What if Travel Stops?

Travel is a privilege. Many of our ancestors (and many people today) traveled no more than a few miles from their homes in their entire lifetime. Today, many of us might do as much in one afternoon. Of course, some of our ancient ancestors also made long journeys that took many months or years. (Remember the freed Hebrew slaves spending 40 years wandering the wilderness?) So while modern travel might be dependent on technology and wealth, travel has been with us from the beginning of time. Many of our forebears were wanderers and nomads.

But what if travel ended? I know there are so many things more important these days in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with all the travel restrictions and focus on limiting movement and interaction I can’t help but think about this reality. People are having to cancel plans of travel both near and far. Some of us even wonder if we should go to the grocery store. How would it change our world if people couldn’t travel? How would our existence be different if we were all compelled to be sedentary?

Think of all we would lose: the joy of discovering new lands and places, the challenge of interacting with those different from us, the cross-pollination that happens when we encounter new ideas, the amazement we experience on finding how others approach things. The colors. The clothes. The geography. The food. My life would be so much poorer if I had never been in a place where English wasn’t the dominant language. My experience would be so limited if I had never tasted fūl beans in Egypt. My outlook would be different if I had never seen Iznik tile work and pottery in Turkey, tasted maple syrup from Canada, or wondered at how Saguaro cactuses survive in the desert of Arizona.

I am fully aware that these are troubled times. Many of us face illness and death, financial insecurity, and the fear of isolation. Worries about travel are not on the top of most people’s list of concerns. Yet I hope that our ability to travel is not set aside forever. For if humans lose the ability to travel (even in small ways) we will lose one of the most powerful tools for building community and growing in wisdom.

Spiritual Practice: Armchair Travel

I remember when our friend Barbara, who cared for Libby and Aaron when they were growing up, told us about a TV program she liked to watch on our local public television channel (KVIE), called Rick Steves’ Europe. This was long before the abundance of travel programs we can now see on TV and eons before we would surf to sites and blogs about travel on the Web. Barbara had travelled a great deal in her life and lived in Europe while her husband was serving in the military. She had fond memories of her travels but when we knew her she was not in a place where she took many new trips. So she enjoyed discovering Europe’s “back doors” with Rick Steves. What I now know is that this program opened up the joys of European travel to a great many people beside our friend Barbara.

There are, of course, many ways to see the world without ever leaving our homes. We can travel in space and also in time. Television programs and web sites are certainly one way to do it. But books, maps and art have been around much longer. They benefit us by by tapping into our imagination. We can travel to 19th Century England in reading books by Charles Dickens. We can visit the First Century Near East in the letters of Paul the Apostle. We can learn about ancient battles in photos of Assyrian wall reliefs. We can get a window into mid 20th century Nigerian politics and culture in the novels of Chinua Achebe. We can see the people and history of Mexico in paintings of Frida Kahlo.

Many of us are too ill to travel more than a few feet from our bed. Some don’t have the resources for a bus ride across town let alone a flight to Guatemala. And others are too young to physically travel far away from their families. But travel is still possible. Lena and I really enjoy a book (ostensibly for children) called Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. It is a playfully illustrated tour of the world with a tagline “Travel the world without leaving your living room.” We also enjoy browsing through New York Times 36 Hours in Europe, though we find the suggested attractions and restaurants a bit on the pricey side. But there are hundreds of writings, thousands of works of art, and millions of opportunities for travel without moving a step out of one’s home. In fact, one of the most pleasurable parts of travel for me is the anticipation and preparation that these works help us do.

If it is part of your desire and hope, with a little imagination, a bit of effort, and a few resources, some form of travel is always possible. Welcome the world into your home!