This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
I asked myself this question recently: why do I travel?
Travel is not cheap.
I hate airports and cramped seats on the airplane.
Coming home after being somewhere else is usually a letdown.
So why do I travel? Here’s why.
1. I Have Appreciation for the Mundane
Find me in a grocery store in the US and I’m zoned out and on a mission. I have memorized where everything is, so I’m pretty much on autopilot as I pick up fruit, coffee, and pasta. But in another country, a grocery store is magical! I could spend hours perusing products, deciphering their packaging, and trying to figure out how to use them. The yogurt aisle in France pretty much sends me into paroxysms of delight.
In the US, I despise small towns. I could never live in, say, Ramona, California (no offense to Ramona). But in another country, it’s totally different. In fact, I hope to live at least part-time in the tiny French mountain town of Saorge one day. Population: 400. Why? Because it’s quaint. It’s other. It’s French.
2. I’m Out of My Element
This used to not be a plus for me. I used to have miserable travel experiences because I wanted to control everything.
As you know, travel doesn’t work that way.
But I’ve since learned to go with the flow. Roll with the punches. Accept what is.
I used to only want to travel to countries where I spoke the language (which limited me immensely.) I didn’t want the struggle of trying to communicate with people who didn’t understand me. But I’ve let that go. I find that enough people speak English and that you can get far with a smile and just a handful of words in the local language when you travel.
3. Learning Other Languages is a Blast
Even though I don’t have to, I like to learn at least a little of the language of the place I’m going to visit before I go. I like to be able to say good morning, thank you, goodbye, etc. Right now, I’m working on Greek for my June trip to Santorini. It is—quite literally—all Greek to me…but it’s also incredibly fun! I hope to be able to pick out a few words on menus and signs when I’m there and dazzle locals with my excellent pronunciation of a few key words.
Learning a language can also be an open door to a new culture. After majoring in French, then dabbling in Spanish post-college, I decided to pick up Italian a few years ago. I’m quasi-fluent, but studying the language has given me more than just communication skills: it’s made me fall in love with Italy. I’ve traveled there a few times and look forward to much more exploration of this fascinating and warm country.
4. I Eat Well
One of my favorite parts of travel is the food I get to try. I’m pretty open to tasting new delicacies…though I haven’t yet been where people eat bugs or snakes! I can see a photo of a meal I ate and it takes me right back to that day, to that taste.
The drawback to this is that I can’t usually get that food when I return home! I try to stock up on things that I can buy at the store (special liqueurs, cookies, candy) and then will go out of my way to find a restaurant that serves the cuisine I fell for back home.
5. Travel Expands My World
Travel makes me appreciate how good I have it, and how many ways there are to be. In Italy and France, people will while away the hours at a local coffee shop. Meals take hours. In the US, we’re always in such a hurry for whatever’s next. I always come home from these countries with at least the intent to slow down and savor life.
Not everyone in the world is as well off as we are here. I remember being on a bus outside Mexico City in my early 20’s agog at the houses slapped together with siding and tarps. I remember how my heart hurt at the children with their hands out for coins, too young to know the sting of shame. It made me grateful for my own life.
I think travel helps us be open to other views and other ways of living, and for that, I am happy to have the ability to expand my borders.