Note: I was pleased and privileged to have this post published on A Life Overseas. In that process, I was able to flesh out my original post, which I now consider a draft. This “draft” appears below but to be honest, I am much happier with the slightly amplified version and I encourage you to read it here: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/travel-delusions/

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It cost me USD436 to renew my passport. I was planning to do it for half the price when I get home in September, but I ran out of pages.

That’s right, I ran out of passport pages.

A fact that I was pretty proud about – until it cost me a significant amount of time and money which I did need for other purposes.

And it made me think: spending time overseas is a source of pride, well looked upon, and much boasted about. We talk about how great seeing the world is because of the people you meet, the lessons you learn, the priceless experiences you accumulate. (Also, it’s fun.)

But there is an almost mystical quality attached to travel that is worth reanalysing.

2015-05-07 Uyuni 070

I always said that one of the great and truly valuable things about spending time overseas is you learn more about yourself, who and how you really are. You get perspective.

You learn that you are attractive to the opposite sex.

You learn that you are good at things.

You learn that you’re interesting.

You learn that your privileged childhood has shaped you for better or for worse.

You learn that you are stronger than you believed – or you learn to be strong.

You learn that you can make a difference.

You learn that friendship can be temporary and sweet at the same time.

You learn what home means to you – or that the word “home” doesn’t mean anything anymore.

2014-11-22 Charquini y Chacaltaya 80

Well, these are the things I thought I’d learned.

Yet I’m starting to feel I need to unlearn most, if not all, of this. Not because any of it is wrong, per se. But what about those who haven’t travelled – because they can’t afford to, or because they stay home and do cool things there? Are they ignorant? Are we wanderers any wiser, any more informed, any more self-aware than they are?

Being “well-travelled” deludes you into thinking you know yourself (and the world, and people in general) better. Like when you backpacked for six months, when you volunteered for two years, you were somehow attaining a higher level of self-fulfillment.

Am I the best judge of who I am? Do what other people say or think about me determine my identity and self-worth? Both are such relative standards, vulnerable to the highs and lows of life. When things are good, I am on top of the world. When things take a turn for the worse, when I find myself alone – who am I then?

My identity is an evolving concept, a work in progress. Up to a point, travel casts light on different aspects of what I am like and the direction I am taking in my life. But travel in and of itself it doesn’t give value to my existence; nor should I define myself by the fact that I have travelled, or by some idea of “the person I have become” as a result of my travels.

My Maker is the one who gave me value when He created me, and I’ve decided He is the one who defines me.

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6 comments
  1. Hey, thank you for the interesting post. We tend to give extra weight to people with experience, and for some reason in today’s world experience through travel has a special mystique. I would compare the value of travel to life in general. If I don’t live it thoughtfully, with my eyes open, I can think I’ve learned a lot but have really completely missed the point. And then when I am old (or to compare, back from my trips), people may think I am wise and experienced, but I don’t actually have much of use to say to them.

    I do think travel can be a great opportunity though. There are a few things I like about it:
    1) It shows me that people all around the world are not so different underneath;
    2) It gives me a new appreciation of the world my Creator has made; and
    3) It sometimes helps to put things from life back home (wherever that is) into perspective.

    When I think about it though, it would definitely be possible for me to travel as much as I wanted and never learn anything much about the world I live in or the people that I share it with. Travel has the potential to make me *feel* wiser, more experienced and more knowledgeable than another, whether or not I really learned anything from it.

    I do think that the way you travel – longer term, living and serving in the community – has the best potential for learning. So that is really a unique opportunity.

  2. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment, JW! Gotta say I agree with you. This post was born from reflecting on: the attitudes of people I’ve met on my travels, comments people have made to me because I’ve travelled a lot, and my own attitudes about all this.

    I guess the long and short of it is that travel has great value and is a huge blessing for those of us who have been able to do some – but it should never make us so proud that we think we are more open-minded or wise. The thing is, in my case at least, it HAS defined me, for better or for worse. I just want to be sure it is God using these experiences to define me, not the experiences themselves defining me contrary to/despite what God says about me.

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