As the quad engines of the Airbus A380 begin to turn at a couple thousand RPMs, accelerating myself and a few hundred other passengers down the two mile runway at San Francisco Airport, I reflect on the question posed to me by a co-worker earlier that morning: When would I stop traveling and just be still for a moment?
Sleep deprived and jet lagged we touched down twelve hours later in a foreign land, filled with a different culture, currency, and language. With dark rings under my eyes, anxiety creeping in being ten time zones from home, I wash my face in the sink of the airport bathroom asking myself the same question. In fact, throughout the entire two week journey, I thought about this question a lot: Why travel?
Travel is challenging. It's stressful and at times, to be blunt, just difficult. You're thrust into an unfamiliar environment and you're responsible for obtaining your basic human needs: shelter, food, water. Granted the advent of the internet has made the broad logistics infinitely easier, hotels around the world are posted on various travel sites, but you can and to some degree should still place yourself in precarious situations as you immerse in the new land.
This recent trip to Norway, we left our hotel in Bergen to hike along the mountain peaks between Ulriken and Floyen. A perfect opportunity for any landscape photographer. It's a stunningly beautiful 14km hike on a less than well marked trail that usually takes 4-5 hours to complete. We're not virgin hikers. We've backpacked, camped, been to national parks in ours and foreign countries. We brought a local map, downloaded the area from Google maps, had water and snacks, but as the sun began to dip, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and I began to panic.
We came to a fork in the road. We knew we were close to the finish but the signs were in Norwegian and the pack of local college students we had been following diverted south, doubling back into the mountains. It suddenly occurred to me that there was a subtle split in the trail a few kilometers back and we haven't seen any other people since then. I started regretting having my attention diverted from the trails while trying to photograph the golden light dancing along the landscape. I checked my watch, the various maps, the sun approaching the tops of the mountain cliffs. I continued to panic.
In the end, after a few fitted attempts to correct our course, we found a Canadian ultra marathoner who was wrapping up his day on the trails. He kindly shepherded us to the finish. Crisis averted. In reality, my wife likes to point out that she was quite calm through the whole process and knew we were trudging in the right direction, both of which are mostly true.
The other aspect of character development that comes with travel is tolerance. You are just one out of seven billion humans on this blue planet we communally live on while we spin around the sun. There are a lot, I mean an almost unfathomable amount of different cultures, identities, and social norms found in our species. The way we eat, the way we pray, the way we work, the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, the way we treat anyone who does these basic principles differently than us. Immerse yourself in a foreign culture. Leave your world behind. Learn another way of life. Become tolerant of change and grow as a human.
I won't deny that traveling can be challenging, but the ability to explore, solve puzzles, be thrust into culture and situations which you've never experienced before and survive, creates growth. The process as a whole is adventurous and at the end of the day you are stronger for embracing the challenge. Break through your social comfort zone and culture bubble and go explore this beautiful world of ours.