Stuck on the Far Side: Traveling the World, and Why You’re Not Doing It

“I want to urge you very strongly to travel as much as you can, and to evolve yourself as an internationalist. It’s as important a part of your education as a radical as the reading of any book.”  ─ Christopher Hitchens

Putting on and taking off one’s coat becomes a habitual, almost Pavlovian reaction in the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen. Too hot indoors and so frighteningly cold outdoors that you might be inclined to recheck the map when you realize that Copenhagen isn’t that much further north than London, but thrice as frigid.

“It’s the sea,” any Dane will tell you, an assurance that you probably hadn’t thought of amid the mystification of Danish architecture and hospitality. It is true, that Copenhagen at least feels colder than any city in a tangibly similar latitude.

Reading this, most likely from the warmth of a spacious American home or apartment (yes, still spacious compared to their European equivalent), one might be called into question whether a future visit to Copenhagen in the winter is in the books. It should be. All places should be. But I want to threaten you with a more radical idea instead. Take them out of the books, and put them right out in front of you. Now.

It can be said with some admirable clarity that travel is a second life of sorts. Fewer things in life can swat away your problems like exploring a new culture. In my youth, I refused to believe that an airplane was a means of travel by space and rather one by world entirely. I, as far as my meager mammalian brain could figure, got onto the plane, promptly fell into a nap as dictated by the alluring whir of the airliners turbine engines, and when I awoke was in an entirely new place, but a new world entirely.

I have lived abroad in France, vacationed in Denmark and witnessed profound cultures as far north as Sweden and as robust and grounded as Bavaria and Silesia in Germany. An explanation of my jettison from Oklahoma to France might sound idyllic to you, the very type of adventure you might want to go on. I purchased a ticket, round trip knowing that my stay was to be woefully limited, and landed with only a single friend in the entire country. He was to be my tour guide, my cultural guide and later one of my best friends.

I went thinking I spoke better French than I did, believing I know more about the world that I do, and that this trip would be like any other. I was wrong on every count. The trips return however, is the one portion most worthy of analysis. When I returned, I was threatened with eviction from my apartment, having simply disappeared from the world for so long, my car had been towed and I was so broke that my sustenance was nothing more than a loaf of bread with mayonnaise for taste. Why, you might be asking? I didn’t plan to leave for France for ninety days. I just did it. And it was─to this day─the best life choice I have ever made.

I used to be among your club. I used to dream, hope, pray and tweet about seeing the world. Then I did it. And you’ll never see me hoping for it again. Travel is─like everything else in this world─something that requires your direct attention. In fact, many of you reading this will never travel because it is a pipe dream for you. Traveling the world isn’t a priority, it’s just something you like unfold on your favorite Travel Porn Tumblr and The Amazing Race.

Sometimes travel means putting off those new clothes or eating out every single day. It requires sacrifice, much like anything else. Yet, Americans─who have almost more disposable income than any industrialized country in the world─are some of the worst savers of money, ever. My explanations of my own travels are not a proverbial throat clearing, but a message that impulse, in this case, is more the angel than the devil. When the urge strikes you to see the world, sometimes the best thing is to jump at it.

Bonne journée, mes amis.