“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Last week, I finished reading a book I can’t stop thinking about. It wasn’t a novel or fiction, like many of the books I read, but a memoir. The subtitle describes it well: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. But I personally think the book was about something more universal, something many of us struggle to shake. I would subtitle it: One Man’s Quest to Break Free from His Past.
The writing is elegant and thoughtful, and the story moved me. Even more, the memoir is about travel, one of my favorite parts of life.
In its pages, the author takes the reader through his experiences traveling to various parts of the world–to Patagonia, the Amazon, a remote part of Costa Rica, and opulent Vienna–as he searches for a way to break free from who he was before. He wants to be able to fully love the woman who he wants to marry, and fully live in the day-to-day world of his family and friends. Because of reasons he doesn’t understand, he fights a near-constant need to escape. But through his travels, he begins to understand himself. Through travel, he finds the man he hopes to be.
The book is called The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy.
Often, especially in American culture, we put travel off as something we’ll do someday. Only 1/3 of Americans have a passport. We have a beautiful, large, diverse country. But in traveling somewhere new, someplace different, we gain more than we can measure.
Following, some of my favorite quotes from the The Longest Way Home, to pair with 5 reasons why it’s important to travel.
5 Reasons to Travel More
1) To See:
- to be alive: when we travel, we see our usual world with new eyes.
“…the glacier appears to be glowing–not reflecting light but emitting it, radiating it. It looks like a pulsing, living thing. The suddenness and surprise of the view has filled me with such a feeling of being alive that in this instant I tell myself it is worth any cost I have to pay to ensure the continuing possibility of such moments…” pg. 38
2) To Learn:
- the new things we encounter on travels help us to broaden our minds.
“The freedom of being a stranger in a strange place, knowing no one, needing to know no one, with no obligations, elicits deep feelings of liberation, and the farther from the beaten path I go, the quicker the attachment to any idea of how I should be treated is discarded–I’m grateful merely that my needs are met. Without an agenda, or company to distract me, I invariably feel a certain hopefulness than can appear contrary to my aimlessness. Perhaps it’s just the simple joy of being alive.” pg. 104
3) To Heal:
“The acute sense of longing I felt toward my father at the summit and the realization of the place that longing has always occupied in my body is a discovery not to be minimized, and in some ways, it is a relief. In acknowledging that emptiness, I’m released further into my own life.” pg. 226
4) To Awaken:
- to new possibilities
“Rarely do I take the time to marvel at how fast one can get so far from home, but in this instant it’s not lost on me that just last night I was eating a cheeseburger for dinner on a still-chilly New York City, and I am now sitting in the middle of the steaming Amazon River eating fresh dorado for lunch.” pg. 73
5) To Understand:
- ourselves and others better, in a new light.
“Travel has rarely been about escape; it’s often not even about a particular destination. The motivation is to go–to meet life, and myself, head-on along the road… I’m forced to rely on instinct and intuition, on the kindness of strangers, in ways that illuminate who I am, ways that shed light on my motivations, my fears.” pg. 19
The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy
One thing is clear in the book: the belief that one of the most important things we can do as human beings is to go, to travel, to see what is outside of the boxes of our daily lives. It doesn’t matter how far we go, what matters is that we take on the attitude of seeing and doing something entirely new. It is in the environment completely outside the norm that we begin to discover ourselves and others.
Travel is one of the most important things we can do, in living well.
McCarthy’s journey in The Longest Way Home resonated with me, especially with my own recent four years living in Prague. Now, as I write about my time there, I’m rediscovering who I am and how much that time in a foreign country and traveling to 23 countries transformed me. Lumped together, those four years were one of the hardest, yet best experiences of my life.
Travel rarely has to be extravagant. When planned well, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The ability to travel simply takes a can-do spirit and a sense of adventure.
This month I’ve focused on writing about health, and this final week, my focus is on the importance of travel. In this new year, don’t hesitate. Go. Travel. See. Do. Become.