Reason to Travel

Another Extremely Important Reason To Travel

Derek Perspectives, Romania 50 Comments

Reason to Travel
Yes, you can read about the world. You can even see the world, too. But what about feeling the world?

That’s my reason to travel. To feel.

I want to feel and as a result, to learn from every experience I have in a way that would not be possible if I simply read about a place or about its people.

Did You Feel This?

If you happened to come across a news story last week about the presidential election that took place in Romania, you probably would have learned that the underdog won an apparently tight race. And then you probably would have said “Huh” and moved on to the next story, your life having been affected, changed or altered in no way whatsoever by what you read.

And when I think about that, I find it frustrating.

Those news stories didn’t tell you the full tale. They didn’t tell you about the enthusiasm, the fraud, the hope, the dirty tactics, the fear and frustration, the will of the people, the lies or the passionate belief in a better future. They didn’t tell you about any of these things because perhaps, in the end, they don’t mean anything at all if you’re not actually able to ‘feel’ them for yourself.

As one of my Romanian readers wrote on my Facebook page shortly after the election ended:

Last night was about way more than just politics (which I’m definitely not into). It was about human solidarity, about our rights, about a certain state of mind and spirit that took over so many of us, about hope and so many mixed feelings that I’m sure we don’t experience quite so often.

And one of my Romanian friends also chimed in with:

It’s amazing that the people managed to defeat the system. Because it’s exactly that. The corrupt red party (essentially in power since the revolution, 25 years ago) has everything in this country: government, parliament majority, pretty much all the mayors in the country, the orthodox church (priests actually told people whom to vote for), television [stations], etc. and, of course, millions of dollars. And yet, they lost, despite massive frauds. It really is an incredible moment, because we surprisingly managed to avoid something akin to a dictatorship…now there is a lot more hope.

How can you honestly feel, and understand, all of that, and the effect it has on an entire nation and the world, if you’re not directly involved?

I’ll tell you how. You travel.

The Most Powerful Experience Possible

When you travel, you don’t just read about something, and you don’t just see something either. You feel it.

When it comes to the Romanian election, I felt it.

I felt the horror when my friends showed up at the polling station in Bucharest only to be told that they couldn’t vote because there were no more registration papers left (which all voters were required to sign). I felt the anger when I heard that my friends started demanding that those forms appear and that they be allowed to vote. I felt the victory when, after accepting nothing less than being able to exercise their right to vote, the officials at the polling station finally gave in and suddenly ‘found’ some extra forms.

I felt the frustration when a Romanian friend living in Prague waited in the cold for hours to vote, only to be turned away because the Romanian Embassy was taking so long to process each voter. I felt the urgency when he then called his 90 year old grandmother in his home village back in Romania and begged her to go outside and vote so that his voice could be heard through her.

I felt the burning desire of those Romanians who put aside their studies and their work in order to get online and do everything in their power to bring about change and to ensure that their country had real hope for the future. I paid attention to every Facebook page dedicated to the election, I saw the passionate emails sent, the detailed flyers created and passed out around the country, the loud and energized pleas from so many people to their fellow countrymen and women to get out there and vote.

I felt it so much that I became more caught up in this election than any election that has taken place in my own country. I was right there with my friends, right there with the taxi drivers, shopkeepers and cafe staff with whom I spoke about the election, right there witnessing this event through their own eyes, beliefs and hopes.

And in the end, I felt the victory. I felt the extreme joy when somehow, against all odds, just as my friend wrote above, the man who vowed to fight corruption and change the path of Romania for the better, improbably ended up on top. I felt the genuine happiness and the incredible relief as I watched the major celebrations take place in the streets once the results were announced. (I also felt the utter disappointment by the supporters of the losing candidate.)

I felt it. I felt it because I have spent time in Romania.

I have traveled throughout the country, met and interacted with so many people, made so many friends, learned so much from everyone and everything I’ve done while there. All of that combined allowed me to not just be an observer, but to actually feel this monumental event.

