Have you ever had one of those experiences in which your whole perspective suddenly shifts and you now see life in a new and fresh way?
Most of us probably can look back to something in our lives that we consider a defining moment or event. A book, a trip, a conversation, a song, or even an imperceptible moment of change that we really can’t put our finger on.
Sometimes defining moments in life are not even a single moment in time. Maybe it is a progression, a series of steps and subtle turning points that are in and of themselves not particularly significant, like a set of single musical notes or chords; but, when put together, become a startling symphony of color, light, and music, pointing the way toward a new path of identity, thought, and purpose, to a new and improved version of ourselves and our lives.
I think traveling is like that; it has a way of changing you bit by bit until you look back and suddenly realize how far you’ve come.
I got back home from a trip around Europe a few days ago, and I would consider this trip to be one of those defining and life-altering periods of time for me.
I want to share with you a few of the concepts I’ve gained through traveling that have shifted my overall thinking and view on life.
Traveling does something to you. Especially the international, overseas kind. First of all, it grabs hold of you like a parasite or an addiction and doesn’t ever let go. Once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you are stuck for good. That probably sounds sort of morbid, but trust me, this is totally the kind of bug you want to be bitten by. No, I’m really serious. Traveling once causes a shift in your mindset and instills a thirst for exploration and seeing new things that you can never fully satisfy. And I’ve been bitten by the travel bug for sure. This may have been my first trip outside of my native country, but I can say with certainty that it won’t be my last.
Traveling broadens your experiential knowledge of the world. It makes you realize, like, really realize, that there is a world out there, outside of your personal, daily circumference of 25 or 50 miles. Or even outside of your own country.
“Wait, so like there is actually life outside of my hometown??? Are you serious, the whole world doesn’t actually revolve around the United States of America?? This is mind-blowing stuff.”
Okay, so of course I know in my mind that there is a world out there. I know that there is a world that doesn’t speak English as their native language; I realize that there is a country called Germany, and the Eiffel Tower does exist, and the Mona Lisa is not just a fabricated object, and some people drive on the wrong side of the road for who knows why. But how do I know that? Pretty much, I’m believing what I’ve read and heard from others and seen in pictures. Not from actual, experiential, personal knowledge.
You can’t experience another culture through books and pictures. I used to think that I knew kind of a lot about the world. I’d read a lot. Seen a lot of photographs or historical/travel documentaries. But I’d never actually seen those things for myself.
This trip has taught me that unless you have seen and experienced those cultures and places for yourself, you really don’t know them. Not that you can’t learn and know a lot through second-hand information; you just can’t perfect that knowledge. You can’t fill in the gaps. Traveling is like filling in the gaps of your education. It connects all of your senses. It takes your mental knowledge gained from book-learning and weaves it together with personal experience and conviction into a uniform, supporting construct of reality and belief.
Now I know for myself that there is a world of non-English-speaking peoples, there is a country called Germany, the Eiffel Tower does exist, the Mona Lisa is not fabricated (well, to all sight and sound), and that some people drive on the wrong side of the road (though I’m still in ignorance as to the reason why).
I know these things because I’ve experienced them myself, not because I’ve been told to believe it by other people.
Now I know with undeniable certainty that there is a world of politics outside of American politics (crazy, right?); that a great portion of the world lives and breathes within a few miles of some of the greatest, most significant places in history and they hardly give it a second thought; that I am incredibly lazy when it comes to the language department (along with the rest of the US); that God is working great and mighty things across the ocean just as much as in my home country.
Why is this so important to me? To fully understand that, you’ll just have to go and travel yourself. It’s a concept that is honestly not fully explainable through words. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, experience completely engulfs a thousand pictures.
But let me try to extend this idea into the sphere of life in general: Life can’t be complete through mere mental knowledge. It can’t be fully understood without experiential knowledge. This is not just the case with traveling and understanding other cultures. This is true for every area of life. Your identity, your core beliefs, your purpose in life. You can’t live a fully satisfied and complete life until you know and have experienced in your heart who you are and what you believe, and consequently, know why you do what you do.
Life without experience is not really living.
Regarding traveling, I’m not saying that you have to travel in order for your life to be complete. All of us have some sort of experience to back up our mental information, and whatever experience you have has helped to connect your senses into a coherent tapestry of knowledge and belief. Traveling is not the only route to acquiring experience. But I’m saying that experience is necessary for a completed, fulfilled life. However you manage to gain experience, it is still a vital aspect for a purposeful life.
You can’t truly know something or someone unless you’ve experienced it. Many people say they know God. But have they experienced Him, known and felt His presence? If not, they don’t truly know Him, even if they are sincere professing Christians. I honestly believe that experience is way undervalued and underrated in the modern Christian sphere.
I have gone much deeper with this concept than I initially set out to do, so I really appreciate it if you’ve stuck it out with me this long.
Also, I’m not intending to put down any of you who haven’t done a lot of traveling; in many cases it’s not possible to leave your hometown or country or do any traveling whatsoever due to family situations, finances, or any number of other factors. I really consider myself blessed to have been able to go on this trip. I am just completely astonished at the great extent to which this one short trip abroad has so enlightened my entire life and perspective on the world.
And I think that this trip is so incredible? Really, I have only just begun. Compared to the great seasoned travelers in the world, I’m still at the very bottom of the pole.
So, my bottom line is this: travel is incredible and completely worth it. The further from your hometown, the better. If you ever have the chance, just do it, no matter how far out of your comfort zone it may take you. You’ll be glad you did.
And in a broader way, don’t let other people tell you about the world and about how amazing it is; don’t let them make you believe something because they said so. Go out and see it for yourself; experience those things and people and cultures personally; prove what you’ve been taught all your life and seek out the truth about your existence, your purpose, and your identity.
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