Be careful, travel is a dangerous enterprise.
You’re bound to encounter people who aren’t like you. They smell different, look different, and they talk different. In most cases, they also have different political and religious views.
I got really annoyed by the smelly people who were joining me on the public transit system. I knew that stores in Italy sold deodorant…I made sure. But for some reason, the marketing must not be very good. Because it seems like no one uses it! As someone very sensitive to smells (Dan calls me “the nose”), I learned to breathe through my mouth a lot.
And if you’re anything like me, and you worship the false idol of comfort, your idol is about to get a beating. The coffee you rely on in the morning to wake you up and keep you going suddenly comes in different packages and requires strange ordering practices.
For example, in Italy, you drink your coffee while standing up, for the most part. To take your morning coffee to a table means the price gets doubled. And just try to find yourself a cup of coffee that resembles your morning cup of joe. I dare you. Also, if you’re an afternoon coffee drinker, don’t expect to get any milk in your coffee, because milk is only for the morning, apparently. (I tried getting an Italian to explain this to me and got a very confusing description of how milk congeals in your stomach if you drink it in the afternoon. Go figure.)
And finally, there’s the language barrier. Even if you have a basic functional grasp of it, a lot is going to pass you by. So, let’s say, a couple vacations in Switzerland during the Swiss national holiday and stumbles upon a marching band in the center of town. Then, the army shows up, both the old and the new. What do you do? I submit to you the video evidence of this encounter. Please excuse the shaky videography (thanks to yours truly). I was a little…overwhelmed.
You must wonder why I’d ever consider travelling again after all this. Or why anyone bothers to travel.
I think it’s because I need to break my idols, regularly, and travel, especially international travel, has a nice way of doing this. Sure, travel itself can become an idol, to be worshiped as a means to happiness, something to make sacrifices for. But outside of that dangerous pitfall, travel does wonders for those of us who struggle with bowing down to our own comfort, our own sense of national superiority, our gluttonous impulses, and our sense of self importance.
There’s nothing like travelling to a foreign country to assist you in tearing down these idols, as long as it’s one of your goals. You could fail miserably and continue to seek out your comfort in 5 star hotels, gorge yourself on familiar food as you find it (there are McDonalds everywhere!), and refuse to conform to any of the local customs.
We stayed on a farm in Tuscany, where the owner had a strong grasp of the idol breaking potential of international travel (even though I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t use those terms). She wanted to give us an authentic Italian experience, just like she’d want to have an authentic American experience if she went to the US. She told us stories about people from various countries who stayed at her home, only to demand special treatment, just as they were used to at home, particular foods and accommodations. It made me think about what sort of traveler I want to be, and how much I’m going to allow my idols to get in the way.
So the next time you plan a vacation, wherever you might go, consider what idols you are taking along with you, and how many you might manage to smash up and leave at home.