Why Traveling the World Hasn’t Made Me a Better Person

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I’m well traveled for a 26 year-old. Sure, there are others who have traveled twice as much as me and have seen three times as many places. But I’ve lived the majority of the last 6 years in Europe and been fortunate enough to travel to several different places during that time, so I’d say that counts. I don’t state that with a sense of superiority or snarkiness and I’ll tell you why.

I guess I’d better first qualify all of this by saying I love travel. My husband loves travel. It has set the stage for some of our favorite memories and most monumental mishaps–which, in turn, have become some of our favorite memories. Funny how 36 hours on a train while being incredibly ill is a laughable memory in the rearview mirror. I think money spent toward travel, time spent during travel and energy spent on travel are some of the best ways to use those precious commodities.

But when it really comes down to it, I’m no better for having stepped foot in 12 different countries of the world than I am if I’d not stepped outside of my home state of Illinois.
Travel is glamorized. What is it about society that we automatically label people as “interesting” and “storied” simply if they’ve hopped a plane to a particular part of the world. I mean, ordering with ease off a French menu is impressive, right? Or putting up your own photos of the Cyclades in the home office is perhaps more enviable than turning the page to find it on next months National Geographic calendar. Our nation tells us that people who travel are more sophisticated, more interesting, more refined… But are they really? Does changing locations on the outside change who we are on the inside?

When I think of all the places I’ve seen, there’s one thing that was always the same. Me. My husband might beg to differ…he likes to say I’m consistently inconsistent, but that’s another story for another day. Either way, it was always me standing in those shoes no matter where they were located. And I’ve found that in traveling the world, you can end up only transplanting your troubles to a new latitude.
The most beautiful carving from the hand of Michelangelo holds no power when seen through the eyes of an unchanged perspective. It’s possible for places and things to move us without changing us. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Travel might stir the senses, but fulfillment is only found only in things that transform, not touch.

See, location doesn’t contain the capacity to change people. Grace does. Grace is an ingredient that draws out the goodness of anything to which it’s added.

Travel alone does not give me new eyes or move my heart to compassion. I’ve struggled with selfishness and a critical eye every bit as much in the Venetian canals as the Midwest cornfields. And we all carry baggage, whether we claim it or not.

Grace has brought me to more beautiful places than any train, ship or plane ever will. Grace teaches me it’s better to be interested than interesting. Grace has strengthened my faith in Jesus, while allowing me to see more worth and value in the people I meet who don’t recognize Him at all. Grace has even gone so far to show me that although I may carry my faults and flaws with me all over the world, I’m a prized work in progress and the apple of my Father’s eye. Is there any better place to be in the world to be than standing on the truth of grace?

Not travel, but grace, improves our human state. And travel combined with grace? Well, that’s an incredibly potent combination–a catalyst for the type of compassion that can change the world one life at a time.

Travel alone hasn’t made me a better woman. But travel done with eyes that look through the lens of grace has made all the difference in the world.

Eliminating the Unnecessary

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

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I’ve always been a pen hoarder. Ever since I could grip a crayon, I was the girl with the crammed pencil case. Overflowing with Sharpies and highlighters and my personal favorite, the colored Jelly Roll pens with the silver sheen which must be guarded at all cost. My mom could be struggling to find a single writing utensil in the entire home, but I made sure to always be fully stocked. Just in case one highlighter ran dry, you know you really should have six others for backup.

I’d like to think I’ve since grown up and grown out of those ways.

But it only takes me one look at my days and my to-do lists and my closet to see…excess.

So much excess in an already noisy world.

I’m a firm believer that things aren’t bad in and of themselves. It’s what we make of them, the value we place on them, the lengths we’ll go to accrue them and…what we forfeit in the process.

See, we’re always playing the game of elimination whether we know it or not.

Because when we fill our lives with the unnecessary it nudges into nothingness what was formerly at the forefront.

And excess comes in all shapes and sizes. Too many gadgets. Too much house. A crammed closet or a schedule of commitments that doesn’t even fit the calendar.

I’ve realized my multitasking actually robs me of the moments. Attention divided is no attention at all. And in an effort to attend to everything we miss out on the main thing. In buying more materials we never appreciate those we already have. In the name of doing everything, it’s possible to really do nothing.

A life brimming with the superfluous often leads to a soul constantly searching for more. I know for myself that the more things I accrue the more attention and intention I lose. Focus becomes foggy as we crowd our lives with the unnecessary.

So it’s time to start playing the elimination game with intent. It’s not the stuff we have, rather the stuff we appreciate. It’s not the number of things we do, but the meaning in which they are done. What if, instead of always striving for more, we flipped the script and looked for less.

Don’t live an empty life that’s so filled up with things. The winner isn’t the one who does the most, has the most or commits to the most. Winning is living a life of focus. Winning is living a life of purpose.

And the first step to victory might be one of elimination. Might as well give it a shot. The truth is, we’re all already playing the game anyways.