September 13, 2019 | Opinion
Finding a new perspective and big pretzels in Europe
By Natalie C.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
People travel for a wide variety of reasons: to get away from everyday life, to experience new cultures and foods, to cross off bucket list destinations, or to challenge the physical and mental boundaries of their comfort zones—just to name a few. Yet, one of the best parts about traveling is that no matter what your personal motive is, it inevitably comes bundled with a change in perspective. The depth and duration of this new perspective and whether it leads to self-discovery, however, is mostly up to you.
Although I’m not usually one to rely on a quote to convey an idea, I can’t pass up Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words about self-discovery through travel:
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
I’m going to argue that he didn’t mean “the beautiful” literally, but let’s run with it for a moment as if he did. In the case of my recent EF Ultimate Break trip to Germany, Italy & Switzerland, here are just a few things that I’d throw into Emerson’s literally-beautiful bucket: a soft pretzel as big as my face from Munich, a jaw-dropping panorama of the snow-capped Swiss Alps in Lucerne, and an endless maze of gondola-filled canals from Venice. We could technically only carry one of these things back with us, and ten dollars says it would get stale pretty quickly.
This isn’t to say that the memories we create and the sights that we see when we travel aren’t beautiful, or that we can’t take these things with us in life. They are and we do.
Instead, maybe what Emerson meant—or what I think he means here—is that travel gives us an opportunity to discover ourselves in a more lasting and impactful way than do we do in our day-to-day lives. Maybe it’s because a change of perspective is that much harder to come by or create during our daily routine, but, in any case, it’s an opportunity that we must learn to consciously recognize, understand, and seize.
It’s easy to recall standout experiences from my trip. Say, the first-generation owner of a family-run vineyard singing opera to our group over a dinner of homemade pasta (and plenty of wine), the profound visit to the concentration camp memorial site in Dachau, an energetic night of karaoke at an Irish pub (quite a few in our crew were shockingly good singers), and copious amounts of (way better than American) cheese and pizza.
Still, the part of the trip that stood out to me the most was how easy it was to make friends with 26 strangers from across the United States, and how quickly it happened! Like me, my fellow travelers wanted to open up about their personal lives, their previous travels, what they were most excited to see and why, and what they dreamt about doing with their lives. It made me think about how much more we have in common with one another than it seems on the surface and how travel makes us so much more open-minded—not just to new experiences, but to meeting and understanding new people. I realized just how much control I already had over making an effort to get to know different kinds of people on a deeper, personal level. It didn’t take a new country or city to make that happen—just a new attitude.
Sometimes we’re so focused on trying to find ourselves out in the world that we forget there’s a whole world to discover within ourselves. When it comes to making positive changes in your life, it’s a lot harder to identify a solution if you can’t identify the problem. It’s a lot harder to reach a goal if you don’t set one. Next time you travel, try creating a different kind of list in addition to the one full of all the things you want to see and do. Jot down what’s lacking in your day to day, identify which experiences in your travels bridge those gaps, and figure out a habit, project, or community that has similar qualities that you can reasonably work into your life back home. Start small or prioritize one or two things that really stand out. A little self-reflection can go a long way in helping to carry the world with you and, if that’s not beautiful, I’m not sure what is.