Elizabeth Untama / Gavel Media

The Bug That Needs No Cure

No, I am not talking about the common cold you probably picked up from germ-infested airports or from being stricken with that mysterious tropical disease. The bug I’m talking about is an itch—no pun intended—for travel.

As a person with a limited tolerance for boredom, a need for travel has always been a central tenet in my life. Whether it was my poor attempt at bargaining in a Turkish bazaar or being chased by an angry monkey in India, my travels have been nothing short of entertaining.

Beyond its great story-telling capacities, travel transcends barriers—oceans, languages, religions, and yes, even walls. Though the travel landscape is being reshaped constantly, it is one of the fastest-growing global industries. According to the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization, the number of international tourist arrivals reached a staggering 1.32 billion last year, with an expected increase of 4-5% in 2018.

Now more than ever, it is essential to support the continuity of travel, in order to authenticate our understanding of different cultures and diminish ethnocentric tendencies. All the while, it provides an opportunity to celebrate diversity and revel in the spirit of adventure. Whether that experience leaves a positive or negative impression on you is your call. There is no guarantee that you will have an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment (although I hope we all get to have a relationship with our pizza one day). In fact, many well-traveled individuals defend the necessity of a “bad” experience in order to fully embrace the best ones.

From Instagram to blogs to our friends’ “study abroad” pictures, social media inundates us with images of #wanderlust that make us want to be anywhere but where we are. We soak up words like “breathtaking” and “oasis” that we are fed from Travel + Leisure or Condé Nast. For many still waiting for the prospect of teleportation, media provides an opportunity to live vicariously when standing on a cliff overlooking a waterfall in Thailand is not feasible—for the moment.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri famously said in her book The Namesake, “That’s what books are for… to travel without moving an inch.” Personal admiration aside, I would have to disagree, at least to some extent. Yes, narratives have a remarkable ability to let our imaginations take us anywhere in the world, but this brief defiance of time and place is only temporary.

Traveling can't be learned in a classroom or from a book. There is a significant difference between theoretical and tangible real-world experiences. This is not to say that learning about the world is any less valuable than traveling it; on the contrary, it provides a foundational understanding that is both necessary and beneficial. This will certainly enhance our experiential learning, but it should not be mistaken as its equivalent. In many ways, learning and traveling are two distinct pursuits, both important, and both irreplaceable.

While many of us are fortunate enough to have visited different parts of the world, “travel” doesn’t necessarily mean flying to a different continent. Often, the best kind of adventuring exists right outside your door, whether it be trying a new restaurant or exploring a different neighborhood. In this sense, traveling isn’t an act, but rather a state of mind. Indeed, the best kind of traveler is curious and a seeker of diversity, someone who is willing to take risks and feel uncomfortable. This is the most challenging part about traveling: pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

I’m proud to be part of a generation that has redefined conventional travel to the likes of a vagabond—a collective that pursues “off-the-beaten-track” experiences, welcomes hostel hopping, and deplores rigid itineraries. It’s not any specific part of this approach that I admire, but rather the openness to spontaneity.

Traveling is not a tool we use to check off sightseeing boxes or to say, “I’ve been there.” Rather, it allows us to connect to people and places worldwide in a way that screen devices can’t.

I have a case of the travel bug, and I am not looking for a prescription. Instead, I am left with a deep and insatiable craving for more.

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