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?