I agree. Everyone at some point, given the chance, should get lost, should have their preconceived notions challenged, and should have their ass kicked (figuratively) by travel in a foreign or maybe just in an unfamiliar place. But growing up no one told me why travel was beneficial. Ambitious middle-class youth would talk of Africa or Europe with their open starry-eyes, reminiscing on their adventures filled with sunsets, new friends, and occasional introspective breakthroughs. It was apparent that something shifts in a person’s demeanor after their first out-of-home experience, but why? What are those variables of travel that alter someone’s perception so greatly?
Commonly, the reasons I hear to justify travel or living somewhere different seem to revolve around some sort of self-learning about oneself; we don’t know who we are until we step back to look at ourselves. The familiar aspects of our lives only loosely determine the outer definitions of our being. Environment, habits, and relationships, when removed or changed, certainly have the potential to leave an impression on our identity. But it’s also not even that, throughout our life there are plenty of facets and nuances regarding our identity, familiarity, or home that are still surfacing or being discovered. And our capacity is not just limited by what we know we can do.
And really, I suppose it’s not so much that I’m speculating about of what changes in that experience of distance or separation but rather what keeps constant: what is our center of gravity, who do we orbit, and what pulls us back, if at all? What do these patterns reveal about who we are and what we value in life? Distance is a form of speculation onto the self. Distance is also a means to understand the emotional metric of how far one has departed from oneself or from others (say family, chosen or inherited). In answering the question of how far we’ve gone, the assessment of from where have we departed gives clue to what we value. With negative or positive connotation, where we depart from has as much to do with our identity as where we have embarked towards.
I’ve been thinking of this question ever since I came across the opening lines to G.K. Chesterton’s The Ever-lasting Man, “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place.” Now, admittedly, I have not fully read this dense piece of literature, but taken for face-value (or maybe just out of context) G.K. Chesterton seems to not be dismissing either means of getting to know home. In his quote, he is recognizing the legitimacy of experience and acknowledging that everyone must discover what works for them.
All you may learn from travel is to know when to go back home, and maybe that’s never. It is a time to know how far one has departed from oneself, for better or for worse. Because distance is immeasurable, and because emotional attachments to places or people develop for better or for worse, everyone must determine their own metric for distance, rubric for home, and beliefs for identity. Left with little or no answers, we must be willing to go further. We must ask those probing questions and be willing enough to listen when it is time to come home or stay gone.