The best part about arriving home on Wednesday was my reunion with my books. For the first time in a long time, I have an extended period of time in which I can read whatever I want, whenever I want. I reunited with my favorite YA author (#noshame), and am currently daydreaming about the copy of Romeo & Juliet that I sent home early, not anticipating that the urge to read it would strike in my last week in Denton.
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a small town in Texas and that I jumped at that chance to go to university six hours away, and then study abroad about six countries away (give or take). Now I’m looking forward to going across the ocean for the first time at the end of summer, so I guess you could say my world keeps expanding.
What I didn’t mention is what made me want to travel. I couldn’t tell you when I first decided a passport would be an indispensable part of my life. I don’t think I consciously thought about it until I decided I wanted to study abroad, and nothing was going to stop me. From that, a desire to travel and the savvy of how to do so blossomed together, and here I am.
However, I was traveling long before I grew up and left my parents’ house. My favorite books were fantasy and adventure, usually ones where the hero(ine) leaves home and meets new types of people and travels through mountains and seas, deserts and cities. My favorite author by far was Tamora Pierce, and now when I reread her books every once and a while, it strikes me how carefully she sets up distinct cultures and customs within her fantasy world, and how much this probably has shaped my perception of real-world foreign-ness as intriguing rather than intimidating.
Something I hadn’t considered until recently is the most obvious reason for why I read. The answer came up in a conversation with a friend of mine who loves movies. Now, I tend to feel a bit snobbish about anything on a screen since I grew up without TV and feel I benefited immeasurably from finding my entertainment elsewhere. However, when I confront myself with my own prejudice, I have to acknowledge that (some) movies are art and narratives, and just as valuable as books and theatre. Anyway, I asked my friend why he likes movies, and his response was: “Because they tell stories. I like stories. They’re more interesting than real life.”
And let’s be real. That’s what it boils down to. English professors like to ask why humans tell stories, and we come up with complicated answers about how they allow us to reach uncharted depths of human consciousness, about how they express the inexpressible, about how they highlight connections within humanity and the world, and how they give us purpose. But the simple answer is because they’re interesting, more interesting than the life of routine in which most of us find ourselves.
Something happened when I lived in Costa Rica. Travelers will tell you that leaving home means the highs in life are higher, and the lows are lower. For once, my life was more interesting than the books on the shelves. It wasn’t always pleasant or exciting–in fact there were moments where I was curled up on my bed aching from loneliness–but it was definitely more interesting. I had plenty of moments where I couldn’t believe an impossibly blue wave was pounding me into rocky Central American sand, or I was perched on a dead volcano so high up I could see the sunrise spilling over the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the mountains of Panama, or I was barefoot on the blinding whitewashed roof of a Nicaraguan cathedral looking out over the city. I met people with lives, cultural assumptions, and perceptions so different that it’s hard to believe we see the same world. I’ve had to judge the threat/kindness level of people based solely on their mannerisms, tone, and way of carrying themselves since I couldn’t understand a word of their language. I’ve had to trust strangers and be wary of friends. Even my relationships with people I got to know well were heightened, and I had to form a conscious and strong perception of who I am–and who I am not. I’ve rolled through awkwardness more awkward than I thought existed and had moments of contentment purer than what I thought possible. I touched depths of emotion I’d only experienced before in books.
It’s funny, because my travel experiences didn’t replace the stories I love to read. No matter how much I travel, I doubt I’ll sacrifice my life in the French Revolution, waver in indecision over whether I should take revenge on the king who murdered my father and married my mother, or walk through hell, purgatory, and heaven before coming back to tell the story. Maybe I’ll never even fall deeply and irrevocably in love, save someone’s life, or sacrifice everything I have for a cause I believe in. Life can’t replace stories, just like stories can’t replace life; each simply heightens the other.
So, getting to the point of my argument, I feel like there are people in this world who don’t travel, but should. Ours is a generation born to explore. Never has the rest of the world been so accessible. We’ve been teased with what we see on the web and in pictures, but I can tell you it’s hardly a shadow of the real world.
Now, I know travel is not for everyone. There are people who simply have no desire to leave, or who are tied to their home by relationships or obligations–and that’s not a bad thing. Probably my biggest regret about traveling is that my deep relationships are basically put into a holding pattern, and I miss out on the lives of the people I love. But for now, I am young, single, unattached, and with an itch in my feet. There will be time to marry, have children, grow old, and build a career when I come back. I prioritize by making each wait its turn, and life has helped me by not throwing true love or serious responsibility my way (yet).
My movie-loving friend told me he wants to travel but doesn’t “know how to break out of this cycle of ‘normalcy.'” And I think that’s the common justification. My best advice is to decide what you want to do, and just make it happen. Hit up your resources and learn from the world wide web, or your friends who travel. Study abroad is a wonderful way to learn how to travel since it gives you structure and a crash course with guidance.
Another great thing about the time we live in is that you don’t have to be rich to travel. I’m certainly not. You just have to know where to go and how to use your resources. This article is a good place to start if you have money concerns. Actually, all of Nomadic Matt’s stuff is brilliant and super helpful, so just follow the links down the rabbit hole, and you just may wake up and find yourself in Thailand one day.
If you like stories so much, why not make your own?