And that experience was undeniably more powerful and life-changing than any news article I could have ever read.

Here’s What We Can Do…

I understand that it’s not possible for all of us to ‘feel’ every situation that takes place in the world, in every single country. I understand that we must read about most things, simply because we can’t be everywhere at the same time and we have other things to do in our lives.

But here’s what we can do.

We can read about the world while understanding that we are not reading the full story. We can be aware of the fact that there are always more details, more perspectives, more factors to every situation that, when missing, leaves us with a very poor outline of what’s really going on.

Of course, we can also travel whenever we can. And when we do travel, we don’t actually have to seek out important elections, revolutions or other major events in order to have a truly educational experience.

We simply need to do more than ‘pass through’ a place.

We need to talk to the people we come across, ask them questions and show a genuine interest in learning what their life is all about. We need to try to understand why things are the way they are, who is affected, what is being done and on and on…it’s all about questions.

The more we ask, the more we learn the real story because it is the real people we are talking to. And that’s how we come to feel a place, to feel a people, to feel another slice of the world on a completely different, and much deeper, level.

You can’t feel that much from a news article because you can’t talk to real people by reading. And that’s as good of a reason to travel as any other I’ve ever heard.

How do you interpret what you read about the world? Do you find a difference when you spend time somewhere and really connect with a destination and its people?


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Comments 50

  1. Arran

    This is very true. Travelling itself can give you an experience that reading about it or watching movies/TV shows about it cannot match.

    I think that getting a ‘feel’ for a place can help you to learn much more about it.

  2. Uptourist

    I agree. This is the reason why I travel. It is not so much about visiting new places. It is seeing the world in a different light and meeting new people. It is about feeling more alive than you’ve ever been.

  3. Eli

    Great post.
    The Romanian elections showed some exciting results. This country with its talented people deserve a much better government and quality of life!

  4. AJ Aerni

    Amen to actually being there and getting the first-hand experience as opposed to trying to feel things from a distance. The best experiences are certainly first-person. Reading about the Sistine Chapel isn’t the same as being there and being totally awe-struck. Thanks for sharing your adventures and keeping the flame of travel lit for all of us. You’re a wonderful inspiration and we hope to meet you on the road someday. Be well. And namaste.

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  6. David

    All the pictures in the world don’t convey the feeling of a tropical breeze, the joy of playing with foreign children, or the friendship of fellow travelers as you watch an amazing sunset at the beach.

    Well said Earl!

  7. David

    Now, I didn’t know of this Romanian election. In fact, I didn’t even know that there were so much corruption in Romania. I feel shameful of the fact of how ignorant I am to certain things- and most definitely- I am sure that I will take your sayings into application.

    I appreciate this post. Makes me wonder of what all other things I am missing.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey David – It’s definitely nothing to feel too shameful about. It’s only natural that we aren’t going to know about everything happening all over the world unless we make an effort to do so. So, we can only try our best to learn as much as we can and hopefully travel when we can as well in order to get that deeper perspective of certain destinations.

  8. Steve @ Live Smart Not Hard

    So true and very timely Earl. I just got back from a trip to China and it was so curious to see how people lived as opposed to how we’re told they will. The politics of people in China isn’t all what we’re shown on CNN or told in schools.

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  10. Sigurdur Bjorgvinsson @theRedHeadExplorer

    Great point, you are absolutely correct. I learned that when I went to Nepal as a volunteer for 4 months.

    I had been to many countries but always as a tourist, visit tourist places, eating tourist food and do tourist before leaving the country without looking back. When i came to Nepal I lived in a an orphanage for 4 months, I ate their food, did work in the house and tried to fit their lifestyle as I could.

    I learned so much more then I ever could have done as a tourist. I could actually understand their frustration about the corrupt government, the lack of electricity, their love for their gods and festivals and why there was a strike all the time.

