By Catherine Swope
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.” C.S Lewis
What is it about traveling that makes it such a hot commodity? This has been something I’ve pondered for years since I’ve been incredibly lucky to to do quite a bit of it. Everyone seems to have caught that wanderlust: wanting that top of the mountain experience, that home away from home high. But is merely 'lust' that we have?
As I sit on a train and look out at the rolling hills of a place I used to call home, I am led into deep reflection. When I was nineteen, I had the opportunity to live in Austria for three months. I saw everything. I did everything. It was the semester of a lifetime and I loved every minute of it. God found me, and I found myself in many, many ways. But I also experienced deep loneliness and confusion and heartache.
Traveling is not just about bliss. Traveling is about learning. I am twenty-three now and I am headed back to my sweet, sleepy Austrian town. I know that the beer will be just as good if not better, I know that the mountains will be just as inviting and the windowsills just as perfect for journaling and hanging your feet out. But what a different world it will be. In the past 4 years I have become an entirely different person. I have changed and grown in every way.
So why am I going? Like really? Beyond the beauty and bliss and nostalgia, why do we travel? Why do we spend our savings accounts and endure sleepless nights and uncomfortable situations and risk a whole lot of everything for...a hobby? Because it is so much more than a hobby. Perhaps one of the most invaluable things about traveling is how it offers perspective. Sounds too simple, but that’s what I have learned it is all about. Traveling also supplies endless opportunities for reflection and almost always acts as a much needed reality check.
I wake up to my life and in the mysterious way that God operates He always shows me that life is much better than I thought it was. That He is much, much better than I thought He was. He shows me that all is well, in fact, all is very well. Life is beautiful and full and His plans are unfolding exactly how He has intended them. The moment and events of the past week and month and years have purpose and deep relevance and He sees each and every one because He has been there.
But this perspective isn't only possible while hopping around Europe. The good life is the simple life too. Maybe it’s a trip to a new grocery store across the city. Maybe it’s a quick stint to the lake or Cathedral across town. Maybe it’s a spontaneous road trip to see your too-far-away best friend. Or maybe it’s a few days home for Christmas. Over and over again, God seems to urge us out of our little comfort zones. Why? So that He can clear our eyes to see out of His. So that he can speak to us both in the desert and on the mountain top. So that we can grow and feel and breathe deeply. The sharp pain of missing loved ones points us towards gratitude for each of their lives. The frustration of missing a train leads to an opportunity for a quick rosary. A way too crowded National Park reminds us of the crowds that Christ tirelessly healed and shepherded in his travels.
Finally, traveling teaches us to laugh and to not take anything too seriously. One of the very best pieces of advice I received this year was from a dear professor and friend. He said, “Take everything seriously and nothing seriously at all.” Traveling solo has brought this little gem home for me in a new way. I have laughed at myself, at language barriers, at flirty waiters, at weird looking poodles, at smelly cheese, at sweaty sprints to catch the flight, at smiley babies wearing mini sunglasses, and at my own seriousness. Traveling is living outside of a comfort zone and out of our own control. Life is truly short- that is no cliche. But God is endlessly good, adventure is real, strangers are kind, and the entire world awaits your footprints. Bon Voyage & Buen Camino!