It’s a new year. You’re young (at heart, if nowhere else). You’re restless. The earth is calling you to travel along its latitudes and up and down its longitudes, and you are tempted to grab your roller bag and answer that call.
However, it may be important, before you sally forth on a world tour, to know some of the things that magical, almost revered activity called “traveling” will teach you. For some, the answer can be summed up in two words: not much. As with any course of study, you get out of traveling what you allow yourself to get out of it. Paris can feel a lot like the same-old same-old to the self-centered adventurer.
But for many of us, traveling is life-changing. The traveler with eyes, heart and mind open to discovery has the opportunity to learn lessons on a global scale. And along with its general benefits, travel can actually benefit our spiritual lives as well. Travel can change our perspective about ourselves and God and change our worldview in ways we never would have thought possible.
The following are only a few reasons your spiritual life could benefit from doing some traveling.
Traveling makes you long for home
Here is a true truism: When you spend extended periods of time in an unfamiliar place, you begin to long for a familiar place.
You’ll find that even though you appreciate the grandeur of Trafalgar Square or the historic grace of the River Seine, they don’t contain your memories or satisfy you like your two-car Main Street back home or the muddy creek in which you swam as a child. You’ll crave restaurants and foods you didn’t know you liked before you left simply because they are not available to you; a hamburger can be a beautiful sight to the travel-weary.
This longing for your native land is a type and a shadow of a more cosmic longing for the earth as God will remake it at the end/beginning of all things. When you feel like a foreigner in Budapest, it can be a reminder that you are a foreigner on this fallen earth and a citizen of a better one to come.
Traveling shows you’re pretty small in the scheme of things
I remember walking through Heathrow airport, London on a busy January day, passing thousands of people from South Africa to Saudi Arabia to Scotland and noticing something odd—not one of them noticed me. Suddenly, all the self-importance I had built up at home and the unhealthy thought that I was more worthy to be noticed than the average human being dissolved like a dew.
While traveling, you begin to develop an appreciation for how many people 7.2 billion really is and how few of those 7.2 billion care about your existence. You shrink in significance like a sandbox in the Sahara.
It can be a frightening realization, and this sense of smallness could lead to loneliness or despair if not for the assurance that the God of the Universe has numbered “the very hairs of your head.” Your insignificance to most other people only makes that truth more comforting. When no one else on the concourse notices or cares about you, He does.
Traveling gives you a balanced perspective of human nature and divine redemption
In Sunday school we are taught, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and while we understand that at a theoretical level, our temptation is to glamorize other countries to the point that we forget they are also full of sinful people in need of a savior.
Traveling tends to correct that kind of thinking. You’ll see the stately equestrian statue of King Albert of Belgium in Brussels and French obscenities tagged in all caps on its pedestal. You’ll see thundering Victoria Falls in Zambia as well as gangs of guardian-less AIDS orphans crowding chain-link fences at football matches.
Traveling will show you the best of human achievement and the worst of human sin. You will catch a vision for how deeply sin has stained the present earth, and how terrible and beautiful God’s judgment, redemption and re-creation of the earth will be.
Traveling will show you that the Church is larger and more varied than you imagined
The Christian faith is, in one sense, universal, for we all profess the same core beliefs. At the same time, the practice of the Christian faith is as diverse as the cultures in which it is preached and believed.
One of the great experiences of travel is worshiping with believers of another culture. I have been prayed over ardently on Crete, sung a cappella Tonga hymns in Zambia and listened to the Gospel perfectly articulated in a thick Lancashire accent in England. In each instance I was struck by the diversity and size of the Christian Church.
If you take advantage of the opportunity to worship with those of other cultures, the mental meanings of the words “Christian” and “Church” will no longer be limited to your own local congregation but will span the globe—crossing oceans, centuries and cultural barriers.
The list of things you’ll learn through traveling could go on and on like a theoretical line in geometry. Your tastes in music, literature, and art will adjust and broaden. You will face your prejudices and, hopefully, conquer them. You will learn history, geography, and anthropology—all spiritual pursuits, for as Johannes Kepler said, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God.1”
Ultimately, you will only benefit from travel in proportion to your willingness to learn what God has to teach you about His world.