by Jill Robinson
There is something about embarking on a new adventure, exploring new cultures, places, food and smells that keeps a wandering mind satisfied. Flipping through travel journals, old photos and indulging in the many books that inspire me to daydream continue to motivate me to educate myself about the world. Traveling is by far one of the most effective classrooms -as long as we can stop long enough to take in our surroundings.
With internet becoming faster, cell phones becoming smarter and digital cameras becoming sleeker, we can capture our environment in a matter of clicks. But is this a good thing? The New York Times featured an article, Abroad- At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus, leading me to re-evaluate the way I look at my surroundings, whether at home or abroad.
I know that I’ve been guilty of observing my environment more through my view-finder on my camera than really taking note of, say, the golds and smoky smudges of a sunset over the Edinburgh skyline. We panic, we don’t want to miss a detail, we must save this moment forever to show family and friends who are never quite as enthusiastic as we hope, and then – click, click, click, we run off to the nearest internet cafe to download our treasures. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times article:
“So tourists now wander through museums, seeking to fulfill their lifetime’s art history requirement in a day, wondering whether it may now be the quantity of material they pass by rather than the quality of concentration they bring to what few things they choose to focus upon that determines whether they have “done” the Louvre. It’s self-improvement on the fly.”
Reading this , I hung my head a little embarrassed. Studying abroad in London for a summer when I was in college, I made a check list of “must see’s.” I was so excited to be culturally enriched, to come back home and throw out names and artists and historical sites that I missed the point along the way. I was so busy rushing from one cathedral or museum or anything else that was easy on my meager savings that the pictures have blurred together. I couldn’t tell you specifics of any photo that included a grand architectural structure, except that I had been there, and at the time I thought that was good enough to deem me “well-traveled.”
Luckily, in a more recent trip, my digital camera broke and I had to resort to a Polaroid camera and six, colored pencils to capture whatever sunset I thought was extraordinary. Anyone who has owned a Polaroid knows that you are very picky about what you photograph, or at least I am, considering one picture costs about $2.00. When I returned home, what I was lacking in picture slide show material, I more than made up for in mental images that I will remember forever. Apparently, the greens and blues of an ocean stand out so much more when you aren’t looking through a lens.
Of course we will always take pictures or video on our future adventures, but the question to ask ourselves is why we travel, why are we studying abroad, and why have we decided to leave the comforts of our home for a hotel with only ice cold water or scalding hot. To really learn from this global classroom we have to observe, ask questions, squint into a sun that will never allow for the right exposure for that scenic photo. This is how we learn to become tolerant and open-minded and enriched. This is why we travel.
“Travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keep our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau, wrote, ‘There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.’ Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end; mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” –Pico Iyer from “Why We Travel”