the truth behind travel

While on my trip a dear friend from high school posted this photo on my facebook page:

fernweh3“I think you’ve been satisfying this need for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

And I wondered: Was it true?

I’ve been a seeker all my life. From the time I was ten, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Six more years! How would I make it? In high school, my Catholic boyfriend challenged me to examine my Protestant beliefs, and when it came time for college, I chose a school 3,000 miles from home — Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At Southern, I uncovered a whole new world, one in which umbrellas were a necessity year-round (a strange phenomenon for a California girl) and the correct way to address a group of friends was not “Hey, guys,” but “Ya’ll”! It was the start of what has made me me and a part of what eased my transition to life in Asia  — I already knew about this cicada and humidity thing!

But, I guess my question is: What is travel? And why is it — is it? — important?

The vast majority of people I know live and settle in places close to home. It is the rare individual indeed who chooses to move across their country, let alone to another country. I have been fortunate to meet many such people during my time abroad and here through my blog, and it has been from these experiences and encounters that I have come to agree with St. Augustine:


Halong Bay, Vietnam

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”


And with Gustave Flaubert:


Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the National Concert Halls in Taipei, Taiwan

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”


And also with G.K. Chesterton:


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”


The honest truth is that traveling isn’t about me or you or the number of states, countries, or continents we’ve visited. It’s about learning to see the world — and its people — in a new light. I have been blessed to see some far-off places, and Lord knows I hope to see more before my days are through. As influential as spending six years in the South was for me, spending half that time in Taiwan and Hong Kong turned my entire world on its head. But I do recognize that traveling isn’t always easy. For some, it’s not even an option.

And all I can say is, “Be open.” It’s a big world out there, and the further we can get from “comfortable,” the better off we’ll be . . .  Even if all that means is nodding to the Chinese woman in the grocery store, and listening to her babble on her cell phone not with amusement, but with curiosity . . . Or smiling at the farmer in bibbed overalls at the mall in Chattanooga because, believe it or not, he probably wasn’t born in a barn!

Because it’s only when we take the time to see people and places and cultures for what they are — man-made (based largely on geography) and really no different than you and me — that we can begin to see the greater truth: This life isn’t about “me,” it’s about “we”!


Images: Mine! All rights reserved.

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44 thoughts

  1. I’ve felt that same draw and curiosity about what’s beyond that horizon, over this mountain, around the next bend and beyond. I felt it first when I was very young also, and it troubled me then. As I got older and began to be able to move from place to place I noticed the feeling of a kind of kinship with all that is the world and universe and not small and insignificant, as expressed by Gustave Flaubert above.
    Interesting how some feelings and ideas can transverse distance and time to find others with similar feelings but I’ve never been to the orient as you have. Most of mine was the Atlantic, Caribbean, North Africa and Europe. But I imagine the itch is the same.
    Great post and photography.

    • Thank you so much…

      My time in the Orient was so unique because, prior to living there, Asia might as well have been a different planet, it seemed so far off. Now, thanks to that exposure, I really do feel that *nowhere* is that far off — all of the unseen places are just places I haven’t yet been to… (I’d love to go to Africa, by the way.)

      The other interesting thing, and why I mentioned that we’d do well to seek being out of our comfort zones, is that I *never* would have chosen to go to Asia had the opportunity not presented itself. It wasn’t an easy adjustment when I first arrived, but it was that discomfort that gradually changed my world. Spending three years in the much more familiar Europe would have had a very different impact than living in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

      If only we could all just combine our travel experiences together! Thanks for reading and commenting. Means so much! Hope you’re having a great day. :)

  2. “Because it’s only when we take the time to see people and places and cultures for what they are — man-made (based largely on geography) and really no different than you and me — that we can begin to see the greater truth…”

    well said! i totally agree with this. as much as i love traveling, i realize that at the end of the day, the places, people, cultures, the (man made) structures as you well mentioned.. the luster fades and in the end we are still left with ourselves, and ourselves before God.

    on a less serious note, i totally say ‘y’all’ and will never switch to ‘you guys’ regardless of my locale. y’all is 1) friendlier in general, and 2) more politically correct (i especially despise when people say ‘you guys’ when we are all women and there are no guys present).

    love the quote you chose by flaubert, btw. =)

    • Indeed, Sophia. I agree. When all is said and done, it’s just us before our Maker…

      I’m glad you like “ya’ll”! I really found myself picking up on some Southern slang while I was back there. I mean, not a lot, but a little. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by it… I’ve never really had a problem with saying “You guys,” though. It honestly drives me crazy when people get worked up about always putting he/she or himself/herself in things. In Advanced Grammar in college, we talked about how “he” = man = human, which equals “mankind.” And I have no problem with being a member of mankind!

      I love the Flaubert quote, too! It’s one of my favorites. :) Hope you’re having a great day!

  3. Love these quotes! I’ve lived all over the country (TN, FL, AZ, & CA), in addition to some international travel, and I’ve always felt that people ought to be required to live in a different place for at least 2 years of their lives. It’s hard to fully appreciate where you live without having been somewhere else.

    • Absolutely, Christi. And it’s not only about appreciation, but also about finding that bigger picture of the world. It’s one thing to see stories about faraway places on the news; it’s completely another to discover that those places are actually real! Asia used to seem so far off that it might as well have been another planet; now, nowhere seems like it could be another planet — the far-off places are just places I haven’t been to!

      I really do wish people were required to spend more of their lives in different places, too. I think it would make a difference in the way the world works and people treat one another today.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope you’re having a wonderful day. :)

  4. You’ve been missed; it is with jealousy that I admit your point. On Monday, I bought the following bumper sticker: “I am You As You Are Me,” which is a rough translation of “No different than you and me.”

