Why I Travel: Lessons from Ecuador

712A new year was quickly approaching and I needed to go abroad.  Some people will never understand this need.  It is something in my DNA that I cannot deny, just as I can’t dismiss my brown eyes or my wide smile.  It is part of who I am and I have to embrace it.  It really isn’t a choice.

I booked a ticket within a few days of departure.  When you have the travel bug, you don’t need to plan too much.  You just go.  I booked one night of a hotel in Quito before departure and left with no specific itinerary except that I would make my way to Cuenca to see my colleagues/friends at El Nomad and connect with some students as part of research that I’m doing on pre-departure planning.  Do you see the irony?  I jumped on a plane with little planning to research pre-departure planning.  Such is the way my brain works.

My approach to travel, while perhaps not the most orthodox, works for me. Why?  To understand this we must first examine why I choose to book a plane ticket (beyond my DNA explanation). While people choose to travel for many different reasons (research, rest/relaxation, language study, to escape, etc), for me it is because I need the adventure and the immediate challenges that travel abroad provides. I also must tackle my fears head on, with no time to overthink them.  Travel is not only an exercise in learning the beauty of different cultures, it is a path to knowing yourself.  This path cannot be taken at home in the same way,  for it does not present the same level of opportunity.  I need to be stimulated by new sights, sounds, smells, languages, people, cities, transportation, beliefs, values and systems.  I need to go by myself and not have the safety net of a friend or my husband alongside me.  I need to dive in, figure out why I am the way I am and push myself to quietly observe, assess and act in an appropriate manner in that environment.  I need to think I can get by in Spanish, only to discover how little I truly know and then challenge myself to be more proficient the next time.  I cannot imagine my life without this ongoing learning and experimentation. I live for those little moments of awareness, when the light bulb goes off and I realize yes, there are many other ways to approach daily living, to see issues and to solve problems. That is why I go abroad.

Ecuador presented many opportunities for me to learn about the culture and to learn about myself.   Here are some of the challenges and discoveries I made along the way:

I came home from this experience, determined to be more adventurous at home.  My husband and I have been taking a ride to a new part of North Carolina each weekend, exploring the history, food and people – examining them through the lens of a traveler.  While it doesn’t present the same challenges as Ecuador, it does remind me that being home offers many opportunities to learn too.  I’ve investigated a Spanish class at the local library and added a daily walk to my routine, as I realized how much I walked in Ecuador.  My next step is to learn how to make llapingachos to share with friends as a jumping off point to talk about Ecuador.

I’ve also reflected a lot about how to describe this trip to Ecuador to people who simply don’t value travel the way that I do.  When asked “how was your trip?” I now simply reply with the following:  “Ecuador reinforced my need to travel because it challenges me to learn about myself and others.” That is my new elevator speech for the time being, at least.

I’m curious to hear why Melibee readers travel?  What does it teach you?  Upon re-entry, what do you do with the lessons learned?  Please feel free to comment below.