Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher. (…) A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear.
Whenever I speak with my family about my desire to travel, they get excited and share their own experiences. My aunt has traveled extensively and now lives in the U.S. My grandfather, similarly, has passed a couple of horizons and mainly sees the positive effects that come from it. My mother, even though not especially well traveled herself, is always happy for me and would support anything I do, even if it were something more extreme like taking part in the colonization of Mars (which I had very briefly considered, by the way).
In talking with fellow travelers, though, I realize this is a rather rare situation. They seem to encounter generational conflicts where their family is concerned. They would prefer to see their children pursue a more practical and, for want of a better term, sensible way of life. We are the generation that has reached the peak of individualism and from reforms in schooling to an incredibly diverse range of lifestyles, we try to find our place in it. Often with something of a struggle.
I see individualism as something of a double edged sword and try not to lose myself in it, while still taking part in a some degree, but travel to me is how you can find your way through the struggle. Most people I meet during my travels would step out into the world to find themselves, as they so put, next to seeing some awesome sights. I can relate. I like pushing my limits. I like the effect it has on my mindset. But my main reason for traveling is personally and community oriented both. This has everything to do with how I choose to travel, which is through immersion rather than country hopping. I will visit quite a few countries in the coming months, but am always careful to select some projects here and there so I can get a feel for a place beyond what the scenery has to offer.
I try to encourage this in everyone I meet because I often feel like most have a lot to say about the mountains they climbed and little about the people they met. That or they travel in big groups with all of their friends and only really talk to each other. This is such a shame to me because I would want to promote travel as a way to get closer to each other. Not to use it as a tool to become even more isolated and self involved. The more communities you encounter, the more you realize that our interpretation of how a life should be lived, is only one of many. In that sense, I see this type of travel as a form of education. With the desired outcome of tolerance.
In this context, I would suggest you mix adventure with project work or study. If you can, take your time and travel for a longer period of time. And above all, try and travel alone. Not only will you learn more about communities this way because it is easier to integrate, but you will certainly get to know yourself. And when you find that level of confidence, peace and knowledge, you can in turn mean a lot more to the everyone and everything around you.
This blog was contributed by Mieke from Belgium, who is completing an internship at Instituto Estelar Bilingüe in Liberia, Costa Rica.