    • I don’t put bumper stickers on my car, Mario, but if I did, that’s one I would choose! Don’t be jealous. You’ve lived in some pretty cool places, too! I’d love to live in Hawaii… And there is a TON of diversity in the Bay area. That’s a place I’d love to live if I could afford it… And I’ve missed all of you, too! :)

  5. Great photos. Nice post. Even though I am not sure I agree. I like “comfortable”.
    I don’t want to live anywhere else. I have seen lots of places and my home town is where I want to be – though, I guess I will move when we retire – somewhere with a better climate.

    • Thanks, Pat. I took those photos myself! And I don’t mean to say that everyone needs to seek being uncomfortable all of the time. It’s just… From my own personal experience, it is the times when I have been the most out of my comfort zone that I have grown the most. Moving to the South was a big step for me, but moving to a place where I didn’t know the language and stood out like a sore thumb everywhere I went was even more challenging — and rewarding!

      Life is all about phases, though, too. While I might like to live in Asia during my early years, I can’t promise I’d want to retire there. To me, like I said in my conclusion, it’s all about being open to new experiences, and especially to others. The minute you stop learning, you start dying — at least that’s how I see it!

  6. I was going to say something along the lines of what you included from Flaubert and what you yourself said near the end. Traveling is about seeing the bigger picture, seeking that which is greater than ourselves, and (hopefully) learning to be humble. At least I think that’s what it is.

    • I absolutely agree, Ted. You and Flaubert nailed it on the head. There is no better way to wider one’s perspective than to travel. At least I don’t think so.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Means the world. :) Jess

    • Haha. Yes, Chattanooga is a great name! No, I chose the school because of my religious association at the time, as well as because it was my mom’s alma mater. Always great to hear from you, Kevin! :)

  7. Isolation or stagnation make horrible teachers but profoundly naive students, huh? ;-)

    My Bucket List: #1 – spend significant time on 6 of the 7 continents. Four down, two to go!

    Excellent post Jessica!

    • Isolation and stagnation make horrible teachers and naive students? Why yes, yes they do!

      Good for you! How much time counts as “significant”? I’ve spent a fair amount of time on three continents… Trying to figure out how to spend more, but knowing I might eventually want to “settle down,” too… What I really want to do is find a way to have my cake and eat it, too!

      Thanks, as always, Professor! :)

  8. It is a rare occurrence for me to agree with Augustine on anything, but here, today, I do…:o)

    I firmly believe that we don’t meet strangers, we make them, by not embracing the people and places we meet along the way. Once again, complete agreement with everything you just said.

    • Augustine wasn’t such a bad guy! I always laugh when I remember his request that God grant him chastity, “but not yet.” :D

      I like that thought — that we don’t meet but rather make strangers. Hadn’t really thought of it that way, but it makes sense. Obviously not everyone can become our best friend, and in some places, culture (not to mention language) does throw up HUGE walls, but there’s truth to the idea that body language can (and does) convey just as much as our words…

      I’ll be writing you back soon, by the way! So glad to call you “friend”!

    • I’m so glad you liked it! Travel has widened my perspective and appreciation for other cultures in a way I never would have imagined possible. Thank you so much for reading! Hope you’re doing well! :)

  9. “Life is about we”! Awww, such a good ending to a another thoughtful post, Jess. We have so much to learn, whether be it about our own backyard or another continent a thousand miles away. Aside from being open-minded, I reckon it’s all about perspective and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to learn and discover the little things and rituals that make each culture, person and place special and significant. As you touched upon fleetingly, being friendly helps – it makes you approachable to people and people will be drawn to help you along your travels. And you’ll enjoy yourself more.

    Hope you had a good trip! :)

  10. Fernweh…a great term to know, as I now have a word to describe my affliction :-) Beautiful post, and I love the photo of Halong Bay, there is a sense of adventure ahead. As for travel, I really think you have nailed it. I believe that travel can make you humble (as Falubert notes) or it can do the opposite (a sense of false accomplishments), and it is in the former where you really learn about yourself and others. You have definitely appreciate the gift of travel, and it is always nice to read your words about different places & experiences. Cheers and have a great weekend.

  11. I find the conundrum of go and stay a vexing one. It seems to me that humans are cursed with a need to go places, then equally cursed to long for home once we are there.
    One of life’s mean little jokes.

  12. Beautifully written – I love these thoughts, Jessica.
    Very true -> “The further we can get from comfortable the better off we’ll be” I love that, well said. It’s important to challenge the idea that what we think we know is better than what we don’t, because often what we think we know is so very misguided.
    Being open is key; without that you could travel the whole world without really seeing anything.

    • That is a very, very good point, Andrea. If you traveled the whole world but had a closed mind and were cut off from its beauty by your own narrow-mindedness, what a travesty that would be!!! You may have just inspired one of my posts down the road…
      Hope you’re having a great week! :)

      • Oh, I’m very excited to see where you go with this, Jessica. It’s a very meaningful topic to ponder. I think we all come to a point where we disappointingly think to ourselves: “Is this really it?”
        And it’s in those moments where we can really reach deeper within and assess what it is that we’re really seeking. It’s not the situation that disappoints us it’s our expectations of what we want the situation to be.
        There’s so many situations where this essence is brought out of us, but travel really seems to be a top contender.
        I hope you’re having a great week as well!:)

  13. All great quotes, Jessica. That is the point of travel: to learn to see things in a new light and to have a heart to embrace that learning that may change oneself forever –either in a never-visited-place or home turf.

    • You sure can, Pearl! Would you mind attributing the photo to “Shift (” when you publish it? Will you send me the link? Thanks! And thanks for asking!

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