You Owe It To Yourself To Travel


A certain magic lingers in the air on the first morning you awake in a foreign country. Erratic noises or absolute peace may graze your ears depending on your location. Sleep dawdles on your sluggish eyelids as they blink. An unfamiliar sight forces them to snap open. Slumber swiftly drifts away upon soaking up your surroundings; this is not your room. The wall colors are off, the décor lacks any of your personal touches, and the comforts are kept to a minimum. Your back aches from the old, battered mattress. Sleeping on it for several months suddenly seems a daunting task. A stranger, or two, sleeps on a twin size bed next to your own. All you see is the rise and fall of their sleeping body.

Tiptoeing, you head for the window. The urge to sprawl the shutters open is consuming, but maintaining civil roommate relations is crucial. Instead, you sneak a peek through the gap between the shutters.

The sight before you is no painting.

The sight before you is no picture.

The sight before you is no postcard.

A Venetian canal adorned by caroling gondoliers in striped shirts may grace your eyes. The distant view of the glorious Eiffel Tower might be in your peripherals. Perhaps a coastline as blue as an undisturbed summer sky glints in the horizon. Ancient Roman ruins could narrate thousands of years of turbulent history. The futuristic Dubai skyline, garlanded by unique buildings, can possibly greet you. A lush jungle drenched in flawless greens could garnish your line of vision. Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado might be concealed behind your shutters.

Open the shutters. You owe it to yourself to mesmerize your vision with the mysterious scene.

Whichever your foreign sight may be, liberation devours you. A new place signifies opportunities, second chances, and reinvention. Mischievous thoughts cross your scattered mind.

No one knows me here; I can be whoever I want.

Your interactions with the locals prove culture shock is a real phenomenon. Despite your willingness to speak to them in their native tongue, they eagerly respond in English. To them, you are an opportunity to practice. To you, they are the heralds to a world in which you wish to be immersed.

In these heralds, you find friends you never thought you needed. These people, who are uniquely different from anyone else you have ever met, are treasures you encounter along the way. Had you met them back home, you would have probably never crossed two words with them. Now it is different. That is the crucial divergence between domesticity and foreignness; you seek friendships with those who are unlike your friends at home. There is nothing wrong with your typical friends, but a journey such as this one requires the atypical. These unlikely friendships may last an afternoon, a week, or the remainder of your stay. What you do not know is that one might just last a lifetime. You will never know for sure until you annihilate your prejudices and befriend those who are different from you.

Greet these strangers. You owe it to yourself to initiate improbable friendships.

You will get lost. Begin by accepting it is impossible for this not to happen in a foreign place. No map or directions shall guide you to your desired destination. Obscure addresses will not be numbered in order. Roads will possess similar names which you may confuse in your lack of knowledge of the land’s language. But this prospect should not concern you. Narrow, dark alleyways will create a medieval ambiance. Dead ends will force you to retrace your steps; do not consider these a waste of time, for they are second chances to see that which you may have missed. If luck allows, your quest to find a known path will lead you somewhere better than what you expected. It could be a paradisiac desolate beach, a locals-only restaurant serving paella straight from your dreams, or an unknown landmark whose beauty overshadows the most famous of sites. No guide book will lead you to these places, for you must seek them on your own.

Allow yourself to get lost. You owe it to yourself to find these concealed treasures.

A stranger will ensnare your heart. With a smile charming as a summer’s day, he or she will beseech your attention at every encounter. You two might bask in your mutual desires to explore these unknown lands. Perhaps this person will guide you into his or her world. Never fail to forget you are simply a guest in his or her life, as he or she is merely a guest in yours. The time you shall spend together will be brief but memorable. The impossibility of fleeing romances has a manner of etching them into our memories in unfathomable ways. A simple picture, song, or scent will one day trigger a memory reflex that will transport you to a moment in the past with that person. Yes, you will fantasize you two will beat the odds. Yes, it will end. Yes, it will hurt. Exposing your heart abroad is part of the foreign experience.

Let him or her ensnare your heart, but make sure you ensnare his or hers too. You owe it to yourself to discover how deeply you can feel.

One day, you will find yourself engaged in an activity beyond your remotest expectations. Never, in your entire life, you would have imagined it would come to this. A microphone shakes in your sweaty hand as you intone the first lyrics from a song in front of an audience of strangers. The humps of a camel promise a steady, but jumpy, stroll through the massive desert. Fierce raindrops drench your clothing as you walk in a storm careless at the prospect of getting sick. You jump off a plane trusting a parachute with your frail life. Never close your eyes, for you could just miss the most beguiling of sights.

Be brave and daring. You owe it to yourself to reach the limits of your courage.

Few experiences will allow the real you to shine its brightest. Being a foreigner in a distant land will test you in ways you may deem absurd. The simplest of actions, like crossing a street or eating with the proper utensil, become daunting tasks abroad. Familiar surroundings help form our personalities and comfort zones. Without those surroundings, the real struggle begins. One day, you stare at your reflection unable to recognize the person who boarded the plane, train, or ship. This reflection is bolder, stronger, and cleverer. Only in unfamiliarity are you able to learn of what you are capable.

Travel to an unfamiliar land. You owe it to yourself to meet the real you.

featured image – Kevin Dooley