I used to see the world through the suburban town I grew up in. Travel gave me an open mind.
Travel has changed my frame of reference on many things. Growing up, I unknowingly built a mental wall around my surroundings. I spent much of my childhood in the same town, living in the same bedroom. The park I played baseball at as a kid was the same park where I drank water bottles of random pilfered alcohols as a teenager. Comfortable in my zone, the thought of puncturing my bubble never really crossed my mind, it was just the way life was. The bubble crafted my view of reality and I never questioned it.
Travel makes me incredibly uncomfortable within that wall. As weird as it is, going back to the neighborhood where I grew up puts a strange sort of stress on me now. Not because of any one person or occurrence, or because I had some sort of bad childhood (which I certainly did not). Since moving away I have seen many different ways in which a person can elect, or is forced, to live a life and it brings to light many changes in the way I live now compared to back then.
The familiar rooftops and cookie cutter shopping centers of my hometown comforted me as a kid, when worries stretched little further than playing a solid second base on the baseball team. Later, as a teenager whose biggest source of anxiety were the pierced punk rock girls at my high school I wanted so badly to impress, the burgeoning neighborhoods of Denver’s south suburbs provided endless hours of exploration and experimentation for my friends and I. But Littleton doesn’t comfort me now. My mind has been stretched and there is no way to compact it back into a less experienced outlook on the world.
Not like I’m some kind of Jedi master of philosophically well-rounded worldviews. But once the mind processes something it hasn’t seen before, there’s no going back. When I first moved away at 18 to attend Fort Lewis College, culture shock punched me square in the face. No longer was I the master of my territory. I went to parties, kept up on classwork, and tried to act like I was in control. I tried to be friends with everyone, often mistaking common courtesy for friendship only to find myself spending multiple nights a week on the phone with friends back home talking about the old days. The culture shock was tinged with excitement at being on my own. But despite only moving six hours away It still took a semester before I felt even slightly at home in my new surroundings.
Looking back, I see that it wasn’t the town, the people, or the experience of living on my own for the first time that caused such a rush. It was everything about it. And nothing. It was the previously unexperienced bursting of that bubble and realization that no matter how badly I might miss my childhood, things would never be the same again. I’d lost that feeling of utter content that comes with a complete mastery of one’s surroundings.
It’s tough to come to terms with. For me, that’s where travel has been immeasurably helpful. The more places I go, the more times I walk off a tarmac or step out of the car in a new place, the less crippling that feeling of culture shock is. This past May, I stood in the VietJet Air ticketing line at the Bangkok airport, observing ecstatic Vietnamese families checking dozens of cardboard boxes of Thai products to bring home. The same feeling washed over me. Landing in Hanoi a few hours later, I watched in amazement as we pulled into the city center, our shuttle surrounded by hundreds of motorbikes whizzing in a pattern of chaotic mastery. Instead of feeling nervous, I shivered with excitement.
Travel continues to help me view other lifestyles, opinions, food, clothing, and whatever else I see as valuable and worth preserving, and causes me to question what I’m putting out into the world. Is it harmful? I’ve become incredibly conscious of conservation because I understand the need to appreciate and preserve the world’s unique beauty and I’ve seen the effects of warmer winters in Colorado. The other day I say at in the waiting room at a car dealership and for two hours, I resisted the urge to take advantage of the free coffee because I had forgotten my Hydroflask and didn’t want to use a Styrofoam cup.
Now, I’m infected with the travel bug. Hard. I can’t sit still. When I’m at home, I inject a steady stream of USA Today, The Nation, and a couple snowboarding and travel magazines to quench my thirst for something new. I drive my wife insane, but she’s the same way.
Instead of feeling content in another day of the routine, I deal with the anxiety of constantly wondering if my decisions and actions are melding with those of the world in a sustainable manner. Even when they’re not, I’m all the better for it, because half the battle of progress is just realizing that improvement is needed. I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand my mind and for the knowledge to know that I constantly need to. That alone is enough to keep me on my toes, impatiently waiting for the next adventure, to hone that worldview just a little bit more.