    I could feel it instead of just seeing it.

  11. Brooke

    So true. Granted, it’s difficult to really care about events and happenings that aren’t directly related to our everyday lives, but when we’re living and experiencing it we count your blessings (especially because we even have the freedom to travel).

    I was in Istanbul last year and experienced the 1 May riots for myself. Almost missed my flight home as all public transport was suspended and roads blocked. Seeing my new-found friends’ frustration, watching them participate in demonstrations, fighting for what they believe in – it really hit home that what’s happening around the world, behind all those curt news reports, matters.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Brooke – It is difficult but at the same time, that’s the point of travel…to understand more of what’s going on in the world and make those situations that we learn about more related to our everyday lives. This way we can be more informed about the world, not just in a ‘breaking news’ kind of way.

  12. Caroline

    Hi Wandering Earl!
    Thanks for this post! I feel so strongly about this as well and it just about sums up why I have decided to leave my current life behind and start traveling next year. For me there is nothing more important than having those connections with people and ‘feeling’ their emotions and thoughts so that you can better understand their actions and choices. I’m going to keep this post handy as a reminder while I’m out on the road next year!
    All the best!!

  13. Glenn I

    A significant element in the “feel” of a place for me is getting sick. I seem always to get sick when I travel. This would be one of the reasons I can’t imagine travel for months-on-end.

    I know as I head off on a journey that I will likely get sick. I make the best of it anyway. Still drags down the experience … Just back to California from 3 1/2 weeks in SE Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) and struggling with the jet lag – but my digestion & appetite are almost back to normal! On the trip I had brief low fevers, a lot of tummy queasiness (usually mild), headaches, and weariness. At home I experience headaches & tiredness, too, so, yeah, I live around that sh*t. I’d planned the trip pretty thoroughly – including days calendared for figure-it-out-when-there. And everything went smoothly and the people were nice and the weather was obliging and we saw amazing things (damn, the landscape from the rivers can be gorgeous). I got a sense of the differences between the cultures – and the abiding resentments – rumor as news – the smells of spices and trash fires. My husband felt physically pretty normal so was able to enjoy himself more – and LOVED the trip. When people ask I try not to make the first thing out of my mouth how sick I was.

  14. Victoria@ The British Berliner

    So true. Being there and getting to know the people is so much more of an education than reading it on a peice of paper would ever do. You begin to know how to read between the lines and really get to grips with not only what is said but especially, with what itsn’t.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Victoria – That’s exactly it…getting the real details that are between the lines is only possible if you are there experiencing something for yourself.

  15. Elena

    As a Romanian part of the desperation that wrapped us up and quickly united us (especially since most Romanians are individualists) to beat the corrupted system against all odds, thank you for genuinely understanding what happened and how much it meant for all of us.

  16. John Mayson

    I have similar stories with Malaysia.

    Before traveling there, Malaysia was just another spot on the map. Having spent quite a bit of time there I developed a deeper sense of their history and their politics. I am not a political person, but having that background left me with more questions than the US media provided answers. I say this specifically about their 2013 general election and the twin airline disasters they had this year.

    To a lesser extent this is also true for Mexico. I was down there when the story of the murdered students broke. The US media would have had you believe young people were being gunned down across the country while the Mexican media described it differently. My friends and family back home worried about me and I assured them what they saw on their televisions didn’t reflect the realities of the country. It’s akin to avoiding, say, Austin because of what’s going on in Ferguson, MO right now. Big diverse country.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey John – Exactly. And that’s just one example…it’s happening all over the world, every single day…we’re being fed stories that don’t tell, well, the real story.

    2. David

      Hey John and Earl

      I’ve been coming to Malaysia for several years now and I watched on helplessly as BN won the last election, and also the almost-conspiracy-theory-like stories leading up to it: immigrants given residency if they voted for BN, the mysterious power cut during the vote count where votes ‘appeared’ after the lights came on, the leader of the opposition being accused of sodomy by the government… Well, the whole voting system is flawed anyway, but that’s another rant altogether.

