Every time I see a backpacker I want to hug them.
I wan’t to ask them where they are coming from? Where they are going? And if they want to grab coffee so I can hear all about their adventures. To me, they’re not strangers – they’re family. And the familiarity of each one comes directly as a result of having been in that situation myself.
There’s something that happens when you travel. You start to view the world as a global community, instead of a planet full of strangers. Humanity is beautiful. But, so often, we only see negativity from the bubble of our media outlets.
Sometimes, though, if you’re like me, you’re driven to go find your own truth. Who are these people? The tiny characters on your TV screen. The posted faces on propaganda. The photographs and documentaries and fandoms and paintings and songs and lyrics and movies? Where do they come from? How do they live? Are they like me? Will they like me?
It’s one of my personal goals to travel to every nation I’m ethnically from. To give you a hint: there’s a lot. The current count is at eight, but those are only the ones I know of. So far, I’ve reached five of my eight countries. The only three left, being Norway, Denmark and Germany. I’m hoping that while I’m living in Europe ( OhMYGOSH – did I actually just use that sentence in real life!?) I’ll be able to knock these out as well.
Each time I visit a country that I’m from (or a culture), I understand more about myself. I get why my Irish family exaggerates – because we are story tellers. I understand why my English roots carefully select those who we allow in our inner circles – because we love well. I understand the importance of food – because it’s a commonality we all share, one that brings us all together. And with each place I visit I understand more, the intricacies of what really makes me who I am.
I think one of the most dangerous things in the world is not knowing where you come from. And, even more dangerous, not caring. If you’ve ever dabbled in genealogy you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say, there’s something almost magical about finding out about your own history and the ancestors who came before you. Even if this has nothing to do with a blood line, your culture is dependent on the society you’ve been raised in, and knowing that history is just as important.
From a Christian standpoint, I like to think about it like rationalizing the presence of the Old Testament in the bible (theology friends: please don’t shoot me). Why is it even there if most of the doctrine we adhere to is in the New Testament? Well, I’m no theologian, but I am a story teller. And I know that without the foundation and context with which to tell a story, you’re left with little more than words on a page. Without knowing what the promises are, how can we rejoice in them being fulfilled?
In a similar way, without knowing how we came to be present – how do we find purpose and meaning in continuing forward into the future?
Something beautiful happens when you take this leap and step outside your own comfort zone. With all of your belongings strapped to your back, a couple of maps you probably won’t use, and a journal you won’t ever be able to truly fill, you become infinite.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had an “out of body experience”. But I have had an out of mind one. Shutting off your perceptions of what the world “should be” and letting your mind get swept away in the myriad of foreign cultural possibilities, allows you to return to yourself fully.
And while traveling as a tourist is such a great experience, I don’t think I could ever overemphasize the beauty of backpacking and couchsurfing while you see the world. For those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is exactly what it sounds like: Staying on people’s couches while you travel around.
Personally, I love using the website couchsurfing.org which is set up like a Facebook community where all of your “friends” live in every corner of the world – you just haven’t met them yet.
I’ve used the website multiple times, and always had amazing experiences. You can stay with people literally anywhere in the world, and it’s the most amazing feeling to have complete strangers willing to open their homes to you; again reinforcing the feeling of a global family.
Throughout my travels I’ve had people: cook for me, take me dancing, teach me how to mimic accents, insist that I sleep on their bed while they slept on their couch, pick me up from the bus station (a big deal when you’re lugging around a backpack) , go shopping with me, teach me about astrology, star gaze on winter nights and go to Broadway plays. I’ve experienced life because I’ve allowed life to give me experiences.
Now, when I see a chance to include someone from another culture into my own, I don’t see them as intruders or as strangers. I simply, now and forever, see them as family.