My Changing Definition of Travel

EMP Seattle

Things are changing.

A few years ago, I was traveling so much that I was packing for two or three trips at a time, stopping back at home for just a couple days before hopping on a plane again. My passport became an appendage of sorts as I simply extended my arm to have it stamped over and over again.

A little over a year ago, though, I moved my home office to a different room in our house. I bought new furniture and painted the walls and turned it into an inspiring place. We also welcomed our first foreign exchange student our home. Though I loved my place of residency, I began to appreciate it more, and my frantic travel pace started to slow down as I took different types of assignments that didn’t keep me from jumping around the globe.

What I’ve discovered is that my definition of travel has changed. It’s not about where or how long you travel, but what you learn from the experience. In 2012, I took one overseas trip (a two-week vacation to Iceland with my family), and my domestic travel spiked dramatically. I spent time in Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Washington, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and I took road trips from the Midwest to the East Coast and throughout the Southwest. We introduced our first foreign exchange student and her friend to Disneyland, Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and camping, and we’re spending time introducing our second student to the Pacific Northwest and fantastic areas around the Southwest for outdoor recreation.

Ski resort

I only touched one new state this year (New Mexico), so the places I traveled weren’t necessarily new to me, but I’m traveling with a new sense of exploration and open-mindness. I love to travel abroad, but my sense of travel isn’t about collecting airline miles or passport stamps. Visiting familiar places with people who have never been there before has given me a different perspective, and it’s like I’m traveling to these places for the very first time.

The other thing I’m learning now that I’m not only a self-employed writer but also a stay-at-home parent to students from different parts of the world is how truly ignorant many people are. I’m sorry, but sometimes the truth hurts. I have nothing but admiration for these kids who pick up and move away from their parents for a semester or more to experience a different part of the world with a foreign culture, new language and unfamiliar habits and customs. These are kids who are stepping way out of their comfort zone to learn about themselves and the United States, and living with them has been a learning experience for me and my husband as well as our temporary kids.

Our students ask good questions about the decisions we make as an American society—questions about politics, healthcare, gun control, religion. When these conversations come up with their American friends or their friends’ parents, I am shocked at how inflexible people are when it comes to potentially having an awesome learning opportunity. Our students like to share what life is like “back home,” and we as a community and society have something to learn by really getting to know people from other parts of the world, but people refuse to listen to what they have to say. For Americans, there is one way of thinking—and that’s the American way.

four corners united states

Additionally, it surprises me how terrible people are at understanding world geography. They can’t place Denmark on a map. They have no idea where Slovakia is. They don’t know what the Euro is or that there is an advanced train system in Europe or what language either of our students might speak that isn’t English. Even more shocking to me is the fact that, quite frankly, most people don’t care.

My travel habits have changed in the last couple years for personal reasons, but they’ve changed in such a positive and profound way. I’ve always believed that traveling is an important tool for growth and understanding, and in 2013, I will recommit to traveling, but it won’t be for bragging rights or new passport pages. I may go abroad, but I’ll continue to stay in the United States as well, relishing and appreciating the opportunity to explore the many things that most Americans overlook in their own backyards.

We will continue to host high school students from other countries, giving us the opportunity to learn their customs, traditions and languages—and to welcome members into our extended and growing family with roots all over the world. Through these teenagers, I will continue to see the physical world and understand the mechanics that build a society in a way that wouldn’t be possible without their insightful observations.

That is travel—learning about myself through the exploration of place, however and wherever that exploration might happen. Becoming a better global citizen. Appreciating what the world has to offer, but also appreciating what greets me at home when I finally unpack my bags for more than a few days.

24 Responses to “My Changing Definition of Travel”

  1. Deb

    Great post. Travel is not about checking items of a list or collecting stamps on the passport. It’s about enjoying the moment. Too many people think that you can’t live a full life without traveling full time. I think that it is wonderful to have a home that inspires and that is welcoming and inviting. Congratulations for living your life the way you want and loving every minute of it!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks Deb. If you’re ever in town, our door is open.

