Where Have You Been?

ObservationsI love to travel. In my world, travel is an adventure that unfolds in ways I cannot anticipate. If given the chance, I prefer side roads to main streets, a homemade meal to a fancy restaurant, and a small village to a tourist resort. I would rather travel to places I’ve never imagined, than visit the same beach two years in a row, and I would rather make friends at a local park than hang out at a hotel bar with peers from home. To me, travel adds flavor to life and widens my horizon, regardless of where I go.

Most of my journeys have been freely chosen and enjoyable. I have been the obvious bad-mannered tourist wearing shorts in tiny sacred chapels, a guest in local homes, a student receiving language lessons from playful neighborhood kids, and the lost hiker who walks off to the right when map says left. Some of my travels have left me forever changed, with a new outlook on life and the world, and some have made me rethink my very identity to the core. And none of my travels have been terrorizing.

In Killing Rage, bell hooks speaks of different types of travel. The kind of travel that involves forced migration to places where one hopes to be safe from persecution, trafficking across borders without consent, displacement from one corner of a city to another due to gentrification, and movement from a community of color to white spaces where one becomes the Other whose worth and merit are constantly questioned.

Frightening journeys are not always counted as valid. The travel stories are not openly shared and there may be no pictures to verify the sights seen on the way. The traveler may not be greeted with warm welcomes upon return. There may not be a return at all. Those journeys require more courage and strength than any vacationing tourist could ever assemble.

And travel is undertaken even while staying put. A first-generation college student may find himself moving mentally away from his native community toward a classist academic elite and an international student may experience a gradual shift from her previous cultural identity to a multilayered sense of self. My therapy clients take on journeys back to times in life they would rather forget, passages from helplessness to empowerment, and treks leading to new points of perspective. To be brought along on those travels is an honor.

In a way, our greatest journey starts when we enter this world and the best roadmaps may lead us down dark and narrow paths we never planned to tread. And yet, on every road there are lessons to be learned.

We have all traveled. Learning each other’s travel stories can only enrich our own.

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2 comments on “Where Have You Been?

  1. bigjiao says:

    Interesting. I think the internal journey involved in overcoming fear of new cultural settings is one of the most profound experiences humans can have, and think these experiences are powerful life changers. First generation college students are a great example, albeit involuntary. But I don’t agree that it is linked to the sort of international, get off a plane and walk around type of travel. When I was an undergrad, I took an entire class on the classical Chinese novel Hongloumeng. Hongloumeng is about an internal religious journey, but somewhere in the novel the author – Cao Xueqin – mocks the rich people who spend their time traveling around looking at things as ignorant and shallow. I have backpacked in Europe – and thought this made me expansive, even represented it as such – but this little truth goose has never left me. I no longer believe travel for travel’s sake makes one expansive, and always think representing it as such is an affectation of the upper middle class. In the end it’s a proxy for being wealthy.

    That said, it can be done with the internal journey and transformation, but I think that’s only possible if one can live somewhere else for a sustained period. Not just visit for a few weeks or months.

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  2. bjorgsigridur says:

    I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve walked around as a tourist, taking pictures and feeling great about myself as a “worldly” person. While counting that as legit travel, I’ve undervalued experiences of internal travel that taught me way more about myself and the world. It’s easy to visit a place without ever challenging ones assumptions, without immersing oneself in the culture or ever being uncomfortable, and return back unchanged…
    Cao Xueqin has a good point.

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