivotal way. You learn to ride trains, get help in another language, and work alongside seasoned artisans who are generous with their advice and help. You love foods you didn’t even know existed. You make friends with people whose names you can barely pronounce. They lovingly laugh at your accent and your ways, but are curious and accepting. And so are you.
And it’s not a one-sided deal, either.
Foreign exchange students don’t complete a year abroad having only taken from their new-found place. The people who befriend them, teach them, and care for them, all learn new things - new words, new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking.
One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is “When you know better, you do better.” One of the best ways to know better is to get out there and see for yourself. See for yourself if those who are different than you are actually are dangerous, or disgusting, or threatening your way of life. See for yourself if you see...yourself.
Getting out there doesn’t have to mean buying an expensive plane ticket. It could mean going to the museum downtown or the city a few hours away. It could mean talking to the neighbor who comes from a faraway place, inviting the exchange student to sit with you for lunch, watching a documentary, trying new food, or learning to say “hello” in a language other than your own. It might even mean truly and thoughtfully considering a point of view that differs from your own, no matter how insane it must seem.
Travel forces you to make genuine, often raw, connections with yourself and with other human beings. And, really, isn’t this what we fundamentally desire? Travel can mean the difference between hate and love, quite literally.
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."
I’d really like to hear from you - was travel ever pivotal for you? Where did you go and how did it change you? Do you think travel is important too? Please tell us in the comments section
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About Sara, the author