Written by: Alexandra Lotzgeselle
I have, as long as I can remember, been inflicted with an incurable case of wanderlust. I love adventure, I love traveling, and I love always having a trip to look forward to. I could never be one of those people that are content just staying in one place. While I am satisfied taking trips to places closer by like camping in Southern California, or short trips to the mountains, I much prefer going places that involve planes, and hopefully a passport. So far in the past 12 months my husband and I did a two week stint in Europe, a long weekend in Alexandria/DC, a short weekend in Austin, and a week in Maui. We are planning to get another camping trip or two in and then a trip up to the Monterrey area over New Years. I know some people will find this stressful and not their idea of a good time, but hear me out!
Traveling, even when it is relatively close by, is the best thing you can do for your soul. I recently heard the quote by St. Augustine that says “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. Leaving your home and your daily routine not only acts as a rejuvenating shock to the system, but also makes you more perceptive to the rest of the world. Especially in America (even if just because of our relative distance from many other countries) we get so caught up in our own little bubbles and consumed with our own lives that we tend to block out what goes on in the rest of the world. Failing to get out of this country will stunt your growth. How do you know what you think and feel about things if you have never been forced to look at them through a different (non- English speaking) lens?
I swear that if you talk to someone who has never been to another country or spent time experiencing another culture, they are much more close minded and self-concerning. I do not mean this in a malicious or condescending way, but if you are only exposed to 1% of the world, how can know what else there is out there? It is simply that ones capacity for certain information is limited to their exposure to said information. Your knowledge base can only expand as far as your experiences. You can read as much as you want about a certain place, but until you see it with your own eyes, hear the sounds, smell the scents, meet the people and try the food for yourself, your knowledge is really only based on some other persons point of view. Someone who has been to 10 countries will obviously not have the expansive point of view as someone who has been to 50. Someone who has never left their own country of origin is seeing EVERYTHING through a very finite and limited viewpoint.
Our Europe trip last September was a whirlwind excursion where we packed in 9 cities in 6 countries in just 13 days. It was completely exhausting, but absolutely life changing. Being so out of my element changed me in many ways. Most of the countries we went to were more common- Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy. However, Poland REALLY threw us through a loop. Our experiences with this country completely rocked my world and changed my mindset in several pivotal ways. First: I can say with a high level of certainty, that even the most extreme level of homelessness and poverty in America, is nothing compared to many other places in the world. Obviously we can clearly see that by countries like India and those in Africa, but I was shocked with how extreme poverty is in the many other more unsuspecting countries around the world. In Poland, the level of relative poverty was shocking. It’s not just the extreme poor, but that seemingly an incredibly high percentage of the population lived far below what we in America would consider acceptable. We were speaking to a 28-year-old man we met who took us on a day trip to Auschwitz. His English was great and we were able to ask him a lot of questions about the government and general livelihood. He let us know that he has a great job where he is luckier than most people his age. However, even with that great job, he only takes home about 400 US Dollars per MONTH. That’s a yearly salary of less than $5000US per year. Imagine trying to live and support a family, while working full-time, and making that little. Of course, cost of living is less than it is here, but it certainly is not significantly enough lower to where that is a sustainable income.
The story was rather similar in the Czech Republic. On a night train from Prague to Vienna we met a very interesting man named Standa who does sales for a company that produces special personal-sized trampolines for a specialized workout program (think Zumba, but with house music and trampolines). Meeting him and hearing about his life was one of the highlights of our trip. He was lucky enough when he was younger to win an amazing contest where he was sent to the United States for a cowboy-esque adventure for a few weeks. He was telling us that without that luck, he would never have been able to come to the US in his lifetime because of the incredibly high cost combined with the huge income disparity between there and here. For the most part, a fair amount of people in the United States have the option to spend time saving money (even if it takes years) to then spend any given amount of time traveling the world- whether it be for a week or a year. I ignorantly assumed it was like that everywhere without realizing how hard it is for the general public to simply support themselves and their families worldwide. These encounters truly made me appreciate the opportunities we are given here in the great United States.
When I emphasis the importance of travel and experiences to one’s own true understanding of the world, I can give you a great example why. I am very much interested in WW2 and the WW2 generation. Half of my genetic make-up is Jewish and comes from Israeli and European Jews. I have a grandfather and his family who fled Poland during the invasion to escape the Nazi’s, and unfortunately many of their relatives were subsequently murdered. I love Ken Burns documentaries, I have taken several classes, spent time with WW2 veterans, and gone to panels where I have heard from POW’s as well as soldiers who liberated concentration camps. I considered myself very well versed on the Jewish experience during WW2 and thought I had a thorough understanding of what happened at the hundreds of concentration camps around Europe…until I went to Auschwitz. I may well have known nothing. What we learn in school in the United States- whether it is in grade school, high school, or at a University level, is NOTHING compared to what you will learn when you actually step foot on the grounds of a place like Auschwitz. Even with my many years of studies, nearly every piece of information I got at the camp was new. Not only that, but the actual experience of walking through a camp where millions of people, including my blood relatives, where tortured and murdered, is eye-opening and life-changing. There is no possible way to garnish this level of information or understanding without physically seeing it with your own eyes.
Something else that I think our travels did for us that changed us was that we were pushed out of our element and into uncomfortable situations that we would normally avoid or not even have the opportunity to approach. We were forced to figure out rail systems in countries where most people did not even understand the tiniest bit of English. Even just figuring out some of the rail systems was confusing enough, so adding in the fact that everything was in a different language, several locations were in rather sketchy areas, and many of these excursions happened at night, made it a whole new beast. We were made uncomfortable, we were made nervous, and we truly had an adventure that is unlike anything we had ever experienced as a couple.
Traveling is a uniting and yet completely unique experience. What I mean is that you can meet many people who went on European adventures. It’s uniting in that you can bond with people over a shared experience while comparing notes. However, it is unique in that when you travel, every single experience- all the specific memories and random happenings can never be completely duplicated. Every trip is in one way or another unique to the person or people on it. Traveling near and far is a way to adjust your inner compass. Every time you go and immerse yourself in a new culture or land, you are expanding your mind and understanding of the world around you.
*Below are images taken by Allie from her travels to Prague, Vienna, Rome, Poland, and Florence.