Honoring the Lessons Travel Teaches

Travel is a relentless teacher. It’s impossible to spend much time wandering the world and not be changed. The lessons are many. From the simplest introduction to the concept that there are many ways to live. To the complexities of the religious, social, and politically nuanced layers of cultural differences. To the ones that have nothing to do with where we’ve been but have altered our inner landscapes irrevocably.

Anyone who’s traveled can relate to the disjointed feeling of returning to a place of origin to find that she doesn’t quite fit in the same way as when she left. It’s not commentary on the places we’ve left.

It’s not a value judgement about the open or closed mindedness of a particular location. It’s got nothing to do with the people we left behind or their personal growth. It has everything to do with the ways in which getting outside of our comfort zones changes a person.

The things we learn about who we are, who we were, who we are becoming, and how that fits with who we thought we were when we started our journey are some of the most profound realizations a traveler comes to on the road.

The difficult part, of course, is what happens when we come home; and we all come home eventually.

Anyone who’s traveled can relate to the disjointed feeling of returning to a place of origin to find that she doesn’t quite fit in the same way as when she left.

How do we honor the lessons our journeys teach us over the long haul?

Meditating

If you’ve spent some time away and come back, you’ll know that push-pull feeling that lodges right below your lungs and makes everything difficult. You understand how difficult it is to pick the threads of your old life back up and carry on in old patterns. Or you’ll relate to the struggle of actively choosing not to run in old grooves but to create something new in a familiar environment.

There’s no easy answer, is there?

Our journey to long term travel started with a year away and then slowly morphed into more constant travel. We really intended to be gone for a year and then come back to some sort of “normal” life. That our home became the road was a surprise to us, as I’m sure it was to some of our friends and family. We bounce in and out of North America and our home culture for periods of time. We’ve spent time back in our pre-travel community and are so thankful for the enduring relationships we find there. We have lots of family members who don’t travel and who welcome us with open arms. That’s a beautiful thing.

The more we traveled, the more difficult it became for me to be at home in the places that should have felt most like home.

The more we traveled, the more difficult it became for me to be at home in the places that should have felt most like home. It took me a couple of years to realize that the problem was not home, or the people in those places, it was me. 100% me.

The internal angst was of my own making. All of it. You see, I was making the big mistake of trying to fit back in seamlessly, and to do that meant that I had to set aside much of what I’d learned and who I’d become for (what I perceived to be) the comfort of others. Really, I didn’t want to deal with the conflict, not with individuals, but with myself. I made compromises in the short term that went against my conscience. I pretended to be the person I’d been before, because it was easier; on the surface, at least.

At some point one of two things happens: either we return to business as usual, and the intensity of the lessons our journey has taught us fade like postcards on my grandmother’s fridge, or we realize that we have to live those lessons everyday, own the changes to our souls and find a way to honor what we have learned.

We realize that we have to live those lessons everyday, own the changes to our souls and find a way to honor what we have learned.

I gave up trying to live with a foot in both worlds several years ago, but it was just recently that this concept was eloquently articulated for me by a friend I was walking with in Spain.

“So, how are you going to honor your Camino when you get home?” He asked as the road came to an end.

What a great question. It’s the question I’ve been asking for years without having the words to express it well.

  • How are we going to honor what we have learned and how we have changed?
  • How are we going to honor the people we’ve met and what they have taught us?
  • How are we going to honor the experiences we’ve had and how we’ve grown as a result of them?

It’s not a question of whether or not travel changes us, it’s a question of how we honor those lessons in our daily lives, whether we ever return home in the physical sense, or not. If we don’t honor them, then what’s the point of traveling in the first place?

It’s not a question of whether or not travel changes us, it’s a question of how we honor those lessons in our daily lives.

Owning who I am

Jenn Backpack

For me, this has meant putting on my big girl panties and owning the fact that I’m actually a flaming liberal with serious socialist tendencies and a burning passion for humanitarian efforts in a variety of forms, even in the most conservative corners of my community.

It’s meant wading into immigration debates on the unpopular side. It’s meant taking up the cause of my Muslim neighbors with my solidly midwestern neighbours and accepting the accusation that I’m a sympathizer. Guess what? I am!

It’s meant taking a deep breath and having the hard discussions about what desperately concerned and loving parties perceive as my loss of faith, which I prefer to to see from the angle of a broadening of perspective.

It’s meant being willing to stand against the tide and raise my kids very differently and not apologize for that, to anyone. It’s meant owning my minimalist tendencies in an ocean of consumerism, and doing it with a smile that doesn’t demean my friends who don’t share my conviction. I can’t buy stuff that I know exploits my people on the other side of the world. I just can’t do it. I won’t pretend that I can. I’ll do without so many things before I do.

It’s meant being willing to stand against the tide and raise my kids very differently and not apologize for that, to anyone.

It’s meant owning the harder stories, that I don’t often tell, in a way that allows them to reform my life, my marriage, my friendships, and the way I interact with the people I meet, at home and abroad. Those quiet things, the internal ones – those have been the hardest, and they’re an ongoing process.

I might not be there quite yet, but I’m determined to honor what I’ve learned, even the things I’ve learned the hard way, because each lesson is precious and is a brick in the building of myself. To treat them as any less would be, from my perspective, profoundly ungrateful, a waste of my journey, and perhaps of my life.

It has long been one of my favorite questions to ask my fellow travelers: “What are you learning?”

The answers are always surprising and inspiring. I now have an even better question to follow that one up with:

“How are you honoring what you’ve learned?”

The answers to that one have the power to change the world.

So let me ask you: How are you honoring what you’ve learned from your adventures?

Photo credits: Colodymyr Baleha

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