I’m what some might call a World Traveler. I wouldn’t call myself that, but only because it sounds a bit too grandiose for my tastes. Still, the nickname might be warranted. I’ve traveled to fifteen different countries in the last five years. Though that’s mostly thanks to school-sponsored programs and dumb luck.
Whatever the reason, I’m privileged to have visited the far reaches of the globe. I’ve spent summers gallivanting across Europe and winters reclining in the Caribbean. I’ve had trips to Central America in the fall and East Asia in the spring.
The Often Overrated Rewards of Travel
First, I’ll start with the cliché travel tropes.
Frequently, people talk about traveling in almost abstract terms. Like going to another country is more about “getting away” than going away.
They talk about wanting to lose themselves in the ancient architecture of a distant city. They fantasize about wandering through its cobblestone streets and finding a new appreciation for life when confronted by an old, refined beauty.
Others think of travel as an opportunity for culinary exploration. Their trip might center around tasting exotic foods and unfamiliar drinks. They seem mesmerized by the myriad of foreign flavors that leave them wondering how they managed to live without. They might even bring some spices back home.
To be sure, nothing is necessarily wrong with either of these approaches. Taking time to admire architecture or sample cuisine are quintessential to the travel experience. I believe these things can serve as worthwhile forays into the history and culture of a given country. However, they should not stand as the end-all.
Every trip is transformative.
The more I learn about the world, the more I learn about myself. It’s this quality that makes international travel so enticing. Having a conversation with anyone who’s been bit by the travel bug makes this fact abundantly clear.
Yet, it’s hardly revolutionary to say that traveling to another country is a life-changing experience. It seems to be common knowledge at this point. What travelers fail to agree on, however, is what exactly makes it so transformational. Surely, there must be something that gives the experience its appeal.
Personally, I believe the most poignant aspect of visiting a foreign destination is also oftentimes the most overlooked – meeting the people who live there.
The Importance of Meeting People
In my experience, the greatest pleasure of travel comes not from seeing the beautiful buildings peppered throughout a city but from interacting with the people who live inside them. It comes not from tasting the decadent cuisine but from talking with those who create it. The people who I meet in these faraway countries tend to leave me with the most poignant memories I have of these places. I have learned three major lessons from making travel centered around the people and not just the places.
Learn History and Culture Up Close
First, I believe making an effort to meet and talk to people lends itself to being a more inclusive learning experience. It should come as no surprise that the people who live in these places are usually raised learning the history. They are also the ones who are the most intimately familiar with the culture.
It seems people are always happy to talk about two things: themselves and where they are from. Everywhere I go I try to learn a little about both of these things. Having a genuine interest in a person and their culture seems to open people up, and this makes for a lively conversation. Over the years, I have felt like I learn as much in a heartfelt conversation with a local friend as I would during a trip to a museum.
Another boon to prioritizing connections with people during travels also stems from these conversations. However, in this case, I’ll focus on my role. Naturally, any good conversation is a give-and-take. Both people take turns exchanging their thoughts and ideas. So during the culturally inclined conversations I tend to find myself having, I’m usually granted the opportunity to talk about my own country and culture.
This might not seem like a big deal, but initially it was huge for me. The first time I left the United States I was still young, and the concept of American identity still seemed abstract to me. But when I was thousands of miles away from home fielding questions from people who wanted to know more about where I was from, it gave me this sense of group identity. Ultimately, it was when I left America that I began to feel American.
Exchange of Ideas
The last and perhaps most important gift one can get out of travel is an understanding of different ways of life. The idea is not only a person knows the customs and traditions of a foreign land, but he is also able to understand why they are practiced. In the huge diversity of the world, some people live very differently than others. Perhaps the instinctual reaction is to avoid those who act and think differently.
However, it is the people who seek out foreign ideas and customs who learn the most. They are the ones who experience the most growth during their travels. Some might even go so far as to reevaluate some of the customs and beliefs of their own countries. These transformational moments only come to those who dare to discuss their ideas with others when they land in another country.
I will end with a story.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti. Up to that point I had basically only traveled to European countries. Haiti would be different, to say the least.
I was there for almost a week touring the country and volunteering; however, what I remember most vividly was a conversation with a young boy. After a short class, I sat talking with students when a boy only a few years younger than me came to talk with us.
We conversed for nearly two hours. During the conversation, he talked to me about his country. He talked about its triumphs and its failures. He spoke of the countries history, and he explained the problems its people faced now. He talked about the poverty, the danger, and the pain many people live with.
But still, they smile.
They smile and laugh because they have each other, he said. They have human connection.
Ever since, I have also made sure to put connecting with people before anything else.
Until Next Time,
About The Author…
Erick Boone is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and a recent graduate og Howard University. He currently lives in France where he works as an English teacher. He loves all things language. Erick also has a penchant for travelling, having visited 15 different countries. He spends his free time learning about history and culture via YouTube and literature… but mostly YouTube. His goal is to become an American diplomat.