Our youth passes before us, and later we call it our youth. To be totally self-conscious of its importance is to understand that the choices we make mold who we later are. For this reason: travel early, and travel often. Make it a part of your life, because otherwise, what would ever stimulate you to change? And please, please, want nothing more than for life to be a continuous stream of change. Because, dear reader, it is nothing else.
Our contemporary world is full of self-swallowing streams of information that tend to serve our own beliefs. So much of the streaming world of smartphones is the stream of a world that does not deviate from our own desires, interests, and that which we have already decided we find important. Change, though (and I think many of us can agree that these brutal times call for radical change), requires that we take our beliefs and throw them away to burn, and to come out renewed, better for their time in the furnace, and bigger, and more delicious, like smoked salmon.
Along with reading and the pursuit of viewing art, travel is the best way to alter ourselves, and therefore our world. Experience is all. In a world continuing to wake up to itself as a dependent, interconnected network that always spans the globe, it is more important than ever that we go see the world that we depend on, so that we not only learn new ways, but understand that the only use of empathy is that we might expand it to include every individual on Earth. To travel is to expand the imagination, and to expand the imagination is the fundament of change.
The first requirement is that you remain open to journeys. Keep your ears tuned to their music and you will begin to hear them everywhere. Perhaps your high school has a volunteer program, a school trip of some kind; perhaps you’re privileged enough that your family makes regular trips outside of where you live to local mountains, or rivers, or lakes; you might have the opportunity to study abroad in college--take any and all of these chances that you can manage, and use them to feed your curiosity. You might find that its hunger grows.
I was lucky enough that during my senior year at my high school we had the opportunity to take a yearly field study trip to Baja, Mexico. It required passing a rigorous marine ecology course the previous year, with virtually no impact on college admissions, but the result was worth it. Nine days sleeping on sand and under stars along the coast of an ocean still populated with the riches of the sea, a far cry from the relatively barren shores of the southern California beaches where I’m from, taught me that that was the normal state of things, not the way our polluted wetlands and overfished oceans are coming to resemble dumps and dreary empty industrial warehouses.
It also sparked a passion for all things south of the border, a place as wonderfully full of culture, sights, and people as anywhere on Earth, and a place regularly decried as somehow barbaric or sinister. All a wall would do would be to discourage essential discourse.
Several years after Baja, my younger brother was volunteering in Cusco, Peru, through Maximo Nivel, working at a children’s hospital. Knowing he was going, I saved some money, set aside some time, and met him at the back-end of his trip to travel together for a few weeks. If you’re looking for your first international trip, I cannot recommend Peru highly enough. Home to an awe-inspiring kaleidoscopic history of societies, cultures, art, and food, from the Inca to the Nazcans and Mochi, Peru has no shortage of incredible sights.
So start where you can, and seek out places to go, wherever that might be. If there is a National Park nearby, go. Camp. Look. Hike. If there is a river running somewhere, swim in it. If there is a mountain, climb it. If there are people in your community that don’t resemble those inside your household, talk to them, share stories, and smile with them. And eat literally everything you can find!
Your task is to think clearly about where you want to go and how to get there, and then manage and budget accordingly so that it’s a real possibility. Set aside the time and the money, and thoroughly research what a trip will cost. Get a traveller's backpack, I recommend this one. And start reading voraciously. And looking at maps.
For a trip to Peru, $20-$25 a day is a pretty reasonable estimate for a fairly shoestring trip. Get used to traveling shoestring, because it’s better. You can likely find a plane ticket for $500-$800. Use Kayak and Skyscanner to find tickets. Begin looking a few months out. Price changes fluctuate rapidly and weirdly, so keep an eye out and strike when you see an amazing deal. They’re there.
If you can manage 2-3 weeks of time, you’re looking at under $2,000 for the trip total. But always, always stay hungry for more time, and always seek out how to do more. This is the same for any international trip you might endeavor. Travel with friends or family if you can and you get along. You will form lasting memories and relationships that have absolutely no other way of being created.
Plan on taking cheap, long bus rides, and cheap, long train rides. Plan on listening to a lot of music and reading a lot of books, and completely altering your version of what boredom or idleness means, because travel, movement, is the opposite of those things. Bring a book that you must read, an egregiously long classic that you might otherwise never sit down to read at home. The Brothers Karamazov is an absolutely great one, and there is something deliciously incongruent about traveling through high jungles while reading about the ice-scapes of Russia. Trickster Rules This World, by Lewis Hyde, is just one of the best books ever, so read that if you can’t think of anything.
Plan on having a plan but remaining open to deviations from it. Plan on meeting people and talking to absolutely everybody. Wherever you are, learn as much of the language as you can, even if that entails only greetings, pleasantries, numbers, and directional queries. Learn how to say something extremely nice, and say it to everyone.
If going to Peru, you will fly into Lima. Stay a few days, see the beaches, eat Ceviches and Leche de Tigre. Get to Cusco and see the ruins of the Incan Empire. Visit the Sacred Valley. Venture to Machu Picchu. This will swallow your two weeks and you will be forever new for it. A detailed plan is outside of the scope of this article, but look for it in the future.
Most importantly, think about where you want to go and why. Find somewhere that appeals to you or has important historical meaning to you or your family. This will ensure that your interest will be held, and that you will inevitably find yourself in a place that seems distant and otherworldly. Truly, you will discover, this applies everywhere on Earth, because that’s where we all are. So add a little to yourself by becoming more of the world, and go.
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman