I don’t remember exactly the first time I realized the world was so big.
It might have been the time I was 9 or 10 when my father’s travel agent (remember those?) gave me an old three-inch-thick OAG worldwide flight schedule. Until its pages began to tear and fall out, I’d spend long hours poring over the timetable’s tiny print, imagining exotic-sounding places like Dar es Salaam and Riyadh — places I never dreamed I’d one day see for myself.
It could have been the day many years ago at the baggage carousels at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, surrounded by harried, overloaded travelers just off overnight flights from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and all the ‘stans — places that had only existed to me on maps and in my imagination, but that in one simple moment became personified and real.
Perhaps it was the first time I flew to the Middle East, some 13 interminable hours away from New York, and gazed out the airplane window on descent into Abu Dhabi at a landscape that was totally foreign — nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, and then suddenly, literally out of nowhere, a gleaming, futuristic city. It might have been the day, on that same trip, when I took a leap of faith and rode a public bus across the Arabian peninsula, an outsider nervously (and foolishly) attempting to decipher Arabic-only instructions and information.
It may have been the night I said to hell with my insecurities about my mediocre French language aptitude and joined a bunch of locals in a raucous round of speed dating one Valentine’s Day eve at a bar in Paris.
My memory is etched with impressions of travel: the music I was listening to when I first caught a glimpse of Vancouver, a place that would later become like a second home to me; the faded elegance of Cairo’s grime-covered European architecture; the eerie silence of the forest surrounding the Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria; the unfounded fear I felt the first time I went to Colombia.
In fact, it was probably all these experiences that in their own way have contributed to my world view and made me the wanderlust I am today.
You see, no matter how far or how often we journey, every travel adventure seems to prove the world is bigger, more complex and more diverse than we’d imagined, making it rife for never-ending exploration. Every place is nuanced and fascinating in its own right, every place a chance to break down preconceived notions, confront your fears, and see yourself and your relationship to the world anew.
The world goes on forever! And it goes on with or without us.
It’s the most simple but perhaps the most profound realization we can have when we travel.