Like many in my generation, I have a serious problem with being still.
Not so much in the short-term sense, though I still don’t think I could make it through a 60-minute math class without “going to the bathroom” (a.k.a. walking the halls and thinking about anything other than fractions).
I can’t be still in that I constantly have to be doing something. And once I wrap up that something, I have to quickly move on to another, hopefully more radical, something. And once that thing ends, well, you get the picture.
For example, I just wrapped up a truly life-changing summer interning at an urban home repair camp in Memphis, Tenn. Less than 48 hours after hugging my fellow summer staff goodbye, I was on a redeye to Paris. I’ll be traveling around with my family for the next two weeks before settling in Brussels for the remainder of the semester. My internship with the Financial Times (eep!!) will start less than a week after I get situated in the backyard of the EU headquarters. Talk about motion sickness.
I’ve had at least a dozen people tell me they’re jealous of how fast and how far I’m moving. And I know, these opportunities this year has brought me are incredibly rare. I hear all the time that traveling helps you “find yourself” or “better yourself.” And it does. Or it should.
But the further I travel the more I’m learning on the rare occasions when I simply allow myself to be still, to be content, to be where my feet are…that’s when I learn the most about the place I’m at. It’s also when I learn the most about me.
You see, travel is glamorous only in retrospect. Travel is leaving behind all you knew to be true, whether that means traveling to inner-city America or a new country. It should be uncomfortable and hard. It should force you to think differently than you did before.
Travel is getting to know a place beyond the tourist attractions and guidebook recommendations. It’s learning to see beauty in a city’s grit.
Travel isn’t this constant focus — that I’m so prone to — on the next place, the next something. The kind of travel I want to experience in Europe this semester is striving to be still and LEARN in the place I am, until the current picks up again to take me a little further down.
By the time I hop on a plane back to the states in early December, I’m not going to know Paris well. I’m not going to know London, Rome, and I won’t even know Brussels as well as I want to. But I do know that if I spend my time well in these places as a humble learner, I’ll gain what only experience can teach.
So on this adventure, here’s to being a sojourner, not a wanderer. Here’s to learning to soak up every minute of where I’m walking, not looking down the road. Here’s to finding that secret to the paradox of both being in motion and being still.
Because getting caught up in it all, while taking the time to learn from it all, that’s where the true glamor of travel lies.