A Traveler, Not a Tourist Be
by Kent Nerburn – Portland, OR

Person reading a map

Wanderlust, the urge for adventure, and the desire to know what is over the next hill are like echoes in the backs of our minds that speak of sounds not quite heard and places not quite seen.

You should listen to these echoes. Take the chances and follow the voices that call you to distant places. Live, if only for a short time, the life of a traveler. It is a life you will always cherish and never forget.

The magic of travel is that you leave your home secure in your own knowledge and identity, but as you travel, the world in all its richness intervenes. You meet people you could not invent; you see scenes you could not imagine. Your own world, which was so large as to consume your whole life, becomes smaller and smaller until it is only one tiny dot in space and time. You return a different person.

Travel doesn’t have to be to some dreamlike and foreign destination. It can take you on an evening stroll through a distant forest or to a park bench in a town a hundred miles from your home. What matters is that you have left the comfort of the familiar and opened yourself to a world that is totally apart from your own.

Many people don’t want to be travelers. They would rather be tourists, flitting over the surface of other people’s lives while never really leaving their own. They try to bring their world with them wherever they go, or try to recreate the world they left. They do not want to risk the security of their own understanding and see how small and limited their experiences really are.

To be a real traveler, you must be willing to give yourself over to the moment and take yourself out of the center of your universe. You must believe totally in the lives of the people and the places where you find yourself. Become part of the fabric of their everyday lives. Embrace them rather than judge them, and you will find that the beauty in their lives and their world will become part of yours. When you move on, you will have grown. You will realize that the possibilities of life in this world are endless, and that beneath our differences of language and culture we all share the same dream of loving and being loved, of having a life with more joy than sorrow.

Travel is not as romantic and exotic as you imagine it. The familiar will always call. Your sense of rootlessness will not give you rest. You may wake one day and find that you have become a runner who uses travel as an escape from the problems and complications of trying to build something with your life. You may find that you have stayed away one hour or one day or one month too long and that you no longer belong anywhere or to anyone. You may find that you have been caught by the lure of the road and that you are a slave to dissatisfaction with any life that forces you to stay in one place.

But how much worse is it to be someone whose dreams have been buried beneath the routines of life and who no longer has an interest in looking beyond the horizon? If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small, and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; we don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.

Travel, no matter how humble, will etch new elements into your character. You will know the cutting moments of life where fear meets adventure and loneliness meets exhilaration. You will know what it means to push forward when you want to turn back.

And when you have tragedies or great changes in your life, you will understand that there are a thousand, a million ways to live, and that your life will go on to something new and different and every bit as worthy as the life you are leaving behind.

Because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. I know which parts of myself I cannot deny and which parts of myself are simply choices that I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am.

When I am old and my body has begun to fail me, my memories will be waiting for me. They will lift me and carry me over mountains and oceans. I will hold them and turn them and watch them catch the sunlight as they come alive once more in my imagination. I will be rich and I will be at peace.

I want you to have that peace, too. Take the chances a traveler has to take. In the end you will be so much richer, so much stronger, so much clearer, so much happier, and so much better a person that all the risk and hardship will seem like nothing compared to the knowledge and wisdom you will have gained.

Excerpted from the book Simple Truths © 1996 by Kent Nerburn. Printed with permission from New World Library — newworldlibrary.com

Simple Truths by NerbumA two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, Kent Nerburn is the author of many books on spirituality and Native American themes, including Simple Truths, Letters to My Son, Small Graces, Neither Wolf nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight, and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo. Find out more about his work at kentnerburn.com.

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