March 5, 2011

Why do we travel abroad?

For many people, there is enough to see and do in their own backyard. Less than 30% of all Americans own passports, according to the US Government Accountability Office, and many of those who do are newly naturalized citizens. When, like most of America, you probably live in an urban or suburban area in which you can buy handbags from Italy and dine on Lo Mein prepared by a Chinese native, why would you have an inherent desire to leave the creature comforts of your own home? Those who have spent time traveling abroad can tell you, the opportunity to travel abroad is an irreplaceable experience.

When I was 9, my parents decided to take us on vacation to Germany. Arriving in the center of Frankfurt, both my sister and I proclaimed we did not understand the value of being there when it looked so much like Disneyworld. In retrospect, this greatly exemplifies the problem with the domestic mentality towards traveling. We oftentimes do not understand the value in traveling to somewhere else, when we have so many creature comforts awaiting us within the confines of our hometowns. There is something rewarding about traveling abroad that we cannot understand until we get our passport stamped going through customs.

Traveling helps you grow as a person. Through travel we explore different cultures, people and history. We can travel for business, for pleasure or for academic purposes. No matter which category we fall into, however, we can all learn from experiences spent in other countries. In a world that has become so highly digitalized, we often suffer from a lack of real world experience. Traveling allows us to confront real people and real experiences that we do not often see while sitting at our desks, typing away and looking up only to grab our Blackberry or iPhone from the opposite side. We are forced to look at maps, to ask for directions, to wander around streets and explore unnkown areas. We are putting ourselves, at least in a physical sense, out of our comfort zone and in contact with something greater than ourselves: a new world.

Even in the most developed countries that are getting Americanized, we see so much from spending time abroad there. In a globalized world that people have argued is getting increasingly "flat," we need to expand our horizons as much as possible, because doing that without the direct contact provided through traveling has become increasingly difficult. And, perhaps one of the best parts of traveling, is knowing that, when we get that US passport control stamp next to our foreign ones, we can defy the longtime expression and come home again.

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