What I Didn’t Know Until I Left Home

What I Didn’t Know Until I Left Home

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Hers is the thrill of an exotic romance. Leave your cares behind and slip into the arms of freedom.

Travel makes life look attractive. She’s a seductress who whispers all kinds of promises, each tinged with truth. Those of us who have followed her can tell you, the reality seldom consist with what the imaginings tease. Not all for ill, either. Whatever she may be, travel is also an invaluable teacher. Though she doesn’t give her secrets away easily.

For that, you must first buy in. Because there are things you simply cannot know until you leave home.

How Leaving Home Didn’t Solve All My Problems

I must have read hundreds of travel blogs. I made lists. Of travel gear. Of countries to visit. Of things to do in those countries. I was itching to go, to leave this discontentment behind for a life of my choosing. I wanted to be utterly free – to do what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted. That was the dream. Nothing to tie me down. A world open to whatever possibilities I could imagine. I was ready to trade in my current problems for what was certain to be an easier set.

So what if I shared a hostel room with a snorer?

But the problems I thought I was leaving behind were never really the problem in the first place. At least, they weren’t the source. The truth is, I was hurting and I carried that hurt with me across the world, lodged in between the quick-dry boxers and the compact, lightweight sleeping bag. I mistook my circumstances as the key to my joy.

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Shaky ground if ever there was any.

All that to say, travel isn’t going to solve your problems. It can be a marvelous soil for growth, but the seeds of your character are not transplanted into fully-grown trees bursting with springtime fruit just because you are backpacking Europe. Our expectations of travel may need to be checked alongside our baggage if we’ve bought into the “grass is greener” mentality. If you are not enough without travel, you won’t be enough with it.

The Difference Between Good and Nice

There is great value in working, in building a home, a family, security, and the like. It takes courage and faith and wisdom to do that well. But there is a danger hidden there: life becomes routine to the point that we don’t tap into our full potential. Risk endangers all manner of choices and we become afraid to follow into the unknown.

People depend on us. We’re afraid to lose what we’ve worked for. Our expectations have settled into a certain standard.

If you are one who is content to survive well and in comfort and security and predictability, I respect you for those choices, though you know as well as I that nothing is guaranteed. However, I’ve found that my time in those places left me with very few convictions. And the convictions I did have were held back by my own fears and the voices of those around me. So I got by and did what I could for others. But I hardly “drank deeply” or “sucked the marrow out of life”, as Thoreau so aptly puts it.

This became most apparent in my discovery of the difference between nice and good.

I didn’t realize it until I left how unengaged I actually was with issues of justice and poverty and transformation. Sure I helped people when I was back home, but mostly I was more interested in putting my feet up and watching weeknight TV shows. I want to be a man whose life counts for something. I want to be intentional in doing good, not just passively waiting to show the world how nice I can be.

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I’m a master at nice. Travel is teaching me how to be good.

What a Generous Spirit Actually Looks Like

I consider myself a man of faith and am told that my faith means nothing if actions don’t back up my words. Trouble is, I often fail to live up to those aspirations. So I like to make sure that people know how selfless I am, yet I tend to be stingy with my possessions. I want you speak well of me and my abilities, but I grow impatient if you take up too much of my time. I value graciousness, hospitality, and generosity. I can also be the most ungracious, inhospitable, and greedy son of a gun you ever met.

But I’m working on it.

I grew up in the States so I’ve never really been part of a radically hospitable culture like some other places in the world. We tend to build fences and warn off intruders rather than invite strangers into our homes. Skepticism trumps welcome nearly every time.

I am so thankful others haven’t treated me as I would have had the tables been turned. Leaving home means choosing vulnerability in many ways. Being a foreigner means you willingly release your grip on certain aspects of control. Traveling entails trust and dependence and counts on the generosity of those you may not yet know. It’s one of those things you don’t give a whole lot of thought until you are the one in need. I have witnessed what a faith backed up by actions truly looks like and

it. is. beautiful.

Once I became a beneficiary of generosity, hospitality, self-sacrificing kindness, trust, and selflessness, it is difficult not to be changed. My tendency to be stingy or selfish or ungenerous cannot stand in the refining fire of “doing to others what I would have them do to me.” Whenever the time comes to make my home, I will not forget those whose kindness has made for me all the difference.

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The Reality of a Life, Changed

Okay so I expected to see things and encounter people and have these sacred experiences which irrevocably make me a better person. I think we all hope for that when we travel. I guess I just didn’t have the categories for what that would look like until now.

Travel has become more than a chasing of dreams, a few scribbles through my bucket list, or an escape to a different reality. She carries an altogether more meaningful weight with her. I see her from a different perspective, a shifted vantage point. No longer is travel one of those words which solely evokes “feel good” emotions void of contextual reality. Because travel now wears the skin of experience.

I have held her hand and walked down foreign streets. I have sat with her in the rain with no place to call home. I have raged against her unpredictability and unexpected costs. I have smiled at her innocence and listened in on her confessions. I have followed her allure until it wore off and I began to understand why she brought me out here in the first place.

Could it have been any other way? Would I be who I am now without first having embraced her siren song? I’m not sure. Neither can I answer that question for you.

If you do travel, there really is no telling which seeds of your character will flourish and grow. Only that they will.

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