      I’m from New Zealand, and we basically have ONE online news source there. On that site you may take your pick between national headlines or the antics of United States celebrities, with a small section tucked away for world news – often containing even more stories about United States celebrities. The world at large doesn’t seem to hold much interest unless the people involved have names that begin with Kim and end with Kardashian.

      And so, reigning in my tangent and returning to the point, I understand you both completely, Earl and John.

      Nice post.

  17. Sam

    Do you remember that time the Syrian national football team defeated the Qatari team in November 2010? I’m not the least bit interested in football, but I still remember that night four years later because I was in Aleppo when it happened (and I can’t remember if that was before or after we met up). Seemingly everyone (at least all the men) in the city poured out onto the streets and celebrated, joyously. I know your story is of a different spirit, but it reminded me of that night because of how being witness to an event gives you a fuller perspective and appreciation of it.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sam – I think that was right after we met up and I missed the celebrations. But it’s a great example of how being in the midst of all the ‘action’ is the best way to truly understand a people and what they go through, even when it involves positive experiences such as a football celebration. You learn a lot from every one these situations. Wish I was there for it though!

  18. Julia Kitlinski-Hong

    “We simply need to do more than ‘pass through’ a place.” Such a well-written post.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to be a more engaged traveler by trying to slow down and listen to the local stories of a place, instead of being influenced by mainstream media and stereotypes that I might already have.

  19. Scott Crosby

    I have traveled and or lived in over 45 countries during the last 22 years and one big lesson is don’t believe eveything you hear on the news. Bad news sells and good news doesn’t. Things are rarely as bad as you see on the news. Do your own home work and trust your own common sense and good judgement.

    When in doubt go and enjoy. Travel is the best school that life has to offer. You will not regret it.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Scott – You’ve said it well…a little homework and common sense is what we need to rely on when making travel decisions, not just a quick news story that we read online. There’s always more to it as I know you’ve figured out in your own travels.

  20. Stacey

    I’m right there with you on this one!

    I was reading about a couple who visited the Galapagos Islands, they swam with seals, sharks, penguins. They were so close to these guys and interacting with them too. I read about it and it inspired me in a big way (I’m visiting next year) then when I read the comments it was all, “you’re destroying the Galapagos! I went on a virtual tour… that’s enough.”

    I’m a scientist. I know full well that tourism can be damaging if done wrong, that’s why I was happy to see these guys went for the low footprint route and had respected the environment and wildlife. They got so much more than a virtual tourist would too. A virtual tourist would see things sure, but they wouldn’t feel it. They wouldn’t interact with it. It’s just, not the same.

  21. Oksana | Drink Tea and Travel

    Beautiful post! I can feel your passion jumping off the page. You are so right, there is nothing more powerful then reading a piece of news and immediately being taken back to your time in that country. And all of a sudden, those news matter SO MUCH MORE!

  22. Katie @ The World on my Necklace

    So incredibly true, being there and feeling it for yourself will tell you the true story. Ever since the press painted my Dad in a bad light and printed lies about him to sensationalise a story to sell papers I have realised that the press is, a lot of the time, full of crap. You have to take everything you read in the media with a big pinch of salt. Great article Earl 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Anita – That’s the difference, participating vs passing through. The first one is how we truly learn about the world!