      Reply
  2. Anique Rehal

    Hi, I am a student from the UK and Im just so amazed at how many states you have traveled to. I think that’s soo cool. I love America too and it just makes me happy to see that you have been to like nearly every state.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your comment, Anique. I love the U.S.! I think that a lot of people that live here don’t spend nearly enough time exploring it.

      Reply
  3. Sophie

    Nearly 30 years ago, I was an exchange student in Oklahoma for a year. Heaps of fun – and a very easy year, it was.

    I was invited to all kinds of clubs and neighbourhood gatherings to show slides and talk about my home country – it was one event or another most every week. Both the kids and their parents and grandparents were very interested. By the time I left, most of that high school knew quite a few words in Norwegian, including a few choice swear words :).

    The USA has always been famous for being a very hospitable country to visit. Sounds like attitudes towards foreigners might have changed for the worse – sorry to hear that.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your comment, Sophie. It’s not that people are hospitable as much as uninterested in learning and taking advantage of the awesome opportunity they have to interact with people from other parts of the world. I’d love it if our students were asked to give presentations at the local schools and in the community. I think that would be an excellent opportunity for everyone!

      Reply
  4. colette

    Nicely done post, very thought provoking about travel and our approaches to it. Now that I’ve started a travel/outdoor blog, I’ve also been thinking about how being a blogger has changed my approach to “travel” (both near and far).

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Congratulations on the start of your blog. I think the more you write about it, the more you’ll learn about yourself!

      Reply
  5. Abi

    I think I may be about six months behind you, travel plan wise 😉 A lovely read – many thanks.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      It can be tough to be on the road all the time, and I know you are! I’m interested in following your journeys in the coming year, Abi.

      Reply
  6. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    Taking in an exchange student sounds like a very enriching experience for everyone involved. I would like to do that at some point in my life.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I highly recommend it. They have a hard time finding volunteers where I live, so I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you volunteer, wherever you live.

      Reply
  7. Cam @ Traveling Canucks

    It sounds like 2012 was a fantastic year!
    We plan to do much more North American travel in the coming years… mostly because of the wee man but also because there’s so much to discover on our rock! Best to you in 2013! Hopefully our paths will cross again soon… 🙂

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks Cam! It’s interesting how we’ve both taken different approaches to travel in recent years. Wishing you the best in 2013 as well!

      Reply
  8. Abby

    I love your new role as adopted parents to exchange students! And I love that your only new state (I don’t think I saw any new ones this year!) was “mine”! I went through exactly one year that sounds much like the first paragraph here. It exhausted me. I am so happy to be more grounded. I’m glad you are, too!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Happy new year, Abby! New year, new way of thinking and traveling!

      Reply
  9. Jenna

    Hosting exchange students seems like a wonderful experience for you and for them. My two nephews (from Brazil) have been foreign exchange students, one in the U.S. and the other in Canada, and I know how important it is for them to have a positive experience. I also agree about traveling more here in the U.S.–it can be very rewarding.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      We love it, and I’d never trade the experience. So worth it!

      Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks Julie. It’s something that is near and dear to me, especially given the frantic pace that seems to be “required” to be a “real” traveler.

      Reply
  10. Turner

    We need more articles like this, about the evolution of travel to the individual. Granted, it happens differently for all of us, but I still think there’s this tendency to become semi-nomadic.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your comment, Turner. I agree that many people eventually become semi-nomadic. Even the most prolific of travelers seem to yearn for some sense of place eventually. Everyone certainly has to speak for themselves, but where I am right now in defining travel is exactly where I’m meant to be.

      Reply
  11. Jessica @ Green Global Travel

    “That is travel — learning about myself through the exploration of place, however and wherever that exploration might happen.” I love this line! This is an amazing article with such a well-defined moral: That travel is not so much about the places you see, but the people you meet and the experiences you cultivate. Wonderfully written!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your kind comment, Jessica. As time goes on, things change, and instead of avoding what that might mean in my life, I’m excited to embrace it.

      Reply

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