“Follow your heart.” “Find yourself.” “Discover the real you.”
But don’t be fooled. Travel will challenge you, inspire you, change you, give you wings, etc. Travel is incredible. Really, it is.
But the thing is, you aren’t the main character in the story — God is. So instead of asking the rest of the world, “What can travel do for me?” let’s ask, “What can travel do for Him?”
If we really want to obey 1 Corinthians 10:31 and do everything for the glory of God, what does it look like to travel as a follower of Jesus?
And in a generation that has come to idolize long-term travel, is there a proper place for it in the Christian life? Can travel be redeemed such that it glorifies God?
Absolutely. In fact, traveling offers opportunities to advance God’s Kingdom that only you are uniquely equipped to carry out.
Here are some tips for making the most of your trip:
There goes your itinerary …
One of the best parts about traveling is planning the trip—picking your must-see spots, your must-do experiences, your non-negotiables. Recognize that these plans will probably undergo some major changes due to things beyond your control. Find the hidden hilarity in frustrating circumstances and use it as an opportunity to show that your faith and joy are in Christ and not the “perfect trip.”
You could try to cling to that precious schedule you’ve planned down to the hour, or you could let go, relax and see where you end up. Take a moment each morning and tell God that you’re available, watching and waiting for Him to show up in the details. Unexpected moments are one of the greatest joys of travel and the Christian life.
Your comfort zone won’t fit in your suitcase. Please stop trying to bring it with you.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” What an apt metaphor. Travel, like dancing, isn’t something you can force and it’s not something you learn by meticulous planning and execution, at least not at first. Slow down, feel the rhythm and wholeheartedly follow where the Instructor leads.
You are small, and God is big.
Something wonderful happens when you venture far from home. When you’re lying on a mountaintop with your hoodie pulled up around your eyes and all you can see is the starry sky above. Or when you stop your (literally) breathtaking hike to examine a brilliant yellow caterpillar munching on a leaf. You realize just what a tiny part of creation you are. Just think: God is the maker of everything you’ve ever encountered, and you’ve never even left Earth!
You are blessed with many gifts. What are you doing with them?
Western society tells us more, more, more and it’s all too easy to think about all the things we don’t have. But you’ll change your tune quickly enough while walking the streets of Mumbai or Colombo. Embrace the reality check. Count your blessings, thank God for them and then brainstorm how you can better use them to bring Him glory.
Humans are incredibly dissimilar, but also pretty much all the same.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
Despite our countless surface-level differences, we’re all made of the same stuff. We were designed with universal commonalities to unite us and point us to our Creator. Spend some time in a local church abroad and this becomes wonderfully obvious.
Let Your Beliefs be Challenged.
Is my way the best way? Or is it just the most comfortable?
It’s very disorienting when it happens to you for the first time … even terrifying for some. That moment when an experience causes you to call into question the things you’d taken for granted all your life. Well, don’t be alarmed; it happens to everybody. Instead, take this opportunity to do some honest reflecting and praying. Examine your life and beliefs with the end goal of determining whether you hold your beliefs because you’ve genuinely found them to be true or because they were given to you by your parents, friends, teachers, or anyone else. After all, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton
What would my life be like if I’d grown up here?
Imagine how your life would be different if you’d been born and raised in the place you’re visiting. Would you speak a different language, dress differently, hold a different set of values? You don’t want to go too deep down this rabbit hole because the fact is that you weren’t born here and that’s not a mistake—but it can be helpful in adopting an attitude of humility. Recognize that God placed you where He did with great intention, and that you are uniquely suited to serving Him in ways others cannot.
How can I learn from these people?
Having examined your beliefs and put yourself in the shoes of those around you, consider what you can learn from each other. Depending on your destination, those around you may have never heard the gospel before. Even if your trip isn’t a proper “mission trip,” it can—and will—still provide ample opportunity for sharing Christ. Adopt an attitude of learning, and who knows? Maybe you’ll finally learn to master those elusive chopsticks.
Share life with your travel companions.
The people you’ll be traveling with for days, weeks or months will probably have the biggest influence on you than anyone else. Likewise, you’ll have the greatest influence on them. If you are the product of the five people whom you spend the most time with, then your travel companions are kind of a big deal. Take time to plan how you’re going to cultivate these relationships and share life together for the duration of the trip. Will you discuss a book you’re both reading? Commit to a regular Bible study? Eat meals together and have conversations that go beyond the surface? You have the chance to profoundly affect someone’s life here. What will your influence look like?
Impact the locals, and watch how they impact you.
Volunteer. There are numerous online resources that will connect you with a volunteering opportunity near you, wherever in the world you may be (Check out VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org.). Outside of formal volunteering, find out what the local needs are and seek ways to serve the community. You’ll find that people are, on the whole, remarkably gracious toward a humble traveler—especially when you’re ready to lend a helping hand. You might even get a free place to stay and some meals out of it.
“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine
Find your way into the local Church.
If you thought the Church in America was diverse, you’re in for a ride. From hard rock to tribal chants, shouted sermons to whispered prayers, the Church is gloriously diverse. Note that you are almost certainly going to encounter things that make you uncomfortable. As before, evaluate these experiences by the Bible and the guidance of the Spirit. Chances are, you’ll experience God’s grace in one or more ways you never have before. (Just maybe take a peek at a church’s website ahead of time to make sure you don’t accidentally stumble into the overseas version of Westboro Baptist. Here are some good guidelines to start with.)
Marvel at creation.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” – Psalm 19:1
The same One who shaped all the beautiful mountains, trees, waterfalls, beaches, animals and people you see on your trip took the time to knit you together in your mother’s womb. It is literally impossible to overestimate His love for you, which never ends, despite the fact that you repeatedly disobey and sin against Him.
Make your joy complete with worship.
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation … Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” – C.S. Lewis
Praise God for the opportunity to travel, the chance to experience so many new pieces of His creation, and for the cross which brought you life through Jesus, all to His glory.
So go ahead, follow your heart. Follow your heart to God, the ultimate desire of every human heart.
And by all means, find yourself. But find yourself in Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom you receive eternal life.
Do this and you’ll be well on your way to discovering the real you. As it turns out, you can have your travel and redeem it, too.