Since I have had my first experience outside the United States, I have occasionally wondered what motivates us as Americans to travel internationally. Usually the ability to travel across various national borders is associated with a certain financial status, as transportation is expensive. Sometimes travel is prompted by business. I once knew a lady who worked for a company who sold some kind of very specific medical equipment, it seemed as though every other week her company was sending her to London, Rome, Hong Kong, etc. for business. Such a life is lost in my comprehension of the world.
Other times, travel is anxiously required by soldiers in the military, or at least anxiously anticipated by their families and loved ones. I’m sure individuals in this category see travel very differently than the average citizen. Travel can be a permanent thing, and even though many Americans don’t care to venture outside the country, immigration brings cultures close… sometimes too close for comfort it unfortunately seems to some.
In the Evangelical culture, travel is almost always associated with mission trips and various humanitarian efforts/gospel spreading efforts. This kind of traveler is certain to make sure you know they’re not going for a vacation but for a higher purpose. And speaking of vacation, even though it seems that most Americans don’t spend their holidays in other countries, some do — whether it’s the beaches of Cancun or skiing in the Alps.
Ode to my Parents as World Travelers
Since my brother and I have been out of the house my parents have surprisingly taken advantage of a new found flexibility to travel. They are a unique breed of traveler, and I greatly respect their own techniques of the trade. Their first extended time outside of the US was a three month long hands-on Spanish class in Antigua, Guatemala. Their purpose? Only to learn more of the Spanish language… However, just like I would hope any cross cultural experience to be, they’ll tell you that they were able to learn so much more than just sentence structure and irregular verb conjugations.
Because of their favorable experiences in Guatemala, they were eager to come visit Brandon and I while we were living in Tanzania. (In fact, we were blessed to have each of our parents able to visit us in Tanzania, during the same week!) I think my parents would have come to visit us if they hadn’t been to Guatemala a year prior, however I think they would have been much more timid of travelers had they not experienced three months of their own living in a developing country. Their first day with us in TZ, my dad wanted to explore! He wanted to take a dala dala (an overcrowd
ed minibus) down to the Mwenge taxi park (which the “my planet” travel companion informational book told him was roughly 5 km from our house) and visit Wood Carvers Village. I had to go
to work that day and successfully tried to talk him out of it, since the idea of him jumping on the local transportation without knowing any Kiswahili to get him back, nor the possession of a cell phone to contact me if he got lost, was a little scary for me.
Today my parents are leaving for about two weeks in Spain. Five years ago they stumbled into a neat relationship with a Spanish couple who have been trying for almost five years to entice my parents to visit their country. They finally planned a trip, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. My parents have always been a little adventurous in their own way and I think it’s fabulous that one of their new means of adventure is their joy to travel for the sake of… well, just seeing and learning and experiencing more of God’s amazing creation.
While Brandon and I were in Tanzania, we safari-ed out to Iringa during a portion of our Christmas break with some dear friends. While we were staying a few nights at the Riverside Campsite, we ran into an older Dutch couple who we learned were passing through Tanzania on a much greater journey than any I could even imagine. They were RVing from their home in Holland, all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa… and back again! (take that Frodo!) They were perhaps a few years older than my parents and I was seriously shocked to hear them undertake such a journey. They had driven their RV through Sudan, Egypt, Syria, and some other questionably safe countries, and still had to pass through Zimbabwe… at least what I would consider questionably safe, but maybe I’m just a scardy-cat.
We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself?
Scardy-cat, that’s it… I think to go back to my first paragraph imagining all the different reasons why Americans travel, maybe I should think about why we don’t travel. Certainly, not having enough money is a reason, but I think that another grand road-blocker would be fear. Fear because we know that Americans aren’t always perceived as friends throughout the globe. Fear because people could take advantage of us. Fear because you think society is telling you that you should “settle down”… for some reason we can’t travel if we’re married or have children. Fear to travel with children.
I’m not saying that these fears should be ignored completely. From my experience in other countries, it would be unwise to cast the realities that cause these fears to the wind. However, this leads to a deeper question that is deep enough to be asked through the lens of your whole life, not just the part of you that does or doesn’t want to travel: How much do you allow fear to control your journey through life?
Safari Njema, Bon Voyage, Happy Trails my friends.