How Travel is Dangerous (especially for your idols)

italian squat toiletBe 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.

amy reading at forumFor 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.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh, I really enjoyed this one. When we first got to Syria, I was a bit wide-eyed realizing I was going to have to use toilets and bathrooms with weird showers. I still remember my husband said something that really helped me get through it: “nailing comfort to the cross.” We wanted to be there to love our Muslim friends and show them Jesus. So I had to overcome a few things (idols as you put it so well) to do that…so what? It was worth it and I long to go back. I wouldn’t even mind living there for a while. 🙂

    Btw, no McDonald’s in Damascus that I could tell, but they do have KFC. We didn’t eat there though. We ate the local stuff and it was mostly really good. 🙂

    AL: Awesome perspective Susanne: “nailing comfort to the cross.” I need to remember that, frequently. You point out the important correct perspective, which I don’t think I covered well enough. We turn away from the false idols, so we can worship the one true God. My pastor reminds us that we’re all going to worship something. We were created to worship. But, we often misplace our worship on the wrong things, our idols, that are rarely graven images but are more likely more insidious things like comfort, money, sex, name your vice, food, etc. He asked a very convicting question a few sermons ago…”Isn’t Jesus enough for you?” Anytime you need Jesus + something else to be happy, you’ve got idol problems. That one smarted.

  2. A missionary friend told about preaching in the backwaters of the Philippines. One time, a native pastor said to him, “We are fortunate to have fresh meat for lunch today.”

    My friend asked one question too many when he replied, “Good, what kind of meat?”

    The pastor showed him a box with a still living gigantic rat in it. My friend said that he never once inquired about his food again. He just prayed and ate.

    AL: oh dear! I think I’d stop asking too. Even in western countries, you can get some pretty scary stuff. In Italy, I often decided against using my translator on the menu and just got the special. When in Rome… =)

  3. P.S. I also enjoyed hearing your voice on the video. You pretty much sound the way I thought you would. no surprises there.

    AL: Thanks! I do believe it’s the first time my voice has been on this blog. Judging by the hours of video we took on the trip, it won’t be the last! (as long as I get around to editing it all).


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