06 Jan The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page
St. Augustine may have been alive a long time ago, but he certainly knew that travel teaches you things you would never learn if you simply stayed home. It has long been my experience that navigating somewhere new activates parts of the brain we never need to use when in familiar territory. Through being somewhere unfamiliar we have to open our eyes and ears to what is around, to take stock of what is around us, and to be fully present in this new location.
This sudden need to be alert does not mean we are in danger or under any kind of threat; it can simply mean we are deciding where to go for coffee, or whether we can find WiFi nearby. By being outside our usual frames of reference, we have to use senses that are inactive when we know where we are and what we will see.
I know that many people love to travel, and are open to the experiences they can’t predict – the strangers they will encounter, the new places they will discover when getting from one place to another. Others hate this feeling of not being in control, so travel in packs, with a leader who keeps them from experiencing the unexpected. Sadly this group travels and comes home without having read a new page.
For me traveling is about the process. It is about seeing what is around me and the new experiences I can try. With so much technology available, I am seldom going to be truly lost, so I wander around and see what is around the next corner. If it isn’t interesting, I retrace my steps and try another path.
Traveling is also about rediscovering those things we’ve been away from for some time. In October I was in England and took a boat ride around Portsmouth harbour. Living in landlocked Pennsylvania I had forgotten just how much I love to be out on the water. It was a windy day and rained from time to time, but while some passengers hurried down into the safety of the bar, those of us who come alive in the elements smiled at one another and sat or stood on the open deck enjoying the elements with all our senses!
As a driver I also rediscovered that when on public transportation you actually meet other people; sitting on the bus to Portsmouth the driver tried to help me catch up with contemporary English slang; at Victoria Coach station I had a conversation about the differences between living in England and America, and at Heathrow airport I chatted with another expat about what we both missed about England and loved about the US. None of these conversations were life changing, but all passed the time amiably – and couldn’t have occurred if I was cocooned in my car.
So yes, I do agree that there are many pages in our personal books of our knowledge of the world we inhabit. More importantly, we have an obligation to step out of our comfort zones and go and do and experience things that add to our books about the world. It is so sad to think of the group of ‘those who do not travel’ as their lives are so constrained by not going to unfamiliar places. The world is a huge place, with lots of fascinating people in it, and we need to go and read more pages of it to grow.