Last Updated on February 23, 2020 by Maggie McKneely
“YEEEE-haw!” Everyone in the surrounding rows smiled and quietly laughed at the blonde cherub’s exclamation as the plane sped towards lift-off. No fear, no trepidation from the little girl – just pure joy as the wheels left the ground.
Some things truly don’t change. I’m 26, and people still refer to me as a cherub. Maybe when I’m 50, I’ll appreciate my youthful looks. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself every time someone thinks I’m still in middle school.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is that taking off is still my favorite part of flying, just as it was on my first flight as a toddler when my family took the pilgrimage from Virginia to Orlando’s Disneyworld.
But some things do. Despite having been on countless journeys through the sky since, and every time landed safely at my destination, those trips are always accompanied by a little voice: “This may be the one time the plane doesn’t make it. It’s not safe. Stay home.” Turbulence makes the voice especially noticeable. With every little bump, “SEE!?? Not safe! The next plane crash in the news? It’s going to be the plane that you’re on right now!!”
Clearly, I’ve never let that voice actually stop me. But only because I’ve learned that just because something isn’t safe doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Usually, that’s exactly why it should be done.
I’m not talking about thrill-seeking for the heck of it. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never ridden a real, honest-to-goodness roller coaster and nor do I have any intention of doing so. Not because I find them truly terrifying, but because I, personally, find that whole “stomach in your head” sensation to be completely unnecessary. What I’m talking about are those things you want to do, but find excuses not to do because they are, for some reason, unsafe.
Moving to a new city. Meeting new people. Finding a new church. Going away to college. Starting a new relationship. And yes, traveling to somewhere completely new and different.
It’s a litany of things people do that are akin to getting on an airplane but come with much larger consequences if everything doesn’t go according to plan. The forks that God throws into our path that force us to say that we’re either going to continue to cling to what is predictable or are willing to jump into the unknowable. Those options we say we may do one day when the time is right – when we have the money, when we aren’t working so hard, when we’re in better shape, when we aren’t doing whatever it is that’s providing a convenient excuse to do the thing that scares us.
But just because a choice isn’t safe doesn’t mean it isn’t the right option. True, those decisions don’t always have happy endings. After all, that’s what makes them unsafe. Why we balk when we are faced with those choices. But isn’t pursuing what will force you to change and grow as a human being always worth doing? Those times in life when we stand on a precipice and don’t know what will happen when we jump – those are the times we learn about ourselves, our strengths, our fears, and how to overcome them.
In the words of one of my favorite bands, Lord Huron, “what good is livin’ the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?” Can life truly be lived if we never change, never choose the unsafe option?
The most tangible periods of growth and change in my life have not been in the seasons of predictable routine, where each 9-5 day is followed by another exactly like it. No, those times have always been accompanied by making a decision to do a scary thing fraught with unknown consequences, including some of my first travel experiences. Like my first trip to Colorado, that unexpectedly set my feet on the path to a career in politics. Or when I spent a month exploring Montana and returned home with clarity about a broken relationship and the eating disorder I didn’t know I had.
Beyond the exterior appearances of getting to see incredible sights, eat amazing foods, take Instagram worthy pictures – traveling can be as daunting as some of life’s other big decisions. Just because you have a carefully crafted vacation itinerary doesn’t mean you have any clue about what’s actually going to happen on your trip. When we get on flights, we assume that we will get where we are going without incident, but we may not. Once we arrive at our destination, that’s where the real adventure begins. Setting foot in a country with an unfamiliar language, diet, geography, and culture is an experience fraught with unavoidable unknowns. Then there’s the rising fear of terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia, theft-related violent crimes in second and third world countries, illnesses and diseases rampant in other places but don’t exist at home. But going beyond your comfort zone through travel also comes with unimaginable rewards.
When once I would have always picked the safe option, I’ve learned that those choices are not what refine me, teach me, or help me to grow. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over time, and I think that is why I have become so addicted to traveling. Not because it’s safe and predictable, but because it’s the exact opposite.
Sure, the ability to say I have walked out of the Westminster Underground station only to look up and see Big Ben smiling down on me is pretty awesome. That I can look back through my memories and see the sun setting over the Mediterranean from a Greek village, or remember hearing a glacier roar from high above Canada’s most famous lake – I treasure all of those experiences. But they aren’t why I keep getting on airplanes, why I keep ignoring the nagging voice that says the next flight could be my last. And my guess is that most other victims of the notorious “travel bug” will say the same thing.
It’s the chance to have a 3-course, 4-hour long home-cooked meal with 20 other travelers from all over the world and talk about everything from food, jobs, and politics. The ability to stand at the foot of a mountain that makes you realize just how small you are and how amazing the Creator is, or hike up that same mountain and discover a depth of perseverance you didn’t know you had. The opportunity to learn you CAN drive a car through the heart of Times Square, or a stick-shift 13 passenger van through the mountains of Greece (my mom did that; I learned I could survive the ride without having a heart attack). It’s about understanding first-hand the heritage, history, and traditions that make much of the world the way that it is.
It’s about leaving what you know and what you’re used to behind, for the very purpose of coming back a slightly different person.
For me, every time I come home from a trip I return to Capitol Hill; every time some new destination abroad has changed some piece of me, I bring that change home with me to the most powerful city in America, a city where people strive so hard to get ahead or propel an agenda that they forget to look up at the world around them. To avoid becoming blind to what happens outside of the DC bubble necessitates leaving it every now and then.
But everyone leads unique lives and influences a different set of people. In what ways would change and growth benefit the people around you, the work that you’re called to, or help you gain understanding about yourself? Is the desire to stay safe worth the risk of never changing, of forever standing still?
Travel isn’t safe, but that’s exactly why it’s worth it.
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