Personal Essay: Why I Love Traveling
“To Travel is to Live”, these famous words were spoken by the famous Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen more than 150 years ago. This statement has always resonated with me, although unlike Mr. Andersen for whom traveling to the destination was part of the adventure, for me it’s all about the destination. Flying is just not my “thing”, perhaps due to a few “turbulent” flights in the past. However, it’s a necessary evil to achieve what I truly enjoy, arriving in a new foreign country, ready to be explored.
I guess my fascination with foreign cultures, people and customs was passed to me from my dad, who was born and raised in Denmark, but subsequently lived all over the world and in the process visited more than 135 countries. From an early age, our family has traveled every summer, typically overseas, with Spring break reserved for North American travel. Over time, I have gotten more adventurous and now prefer to travel with friend(s) and occasionally alone.
What really attracts me to travel is meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds, from street vendors to fellow students, local or from other countries, to family and friends living abroad. These direct interactions are priceless and, in my view, a critical component if you truly want to understand the world around you. In the United States we tend to be extraordinary introspectively focused with limited interest in exploring the world around us. In fact, only 45% of Americans have a passport. For a country built by immigrants, it is ironic that many people still view foreign countries and foreign nationals with suspicion, or in certain circles, even with outright contempt. To me, such perceptions are the consequence of lack of first-hand knowledge and an inability or unwillingness to look deeper than what is just in front of you, be it daily life or your favorite news channel. To get the direct knowledge, you need to travel, and not just to the beaches of Mexico or the Caribbean. You need to get out into the real world, put yourself out of your comfort zone and interact with people different from yourself. Challenge your thinking and beliefs, be open-minded, observe, absorb and learn, and then draw your own conclusions. Apart from challenging your common beliefs, which is always a healthy exercise, it will also provide you with a dose of empathy for people less fortunate than yourself, and an appreciation of the uniqueness of America.
To me traveling is an integral part of my broader education, a critical component no less important than formal high school or college instruction. I strongly believe that direct exposure to other people, customs and cultures makes me a much more balance and well-rounded person and enables me to put my own problems and concerns into a broader context. I hope to make this lifetime challenge for me, staying-open minded and always ready to challenge my own views. As Mr. Andersen concluded in his senior years, the only constant in life is change, and like him, I aim to embrace it rather than shun it.