I can’t understand people not interested in travel. Yet it’s a common attitude in the U.S. We are so big and isolated here, we often feel like the center of the universe. What do we need those other countries for anyway?
The U.S. is certainly powerful, but I don’t think we’re always right. Our democracy, wealth and freedoms to say, believe and live as we wish are inspirations for those less fortunate. But isn’t it foolish to think other cultures have nothing to offer us? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the U.S. is the homeland of correctness. One thing is certain, without travel I’ll never know.
For me that’s the reason to travel. Here are my 6 most important reasons.
- Home is a distant outpost to the rest of the world.
- I won’t know without going there.
- Travel is essential to my education.
- The world is waiting for me.
- Travel is like garlic: pungent and sweet.
- It is a journey to self-discovery.
Home is a Distant Outpost– You can look at a description of Rome, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps and the Ancient Forum on an authoritative website or a well-written and illustrated book, but you will not experience what it is like to be there. You cannot see the other visitors there and talk to the locals in restaurants and bars. You will have only a clue as to what it means to be a Roman in the Eternal City. But being there you have an opportunity to be a part of that experience. It becomes real and resist though you try, it becomes a part of you. From then on a small part of you will be Roman. For that experience you must get up from your desk or sofa and venture out. Otherwise your knowledge is borrowed and half-baked.
Here’s another example. You are reading my personal opinions and experiences. You aren’t actually having those experiences. And most likely you don’t know me. Will I be able to convince you if you don’t agree? Not likely. You might even think I’m making all this up and it’s a figment. Reading this you are missing essential parts of the experience. You just don’t know how attractive I am. You don’t know how my deep voice would lend my ideas gravitas. And as hard as I’m trying I simply can’t convey the human experience: the joy, the comedy and the drama of being there.
You won’t know until you go – What is it like to walk Venice all day long? What color is Vermeer blue? How big is Peterhof? What does the Great Wall of China look like in the rain? What is the smell of a boulangerie in Paris? In Provence what is it like to stand in the middle of the field of sunflowers?
Sure I could show you pictures of these things. A video might help some. But really how much of the experience do you get? And if you can’t even know these simple sensual experiences, how would it be possible to understand the people who live there, their culture, their struggles and their beliefs?
Travel changes us! – Every time we travel, my wife and I get lost. Have you ever tried to ask directions in Quebec in French French and the man only speaks Quebec French? You really get a sense of who the locals are when you are stuck with hand signals and oddly pronounced words that may mean something different from what you expect. And then your in-laws in the back seat who don’t speak any French, but are pretty good at hand signals think that the local man meant to turn left not right. And it turns out they’re right, because a right would put you in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
Or there is the Bretagne hotel restaurant in the heart of artichoke country with the blossoms asking to be cut, but there are no ‘chokes on the restaurant menu. So the proprietress has the chef get some at the market. However she tells us that we have to tell the Czech tourists it was a special order if they ask. So much for the difficult and arrogant French.
Then our Dresden guide wants to make sure it is OK for his girlfriend to join us for dinner and of course it would be our pleasure to have her join us. And this man born in communist East Germany is engaged to an African woman studying economics in the city only just restored to its pre-war, pre-communist beauty. And again we have to change our view of what being German means.
Waiting while I use the Grand Bazaar, 3-lira-for-paper public facilities, a carpet seller strikes up a conversation with my wife. He loves Americans “but not your asshole president (W).” And its OK that we’re not buying a carpet and my wife is very beautiful. We thank him and he invites us back to Istanbul. We’ll probably take him up on that. Next time maybe we’ll buy a carpet.
The world is waiting. – They are waiting in a mountain village in the middle of Rhodes for your rental car to arrive. And if you speak English, they have a bus driver there who can take your order and answer questions and help your father-in-law practice his Greek. In no time the table is filled with fried smelts, calamari, grape leaves and Greek salad with huge chunks of feta.
They are waiting in Kusadasi to sell you locally made leather dress shoes in the latest Italian style. The salesman has an uncle in New York City who he visited once. The price? Forty Euros seems a little steep. He can’t do 20, but 25. And that’s US dollars? He still made good money. Everyone feels good.
They are waiting on the subways in Athens crushing together and hands in your pockets that you know should contain nothing of value, but do. And the policeman provides a report for the credit card companies. I wonder if anyone at the card company reads Greek. He tells you it was Romanians or perhaps he said Romas. And you get over it and start wearing that money belt that you brought but were too lazy to put on.
Travel is Garlic – The smell of curry in London seems as common as the smell of chips. Or at least more pungent.
As the sun rises the Swiss mountain cows wander into town ringing different tones and the smell of the chocolate shop below our room wakes you.
Driving in the Loire valley the chateaux are surrounded by poplars and wheat ready to be cut for tomorrows bread. The bread in each town is the best anywhere according to locals. And it is certainly the best you had that day.
The pearl shops in Palma are empty in May since the English and Germans have yet to arrive, but the deals are sweet. And huge pans of Paella taste even better on the dock with the smell of the fish market and the water lapping at the seawall.
And up the hill from the harbor in Genoa there are patio bars where the college students drink Prosecco and espresso and listen to rap in Italian in buildings where lutiers once entertained students from the same university.
Self-discovery– In France they do not often clean the walls and roofs, though every spring they put out massive flower displays hanging from windows, growing in patches and bulging in pots on the stoop. The walls and roofs are covered with green and brown patina and the paint is peeling and the plaster cracked exposing brick from another era. The flowers ornament that entropy. And I come home and think about flowers in the spring and wonder why we waste the water cleaning our tile roof.
German salads are often pickled: cauliflower, carrots and beets. It’s just not my cup of tea, but that’s what you get and we Americans eat our vegetables, whatever they give us. They aren’t as sour as I remember. Still I long for leafy greens and come home appreciating them more.
You don’t expect to need to speak Turkish in Germany, but on Christmas Eve the christian restaurants are closed. And the only food word we share with the Turks is pizza. So that’s what it is – pizza, shaped like a long boat with eggs and ham and onions. More of an ham and Egg McMuffin, only much fresher.
Locking the keys in a rental car in a country where you don’t speak the language will get your wife perturbed and force inventive problem-solving. Zihuatanejo has very nice doctors who will drive you to locksmiths who stay open even though they were about to go to lunch. And it costs a lot less than in the US. I can handle this.
That inn in Apt, Provence was on the side of a small Luberon hill topped by a French army base, so I took the walk. Locked tight like in the U.S. not that I was spying. On the walk down I discovered some disturbing graffiti disparaging my country…in English of course. Did they know I would be walking by there? Or was the message for locals? It got me thinking. Is there French graffiti damning France in the U.S? Of course we did have Freedom Fries.
Let me know what reasons you feel compelled to travel!