Travel: A Lifelong Journey of Learning
|A sign pointing to a maze at the incredible Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire, France. Photo ©Gregory Hubbs.
Remember that first time you were confronted with extreme difference? It might have been when you were small, surrounded by a cacophony of words in a different language, or while you were a teen, backpacking Europe and trying to figure out the train systems. It might have been driving on the opposite side of the road, or eating foods that are unusual (grasshoppers, perchance?). Now think hard – what was your reaction? Did you revel in the difference, rise to the challenge, and become addicted to the joy of exploring the unknown?
If you’re reading Transitions Abroad, you’re in the club. Those that love exploring the world, that see life – and travel – as a long journey of learning, those that find joy in the unexpected, the challenges of difference, the happiness of homecoming.
And yet…travel has changed a great deal in our lifetimes. Depending on your age, it has gone from travel for the elite to travel for the masses; from lugging thick, dog-eared guidebooks to quickly downloading apps; from asking friends for advice to asking the world. With the whole world open to us, and travel easier than ever, how can modern travelers find what they desire? And how has learning about the world changed, with the advent of the internet and 24/7 global knowledge?
I have long posited that education is global, and that travel is an essential part of lifelong learning. If you’re lucky, your family starts traveling while you’re young, so that it is an integral part of life and learning. Others have to wait until opportunities present themselves – gap years, study abroad programs, international internships, and volunteering overseas are all excellent ways for young adults to experience the joy of travel and being in the world. Then they, too, get bit by the discovery and culture bug, and travel as frequently as they can, often becoming global nomads in this digital age.
For that is the essence of travel today – the ability to be elsewhere quickly, the abundance of first-hand knowledge on the internet, which leads to the ability to learn about the world in a variety of ways. Travel is all local, in a way – one can always find insider tips from someone that has been there, anywhere in the world, even a remote island populated by only a dozen people. Because of the digital economy, our neighbors and coworkers are global. Our friends and family are easily accessible by Skype from anywhere in the world; the only challenges are figuring out time zones and grabbing a steady Wi-Fi connection.
But (and there is always a but) how do you sift through the infinite resources on travel, locations, people, cultures, languages, food, adapting to difference, being culturally sensitive?
For the information is never-ending, and more is being added each day. Critical thinking skills are a must, to discern reality from braggadocio, to find intercultural tips instead of diaries.
Learning from experts is important, as well – it’s one thing to read of someone’s experiences, another to read the experiences of someone who has thoughtfully embraced lifelong learning and travel. For that is the difference – the thinking traveler is one who works toward ethnorelativism, who wants to truly experience a culture, who steps out of their comfort zone and embraces that extreme difference. It doesn’t mean that they have the perfect journey – far from it. Rather, the smart traveler knows that life is messy, travel is messy, people are messy – and revels in the entire experience, the good and the bad, learning along the way. The basics? Travel, flexibility, a sense of humor, and an open mind.
Does this sort of travel come naturally to some? Perhaps. It can also be learned, which is where I find my place – educating about ways to learn from the world, move toward ethnorelativism, write and share and honor the work of amazing people from around the world. On our website, Wandering Educators, we share the best of travel experiences from people all around the world. The common factors? An eagerness to learn from others, the view that travel is the journey, and that education and travel go hand in hand. I also run our Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program, where we teach teens all the aspects of travel writing and travel blogging they need to succeed – including ones not covered in traditional travel writing/blogging course: intercultural learning, how to find the unique, how to find what they love. By inspiring intelligent travel this young, and sharing the best of smart travelers’ passions, I hope to help shape the worldviews of global citizens, truly committed to travel as a lifelong journey of learning.