Thursday, January 24, 2013

More Reasons Why I Travel (In No Particular Order)

At a World Food Program feeding site in Benin

Why I Travel #1: To Think, Process and Feel

The other thing about traveling alone is that I have a lot of time to think, process, write... In real life, I fill my time and my head so much that sometimes I don't let myself sit back and reflect and feel.  Reflecting is not always fun but it is necessary.  Every so often I need a check in.

When I travel my feelings are much more present. Sometimes I get really lonely, but then out of the darkness, I sit next to someone and have the most inspiring conversation and suddenly feel deeply connected.  Or I feel frustrated and lost, but just as I am about to crumble, I turn a corner and discover something magical and new. It teaches me about possibilities and reminds me how easy it is to survive the extremes.

Why I Travel #2: It Opens Me Up 

In my daily life in New York, I don't have that many chances to talk to random strangers.  We all know that it's a bit frowned upon to sit down next to someone on the subway and strike up a conversation.  It doesn't mean it never happens, it's just not encouraged and my behavior has adapted to it.

The opposite is true with the kind of travel I do.  When traveling I strike up conversations with everyone.  I have lots of short genuine interactions. I feel open and constantly connected.  I love it.  As an extrovert, I get my energy from others and fresh random conversations are like crack for me.

The funny part is when I get home and I find myself chatting in the subway with mixed results.  I try to find tourists to target, so that they think all New Yorkers are that open and friendly.

Meeting Iraqis in Iran.  Stereotypes be gone!
Why I Travel #3: To Meet People From All Over The World

I know that it might sound funny that living in New York doesn't put me in contact with people from all over the world, but it really doesn't.  I love travel because I not only get to meet people and learn about the culture of the country I am visiting, but I also get to meet people from many other countries.

Over the years I have learned that Aussies speak practically a totally different English.  That I feel deeply connected to Brits. That the French have a very inquisitive eye. I have heard about places I have never knew existed before. And I have made real friendships out of it.  I have visited friends I met traveling in London (2), China, Tunisia, Indonesia, and Greece.  Plus I have hosted people from Switzerland and Austria in NY. This past year, I loved getting birthday greetings from across the world and particularly from Australia so many hours before my birthday was even happening in my time zone.

And most importantly I have been able to share my reflections and examine my American bias. It helps me understand the world better and understand what I am seeing better.

Don't worry though, my volunteer activity with Big Apple Greeters taking tourists out on personalized tours of New York gives me a chance to meet at least a few folks in my home town too.

North Korea really blew my mind
Why I Travel #4: To See/Learn/Experience and Understand Other Worlds

The most obvious reason I travel is that I am an experiential learner.  I can read tons of books and watch lots of movies and tv, but I can't really understand a place till I've been there.  Suddenly when I set foot in a country everything I have read comes to life and I have a bottomless desire to read more and understand a country better.  History in books tends to go in and out of my brain too easily, but somehow if I am walking on the same ground as historical figures, I can absorb all the information. 

As a current events junkie, I love news, but often I feel the US news doesn't give enough context or cover the full story, so instead I fly off to Afghanistan to hear about life after the Taliban. Or to Israel/Palestine to see the wall and feel the distinct separate feeling on each side of it. Or to Iran, where I met Iranians and saw just how different they were from the way they are covered in our press.

It all started when I was in high school learning about the The Soviet Union and the Cold War and just having a hard time buying what I was hearing. My dad was Russian and had a PhD in Russian Studies so I asked him if I could go visit and meet real Russians.  He said yes and boy did I learn a lot. Yes communism was different and parts of the Soviet system were shocking to my American Capitalist self, but I also got to meet many young Russians who seemed to have dreams just like me.  I got to basically see that the world is very complex and nuanced.  I haven't stopped traveling since.

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