What is traveling for?
I left Brazil 9 months ago. Without a date to return, entusiastic about knowing places and with any great purpose in mind. But the very act of traveling disclose to me a curtain of feelings, experiences, and sensations that were so far hidden and inaccessible.
Traveling provides a wider perspective up on life. It allows us to see the big picture.
But what does all this mean? It means that our belief systems are tested. Whenever I travel, I have to give up what I think I know, who I think I am, where I think I’m going. I rarely have any idea where I’m going to end up, who I’ll meet. It is always a new adventure.
Traveling is meant to make us better people. It’s a type of therapy.
Without sounding mystical, we are all in what could call an Inner Journey. That is, we are trying to develop ourselves in certain ways. But way beyond the psychological aspects, travel modifies us also physically. Neuroplasticity shows that our brain changes according to our experiences, so every fantastic thing gives us a new brain, new neural circuits, new paths and even connections where there was nothing before.
Roughly speaking, the logic of traveling is going to places that can help us in our metamorphosis. The outer journey so should help us on the inside. Traveling forces us out of the comfort zone and invites us to see and experience life in a different way.
Every place in the world contains qualities that can collaborate in some kind of beneficial change inside a person. At the Mendoza River, in Blanco Encalada, Argentina, I observed its smooth and oval stones that once belonged to the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains, but that in millions and millions of years, moved slowly until they reached that especifically place. It is only a place, but in a psychologically perspective it is also an inner destiny, a place with perspective, free from preoccupations on trivialities and meanness. Somewhere imbued with calm and resilience. And it was observing the time and its results of hundreds of thousands of years, that I saw myself in the present moment.
Nowadays, we often travel without really knowing what is wrong with us, or understand precisely how our chosen destination can help us. We should become more conscious travelers in a well investigation for qualities that places possess, such as calm or perspective, conection or solitude.
Religions used to take travel much more seriously than we do now. For them it was a therapeutic activity. In the middle ages when there was something wrong, someone should pilgrimage to commune with relics of a saint or a member of the Holy Family.
If you had toothache, you would go to Rome in the Basilica of St. Lawrence and touch the bones of the arm of St. Apollonia, the patron saint of teeth. If you were in an unhappy marriage, you could go to Umbria on the sanctuary of Saint Rita de Cassia, the patron saint of marital problems. If you were worried about thunders, you would be sent to Bad Münstereifel in Germany to play the skull of St. Donatus, who allegedly offered help against fires and explosions. We may no longer believe in the divine power of travel, but certain parts of the world still have the power to change and repair our broken parts. We should follow the ancient pilgrims and commit to evolve our character according to what is offered by the places we have been.
In September 1786, after 10 years as minister of the city of Weimar, near his 40 years, Johann Wolgang Von Goethe got tired of his life in Germany. The German philosopher and poet then traveled to Rome with the classical idea of the meaning of traveling, that the outer journey should be a support for the inner journey to maturity. He said that there were parts of him that could only be found in Italy. But like most people who went to Rome, he felt disappointed. In his famous book of poems “Journey to Italy” he describes how the city was full of famous ruins, but that for him didn’t had much sense. “Talk to me, you stones!” He shout. Goethe understood that what he needed would not be found only in the city, but in the right person to have a relationship. In his poems he describes Faustina, a woman whom he met and who transpired the spirit of the city. They spent several evenings in the bed and she would told him about her life describing the buildings on the way to the market. Therefore Goethe found his passion for the works of Raphael and Andrea Palladio.
To Goethe, the idea of traveling was not just relaxation or taking a break from the routine, he had a bigger goal in mind. Traveling is finding the missing ingredient in our own maturity.
Traveling allows us to explore new cultures, to taste new foods, good or bad, to meet new people with different journeys, to see where they came from. Each part of these external experiences helps us in our self-knowledge.
In an ideal world, travel agencies would be run by a new type of psychotherapist. They would take care of flights and hotels beside finding what is wrong with us and how we might want to change. By diagnosis it could be prescribed for those anxious to see the majestic and immemorial crashes breaking on the cliffs on the west coast of Ireland. Very apathetic people could be sent to New York. Someone unsatisfied with their sexual life could be recommended a trip to the carnival of Porto Seguro, in Bahia in Brazil.
But what we need is to relearn how to be ambitious about travel, seeing it as a way to help us develop into better versions of ourselves.