Travel. It’s trendy. To say you’re a traveler in modern culture is a pithy way to say you are a cultured, experienced, tolerant, interesting human being whose life is fun and exciting and whose thoughts are worth listening to.
And to a certain degree that is true. Travel does wonderful things for the soul. There are images and graphics all over the Internet with the quote from St. Augustine that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” But simply to have read something isn’t enough. As Catholics, we should strive to be excellent in everything that we do. It is not enough to read great books. In order to gain any wisdom, we must read them well, with attention and humility. It is the same with traveling. In order to gain wisdom and experience truth in our travels, we must travel well.
How do we do that? In many ways, we do the same things we do to read well. Here are four tips from an English major on traveling well.
1) Step outside yourself.
We read books to gain something we do not already have. In order to do so we have to let our mind enter into situations we have not been in before, or follow characters who react differently to their surroundings than we do. It isn’t just about the characters we connect with, but also the ones we clash with. We have to wrap our minds around ideas that are not our own. We gain a greater understanding of human nature and all it’s nuances. In traveling, unfamiliar surroundings make it easy to feel like we are stepping outside of ourselves, because we are physically out of our comfort zones. This can create the illusion that we have actually stepped outside of ourselves. We must make a conscious effort to connect with our surroundings, even when they don’t immediately pull us in.
When you compare parallel ideas from different books they provide insight into each other. When we find things that are similar to home in a foreign place and then examine the nuances, we learn more not only about the place we are in, but the place we came from as well. In good travel, as well as reading well, our senses are heightened and we notice smaller details than we do in everyday life. When we compare these to something more familiar they open secrets about our daily life and ourselves that have been hiding right before our eyes.
3) Read between the lines.
A good book is never just a story. The story is crafted to reveal certain truths about the world, but if we don’t pay attention to what is not obvious, we can easily miss them. As a Christian, travel should never be about escaping reality or collecting fun stories. God usually has something to teach us when we travel, but it’s up to us to be attentive to it. Be extra prayerful when you travel. This also involves being prepared. If you spend some time learning about the historical context of the places you go, your ability to read between the lines will be greatly heightened. Read a little bit of history before you go anywhere.
4) Allow it to end.
Sometimes you don’t want a good book to end. You don’t want to leave the experience behind. But if you never close the back cover, you can’t process it in it’s completeness. The conclusion of a book can radically change the experience of the book as a whole. Travel has a designated end date for a reason. When it’s time to go home you are given a unique gift to contemplate the trip in it’s entirety, and to incorporate what you have learned into your daily life. Your day to day can be transformed when you return from a well-traveled trip, but if you try to make the experience last longer than it ought, you do a disservice to the trip and to your daily life.
Traveling is one of the greatest gifts we have been given. Embracing new people and places stretches our hearts and minds and brings growth we usually can hardly imagine. But simply changing our location isn’t enough to travel. We must read well every adventure in order for our travels to truly make us wiser.