People sometimes ask me why I travel so much. My knee-jerk answer, usually, is, “It’s my job,” which is true, kind of. But that’s not really why I travel so much.
I travel to fall in love with the world.
I don’t remember a time in my life that didn’t include a familiarity with at least three countries and three languages. I have no frame of reference for being mono-cultural, or monolingual. I have always had a deep curiosity about things I haven’t seen yet and places I’ve yet to experience. I’m not only interested in what those places are like, I’m interested in what I have to learn from them, who I will be in those places, and how they will change me.
Spices and history filled my heart with deeply-rooted affection all across Southeast Asia. I fell in love with wide open spaces in the Southern Hemisphere and learned to set my dreams on the hook of the southern cross as readily as I had the north star that kept watch over my childhood. I fell in love with myself in the 900 kilometers I’ve walked across France and Spain. And I’ve fallen hard for the color and the people of the highlands of Guatemala.
I’ve learned, as I travel, to look for something to learn and something to fall in love with. It’s not something that happens, like a lightning strike, or “love at first sight” in every destination. No. It’s a conscious choice.
A choice to remain open, to greet the world with a heart full of love and receptivity to it. It’s easier to close off and observe the world. But it’s better, I think, to engage in a way that might be vulnerable, but invites real change, and, sometimes, provides the opportunity to be that change in return.
Why Fall in Love With the World?
When we travel for escape, there is a closed-off aspect to how we engage with the world. We are fleeing something, and we’re avoiding that thing at all possible costs. Which means that we can’t open up, or we’d have to face that thing. When you travel for discovery, you’re willing to open up to those hard things, face them, and let the world teach you through what you find.
My favorite kind of serendipity is discovering something I love and have somehow never noticed before. It might be as simple as a bookstore on a sunny afternoon, or the cool of coconut gelato and the echo of Italian off of the stone houses lining the canals of Venice. Or, it might mean falling in love with a community in such a way that you keep coming back for years, investing deeply in lives that you’ve allowed to become intertwined with yours, even when it’s deeply inconvenient, uncomfortable, or downright hurts your soul.
We fall in love with the world because it is through love that we find our most authentic selves, and in love that we give our best gifts to the world. What good are we, to ourselves, our families, our communities, the world, if we don’t reach out from a place of deep love?
How to Fall in Love With the World
I’ve come to believe that the best way to fall in love with the world is to operate from a place that refuses to be driven by fear. We’re all afraid of things. If you meet anyone who says they aren’t, they’re either lying, or not thinking deeply. There are very real things to be afraid of. But will we miss out on our lives and the world if we let that fear drive us. I can’t speak for you, but I’m not willing to miss out on the world.
Of course, I’m packing appropriate clothing, taking reasonable precautions, and keeping one eye on the State Department website. But I’m diving in with an open heart and wild curiosity. Fear of the unknown won’t keep me from exploring a place that has lived in technicolor in my vivid imagination since I first walked through the King Tut exhibit at a museum in Montreal as a little girl.
How do we fall in love with the world? By choosing to resist fear and embrace curiosity and love. We’re drowning in fear-based marketing in this decade. But we can swim upstream through it and blaze a trail to uncover the stories, the beauty and the heroism that exists all around, and by staying open to what actually is, instead of a preconceived notion of what should be.
My Dad and I have talked about this as he’s come to join us on our adventures. I remember him telling my tiny boys the stories of “the ghost of young Gramps” across the ruins of the Roman world in North Africa, having left his first footprints in those places some forty years before. When we returned to Guatemala one winter and my folks were considering coming down I said to my Dad, “Please come… but know it’s changed… you can’t complain about that to the kids… they have to experience it as it is to them, now.” He nodded in agreement. The place that had existed in his mind and in the stories of my childhood was gone and the place that exists now is like that river. We must step into it with a memory of all that has passed by our feet and a joy in the water rushing about our ankles in that moment.
The world is a beautiful place. Her people are overwhelmingly good. I believe this because it has been my experience, on all every habitable continent I’ve visited. I’ve fallen in love with the mighty Amazon, changing before my very eyes. I’ve fallen in love with the particular green of the Perfume River in Vietnam, and the crash of thunder and streaks of purple lightning over my favorite volcanos as the first storm of rainy season pushes up from the Pacific.
I’ve fallen in love with hitchhikers in funny hats, the Oregon coast when it’s covered with morning mist, the Thai lady who made my green papaya salad every Tuesday and sang out as she tossed tiny red crabs, whole, into the mortar and pestle, “Baby spice?” Remembering my sensitive farang (foreigner) belly. I’ve fallen in love with the whole world, even the places I haven’t been yet. It’s why I keep traveling, why I want to see it all, and why I still refuse to give in to the fear.