More Than Stamps: Community as the Essence of Travel

EarthWe travel the world for many reasons. Some seek adventure. Some hope to drink a deeper experience of life. Some want to behold the wonders our planet has to offer, taste exotic new food, go where the pages of history were written, or have their breath stolen by sheer, unadulterated beauty.

Some just want lots of stamps in their passports.

Go for any amount of time though and you’ll notice something you probably didn’t expect when the siren song of Mother Earth first graced your ears. She reveals her most precious gift, generously sharing her most valuable resource. Better than any sight or sound or taste, her secret rests in the hands of a simple truth:

Travel is our story of community along the journey.

People have the incredible ability to transform us in ways a sunrise or a splendid mountain vista simply cannot. Friendships abide with us long after the taste of curry has left our tongues. Laughter infuses hope into our hearts, penning history before our very eyes. Great stories told many years later center around the wacky, meaningful, unexpected relationships we formed along the steps into our vast unknown.

Like the final scribbles of a dying Christopher McCandless on Into The Wild, let us not realize too late that “Happiness [is] only real when shared.”

Community necessitates relationships. And forming good ones requires time, which itself works best if one lingers for longer than a few hours. While the nature of traveling assumes a temporary presence in any given place, there are meaningful ways to connect with others if we are willing to stop and rest our wandering feet. Words like stability and routine shouldn’t strike unneeded fear into those desiring to see the world. Sometimes what we need more than the bragging rights of visiting every country is to find a place we can know and be known. No doubt there are great opportunities for those passing through a city. However, the growing popularity of “slow travel” – the value of quality over quantity – offers some gems for really experiencing a place.

Here are a few tips from my own stories of settling:

Strap On Your Boots

Not only does it help fund our forward movement, scoring legal employment connects us with people we would not have met otherwise. Work is a sure way to invest in the lives of others, plus we can add the experience to our resume/CV. Make sure to research the proper visa for the country’s work requirements and if working is not an option, proceed to the following paragraph.

Volunteering abroad with an organization we care about is a reminder that the world is not just about us, our wants, and our desires. Oftentimes, travel involves us constantly thinking about the next step – the bus we must catch, the museum’s opening hours, our accommodation for the next two nights – keeping our thoughts centered on our own comfort and security. While good and needed, maybe even more so is our need to contribute without asking anything in return.

Check with volunteer-based stores, go play games with nursing home residents, pop into the local food bank, throw an “everyone’s invited” party in the local park, or get a bag and pick up litter. The practice of kindness is always in style.  And man, does it look good on you.

Get Out of Bed on Sunday Morning

If any religious gathering is worth their snuff, they will happily welcome visitors into their midst, creating immediate bonds into an already formed community. Maybe you’re not much for religion, but the experience of doing something different can also help us in the formation of our beliefs, challenge our current perspectives, and give us a safe place to meet people who will be excited to have someone new joining them. Who knows? We may find we even get a free meal out of it.

Learn Jokes

My dad has the gift of making friends with everyone he meets, because he’s not afraid to strike up a conversation or crack a corny joke to complete strangers. It’s an art form, really.  One with immense value. I am astounded at the kindness, generosity, and hospitality of people once common ground is discovered. Locals are often fascinated by foreigners who have chosen to come to their hometown. A smile, kind word, and genuine conversation can present situations you simply could not plan or fabricate any other way. So talk with people.  And don’t say I didn’t tell you so when you make friends with a pilot who offers to take you flying down the coast for an afternoon. Or something to that effect.

Take Notes from Jim Carrey

One night at dinner my friend promptly exclaimed that he was late for class. Dance class it turns out. His girlfriend loves to dance so he was learning. Seems my wife was pretty keen on the idea as well. What started out as a nice, quiet evening suddenly found me dancing Ceroc with middle-aged women before I knew how I got there. Know what? I’m so glad I went. By the end of the evening, I believe I enjoyed dancing more than my wife. Granted, she did get spun a lot.

Go watch Yes Man and see what a powerful change comes about when we learn to say “yes” to the invitations which come our way. Whether introverted like myself or a party looking for a place to happen, we often are presented with choices between something predictable and something unknown, something comfortable and something challenging, “yes” and “no”. Say yes. Use good judgment, stay safe, maintain control of mental and physical capabilities, but say yes.

Yes makes for compelling stories.

Become the Next J.K. Rowling

Good luck single handedly raising the reading level of an entire generation through your travel blog, but give it a shot all the same. Our family and friends back home, the wonderful people we meet throughout our journey, the wider community of anonymous travel-thirsty internet users, all want to know what’s been going on in our world. Keep a journal, take artsy photographs, find free wifi, and let others in on the gold found. Tell funny stories. Share sage advice. Hook into the globally connected community through the wonders of social media and technology. Return the favor to others chronicling their own journeys.  We’re in an age where community is just a click away, so take advantage of it and become an inspiration for someone else.

Whether we venture forth on our lonesome, with our significant other, or toting three kids on those silly leashes, we will need the people we meet. And they will need us. We each have unique goodness to offer the world around us, if only we’ll be intentional in sharing. Joining in community wherever we go may prove to be one of the most significant, life-altering choices we make. Our relationships will shape who we are and who we become.

The passport stamps are just a bonus.

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