Traveling is a tricky thing. Well, taking a plane somewhere is not, but how to experience being abroad is.
The best part for me in traveling is trying to imagine myself living in that country, being one of them, forgetting myself and my life for a while and pretending to be someone else, but also being me. I even try to learn to say some things in that language, and try to find places to stay which are as authentic as possible. I’ve been extremely lucky in getting into people’s homes as their guests and I will always be very grateful for those visits. Just last week when I visited Lithuania, I was invited to a home where the head of the household is a hunter. He made us dinner outside in the garden in a stone oven he had built himself. Then his hunter buddies came to pick him up and off they went in a huge truck with their rifles. The Hunter is also a blacksmith and has made incredible furniture out of iron. And, like so many Lithuanian families, also they had a stork nest right outside their upstairs balcony. There was incredible energy in that house, something so original, pure and honest that I felt I had experienced something I could never experience in a society like Finland where people are more concerned about which is the latest model of Nokia or if your neighbor has a bigger TV screen than you.
For everyone, traveling does not mean those same things. Often when traveling with young people, I see that some of them expect things to remain the same in the foreign country than they are at home. Not getting dinner at the same time as usual or not understanding the sense of humor in that new culture can be frustrating to some. For those people who travel without the willingness to understand the culture in the country they visit or make an effort to adjust to it, if for nothing else then at least for the sake of being polite, traveling is merely tourism and nothing more. Seeing someone turn inward rather than outward when in a foreign culture makes you wonder why that person wanted to travel in the first place. With young people it is of course understandable and as they grow older they will probably also grow wiser. However, wanting your environment to reflect who you are and what your values are, might also be interpreted as low self-esteem with the thought that that person is holding on to familiar things because unfamiliar things are too scary or incomprehensible.
At the other extreme there are those people who are still looking. Looking for places and crowds, maybe in the end – looking for themselves. Sometimes it makes me wonder if they don’t feel at home anywhere because they don’t feel at home with themselves. To love others you have to love yourself. But when traveling, you still collect experiences and every once in awhile you might see a glimpse into your distant past and for a moment think ‘maybe that was me’.