("Does travel make me interesting" first appeared on Kiana's blog, where you can read more of her travel writing.)
Sally is a classmate of mine from Gothenburg, Sweden. She is a soft-spoken young woman with a very poetic mind. Sally and I became pretty close over the couple of weeks we recently spent together in the jungles of Costa Rica. We have talked Swedish politics, swapped boy stories, and shared stories about the frozen homelands we so dearly love (mine being Canada). With every conversation, I want to know more about her. Her mind intrigues me, and I wish I could be inside that sweet, unconventionally incredible brain. Here is one thought she shared, while talking about travel and ecotourism, that I needed to think more about:
"Do you travel because of interest or to make yourself interesting?"
I guess I've been internally battling with this for a while, but isn't it strange how your mind censors things from you? You may think something, but you are so scared of the reality that you deny yourself from thinking about it. So you know it's there, you just won't admit it to yourself. It is a pretty common feeling, well, at least for me, an over-thinker. I like to doubt everything. I guess it's almost like everything in my life has to pass a test it doesn't even know it's taking a hundred times in order for me to accept it. I may need to work on that, but that's not what I am talking about.
I grew up traveling. I never thought about how special it was until I was older and I saw situations void of the activity. But I never had a choice. I wasn't asked if I wanted to live on an island for a year or go to Europe for a couple weeks -- I just went. As I got older, people started taking an interest in me because I traveled. They would ask me questions about where I had been or be jealous and throw a scoff my way. It was weird. I was different.
Now I choose to travel, my family doesn't always take me. I choose to go to a traveling boarding school. I choose to go to three different countries a year. I choose to have friends from 23 different countries. I choose it.
But Sally's thought provoked some thoughts of my own that I couldn't run away from anymore. Why did I choose it? Was it because I am interested in traveling or because it makes me interesting?
I love meeting new people. People from different cultures, different interests, different lives. I love getting to know them, learning their story, their side of an issue that I am passionate about. I love the connection. I love the experience that these people give me. They give me the ability to talk to people. They give me the knowledge, they allow me to banish my ignorance. They teach me things, about myself, about them, about the world. But because I have learned these things through experience, somehow in the eyes of others, it makes me "interesting."
I love knowing that I am insignificant in terms of the world and the universe. I love feeling that nothing I do really matters, and that feeling of freedom I got when I realized that I am not as important as I may think. I love the way it humbles you. Bizarrely enough, feeling "small" makes me feel different, making me "interesting."
I love the independence that travel teaches me and gives me. Traveling has shown me these sensations. I love being known as "brave," or "worldly." I like being put in the category of "nomadic." Is that bad? I like to think that I am only drawn to these labels because of my love for the people who also share them. I have found the cool little community we form to be truly incredible. Being surrounded by other travelers is priceless; they understand how I feel and are truly interested in what I have done and experienced. But really, when I get to the bottom of it, the people asking about my stories and life are only interested because traveling has made me "interesting."
So, maybe I travel because I love these things or maybe I travel because it makes me interesting. So what? Does traveling for either of these reasons delegitimize the activity in some way? Is it bad to travel for these reasons?
Personally, I think you can travel for whatever reason you want. As long as you are not taking advantage of the country you are in, are learning about their culture and history and truly appreciating, then I don't think it is a bad thing at all.
In January, while I was slinging my 25 pound, 40 L hiking pack onto my back, heading off to the biodiverse country of Costa Rica, I was thinking about all the incredible things I would soon get to see. But I guess I was also thinking about all the cool stories I could soon share about my experiences. I believe that if I truly loved my experience, there is no problem with sharing that information and teaching others what I have learned, even if, and especially if, it makes me "interesting."
Travel safe wherever life may take you.