I like to travel.
Actually, if I am honest, I don’t like travel: I like being at interesting places. Travel is just what helps me get there, and between planes and the TSA, I’m not the biggest fan. Still, until teleportation is invented and perfect, I’m willing to submit to the indignities of travel in order to get out and about.
That’s because travel has benefited me spiritually in a profound way. Some of my greatest revelations and moments of closeness to God have occurred in the midst of traveling or at a far-off destination. Something about leaving the comforts of home and going somewhere new opens a door to all sorts of understanding, learning, and growth for me.
Because of that, I am a big advocate that believers gets out of their bubbles and comfort zones and travel if and when at all possible. That doesn’t mean that travel need be expensive or distant. “Travel” can be to a nearby state, a park a few hours’ drive north, or to another state or region or country. It can be as long a trip or as short as you like. Do whatever works for you, but give it a try with God in mind. Here are some of the benefits:
1. Travel teaches flexibility and dependence on God. Sometimes everything on a trip turns out like you want; sometimes nothing does. Planes get delayed. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant that seemed cute was actually a breeding ground for food-borne bacterial infection. You get lost. You forget where that one cool place was. Or, alternatively, you find a cool new place…but have to sacrifice your plans for the rest of the day to pursue it. The point is, traveling liberates you from your routine, your circumstances, your habits, and your comforts. It demands flexibility and resilience. And it reminds you that God is the great constant in all things.
2. You will learn about other places, people, and cultures. Thanks to traveling, I’ve learned what it is like to be the only person who doesn’t speak the dominant language. I’ve eaten different types of food and learned different forms of etiquette. I’ve observed the harshness and the wonder of rural life and the fast pulse of major cities. It’s all amazing, and it’s taught me that the world God has made is so vast. The people God has made are all so different! And so are the ways they worship and pray and engage with Him. Travel will teach you quickly that, no, the whole world is not exactly like your church and your neighborhood – and that’s not a bad thing. Travel broadens your mind. It expands your horizons.
3. You’ll make connections. Travelers are just a friendly bunch – probably because most of us know we’re all in this thing together. I’ve had involved conversations with people in airport lounges waiting for a flight, in rest stop bathrooms, in hotels, in restaurants. I’ve lent motion sickness medicine to other travelers and I’ve followed brand-new acquaintances to where we all hoped the correct airport terminal was during a terrifyingly brief 20-minute layover in Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Once, in Prague, a man several tables away kept eyeing my husband and I. We worried we were unintentionally doing something rude; later, at the end of his meal, he stopped by the table. “Hi,” he said, “I heard you speaking American English and couldn’t help but notice. Where’re you from?” Turns out he was an expat from Florida with a nostalgia for home. Travel creates amazing opportunities for you to connect with people.
4. You’ll encounter God in surprising places. The foaming gray sea, a vast gray sky, and emerald green hills that stitched the two together: I stood on a pier in Ireland, looking at that view, and found myself moved to tears. I felt God’s presence strongly, and was able to worship there in a way that was unique and remarkable and that I have not experienced in any other place. But I’ve had God-experiences in other places that reminded me of that: on the edge of the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York, in a rainy alley in Prague, watching an open-air church service for the homeless in L.A.. When you are liberated from your routine and the expectations of day to day life, when you permit yourself the leisure space to think on God and take Him with you, suddenly there is an awful lot of room for the Lord to come in and engage with you powerfully.
5. You will have to confront your materialism. Nothing will bring you face to face with your material needs like packing and schlepping your stuff around. Traveling makes you ask yourself what you really need, versus what you want. You will learn the difference between “essential” and “important” and “unimportant.” And when push comes to shove and you forget that belt, or that pair of shoes, or that other thing you thought you couldn’t live without…you’ll learn that it’s fine. Really.
6. You will learn gratitude and gain a deeper self-awareness. Traveling, you will meet people who are of far greater means than you – intimidatingly so. You will also meet people of far lesser means. You will recognize, really, how blessed you are. You will start to understand how many comforts you actually possess. And you will start to understand, in a way you did not before, that you are one among many: that life is short and small, and that we are small in this vast universe, but that God recognizes and loves us uniquely and deeply. It will change your prayers. You will begin to realize how much you are a part of humankind, and how much humankind means to God. You will start to realize that you have more than you dreamed, and you will develop a deeper gratitude for everything that you have
With those reasons on offer, I’d like to say that I don’t want to romanticize travel. I love it, and sometimes I also sort of hate it, too. If you’d seen me after I disembarked from our 11-hour flight back from Rome (which was spent next to a screaming infant and behind an unfortunately flatulent elderly gentleman) you would have sworn to never go anywhere ever again. Sometimes things go amazingly great and you find treasures and hidden gems and you make wonderful memories that carry you through long days. At other times, nothing seems to go right and you find yourself wishing you’d stayed home. I loved seeing the Pieta in the Vatican, but I hated getting norovirus. Ireland is my favorite country on the planet, but I thought the ferry ride to the Aran Islands might kill me with seasickness. I loved walking around Washington, D.C. and visiting museums; I found myself disenchanted with L.A. My point is that your experiences will vary, and that’s exactly the point. You’re going to depend on God everywhere, because travel knocks out a lot of the pillars of your self-reliance.
When you travel you’re not around your familiar support systems, your friends, your home. You can’t always consult Google for what to do. You might not be able to read the signs. But you can pray everywhere you go. You can worship God anywhere in the world. And you will find His children in the most unexpected of places. Travel teaches you that God really is everywhere: as you go, you’ll realize that “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
So if you have a chance to travel and the time is right, jump on it. A vacation from routine doesn’t mean a vacation from God – in fact, a lot of times, the opposite is true. Whether the travel is for leisure or for work, He will work in it and through it, as long as we keep our eyes open.
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