  23. melissa

    What a great expression as to why travel is so important and educational- it’s true, you don’t get the full story until it can be felt! I was in Tunisia at the beginning of this year during the 1billiorising event held in the capital of Tunis, where I made a short film (agreeably amateur but posted to my youtube channel anyway) trying to capture some of the energy there, and was able to truly feel the hope, enthusiasm, and changes that were happening with the people in this place. I have also had many experiences through travel as you have Earl that have connected me to this planet and it’s people on a more in-depth, personal level – like the time I was almost arrested for giving free hugs in Taksim Square (Turkey) a couple of months after the riots about the Gezi park. The police presence was massive and they did not like the people showing outward displays of affection for strangers and it was quite the experience to feel the differences between the police and the people wanting to share the love and compassion for one another… great article – thank you for sharing 🙂

  24. Karen McCann

    A wonderful, insightful, passionate post, Derek! Having visited Romania last year, I could feel something of the power of the experience you describe. I can picture the farmers, the young businesspeople, the cab drivers, the café staff, and all the others I met rising up to make a difference. Kind of gives you hope in this cynical old world. Thanks for posting this.

  25. Ashley

    Great post! Exploring destinations slowly and more thoroughly and connecting with locals is something I strive to do whenever I travel. Learning about and experiencing a destination on your own terms (without the preconceived notions and opinions of other people and the media) is truly is one of the best and most rewarding aspects of travel.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Ashley – Indeed. Going in and just letting your travel experience happen on its own is definitely the way to go as opposed to thinking that you know everything ahead of time and following a pre-made plan.

  26. Patrick Smith

    This has to be one of the most passionate and gripping travel blog entries I have ever written! Thank you so much! I tell all my friends and family about how great it is travel, how it doesn’t just take you out of the grind of our regular lives, but gets you involved in other parts of the world, and then gives a better perspective on our own country. But this- I will share this with everyone I know! Thank you!!!

  27. Steve C

    I wish there more people like you who find it interesting to know what’s going on around them. We just had an election here in the States. Only 30-something percent of the people bothered to vote. Too many people don’t see the value of casting their vote. They aren’t “feeling” what’s going on in their own country, let alone what a traveler might feel. What’s it going to take to get their attention?

    I have voted every time, even when I was out of the country, (absentee ballot). It’s the most important thing a citizen can do. As a society, we deserve what we get if we don’t vote. What’s it going to take to get people’s attention? Too bad you didn’t write this article before the last elections. Now we have to live with what we got for the next two years, at least. You don’t have to be “political”, but at least educate yourself about the differences that each party represents. Do you really think you’re part of the 1%?

    Sorry for the rant, but this topic really gets me going. It’s too bad that things have to really get bad before people realize what’s happening to them.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – And that’s what I’ve been seeing lately…people in different countries feeling hopeless and as if they can’t make a difference at all. The powerful get more powerful and the regular people feel powerless as a result. This is why this experience in Romania is so important…if only more people could learn what really happened there, they would want to vote in their own country every time there was an election. They would feel so empowered and determined to make their voice heard. Not sure how to make it happen but hopefully this Romania situation changed the minds of a few people who never took elections seriously.

  28. Emily

    I definitely agree with you. We started our big trip in Mexico and then Colombia and so many of our friends and family were terrified for us because North American media really only shares bad news coming from those countries. When we were able to travel unscathed, that was when their eyes were opened a bit more to the actual reality versus what the news relays.

  29. Emiko

    Such a beautiful post. It makes such a good case for truly experiencing a place and letting yourself be absorbed by it, versus just popping into take photos.

    The more I travel, the more I realize I how little I understand the world, even though I’ve been reading international news for year. The news tells so little of the whole story..

    Now that I have the time, I try to spend at least a month somewhere so I can connect with a place and its people. However, the more I do this, the more I realize even a month is not nearly enough. But I do appreciate how much I feel a place after one month versus 3 days.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Emiko – I know that feeling. And once you stay somewhere for 3 months, you realize that’s not enough either. It goes on and on. So the only thing we can do is spend as much time in a destination as we can and make the absolute most of our time there.

  30. De'Jav

    That’s awesome being able to be part of something like that. Yes, it is definitely better and different to be in a place where you can feel what’s happening around. When reading there are so many different versions of the same story depends on your source. It’s better to write your own first hand story.

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