Why I Travel: In Defense of Wanderlust

Standing at the peak, the wind whipping my hair across my cheeks, I close my eyes and tilt my face to the sun. I stretch out my arms and turn up my palms and breathe. I open my eyes and try to absorb the techni-colored panorama of jagged, white mountain peaks, emerald pastures and shimmering diamond lakes reflecting back the exact impossible blue of the New Zealand sky and I think, Heaven looks like this.

New Zealand

I sit on the back of a scooter, hands gripping the waist of the twelve-year-old boy who is my driver as we zip down the jungle roads to a breakfast of green leaf pancakes with palm sugar. We dodge a rooster strutting cockily across the road and I can’t stop smiling from ear to ear because heaven feels like the wind blowing past my face as we bump over potholes, winding our way through the Balinese jungle.

Bali

In Canterbury Cathedral I kneel, dappled by colored light from the stained glass windows and thinking about Augustine and about Thomas Becket, crouching on these very stones, heart pounding as he waits, pleading with God to spare his life. I inhale and imagine Becket in heaven, smelling the aroma of this same sweet incense in the throne room of the Most High God.

Canterbury

On a mountain in Peru a whole village of Quechuan people, dressed in layers of wool in all the colors of the rainbow, sing a song about their beloved mountain, Huascaran. They sing in high-pitched nasal tones a song that sounds like some combination of zydeco and a tribal wail. The sound is harsh and grating to my ears and yet I can’t help thinking that this is what heaven sounds like – a great cacophony of sound.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

In an old Communist youth camp beside the mighty Volga River hours north of Moscow, I tuck a room full of 9-year-old orphan boys into bed. I hug Dema’s freckly face to my chest and kiss the top of his head and think, The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. “Spokie-Nokie,” I say, and turn out the light.

Dema

***

Once, a few years into our marriage, Jonathan and I had an argument about travel. We had hoped to take a trip, but car problems and taxes and medical bills had strained our very limited resources. It seemed like a trip was out of the question and I was profoundly disappointed. At some point during the conversation Jonathan said to me, “I know you’re disappointed, but there will be other opportunities in the future. I don’t understand why you are so incredibly upset.”

And I said (as dramatically as it sounds), “Because this is the purpose of my life!”

And he said, “You can’t be serious. You basically just told me your life’s purpose is to take vacations.”

What I was trying to say then but didn’t have the words to articulate at the time was that traveling is a deeply spiritual experience for me. Traveling moves me to worship in a way that nothing else does.

What does it mean that the mountains melt like wax in the presence of the Lord until you’ve stood at the top of a great and glorious mountain?

What does it mean that all of man’s accomplishments are like filthy rags beside God’s splendor until you’ve seen the Sistine Chapel or stood on the Great Wall of China?

Why does it matter that God is a father to the fatherless if you’ve never known the orphan?

How can you understand what it means that God holds the whole world in the span of his hand if you’ve never been outside your hometown?

What does it mean that heaven is filled with people from every tribe and tongue and nation if you’ve only known people from your own?

“The whole earth is filled with His glory,” cry the angels. I want my life to be about seeing and spreading that glory, even to the ends of the Earth.

Featured Image Credit: Grain & Compass
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31 comments

  1. very interesting concept Lily, i don’t know that i necessarily understand it [cos it’s not my thing] but i love the pictures and the stories that you have woven into this piece and the deeper stories that they sing to and imagine that just maybe that desire has been put into your heart for the reason that it has… so yay for you – really liked this one…

    love brett fish

    p.s. i struggle with the money thing constantly trying to figure out what is okay to spend and what does simple look like and what does lavish look like when Jesus definitely made time for that that one time and God threw abundance at His people on many occasions and i don’t have answers and it becomes interesting in our marriage cos i don’t think either of us know, but we don’t live in guilt and so try to take each instance as it comes and hear the Holy Spirit i guess and hope we choose well – i imagine we might get it wrong a lot and am very glad we have a loving gracious Father keeping a loving eye on us

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    1. Thanks, Brett!

      I definitely think there’s a reason God made me this way. 🙂 And yes, also resonate a lot about what you are saying about finances and making good decisions and trying to discern what you should do with your resources and then, of course, agreeing about that with your spouse can all be very complicated. I love the reminder that even though we get it wrong a lot we have a gracious Father.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great. If we have kids in the future I certainly hope to travel with them as much as possible. I’m always inspired by people who just commit to making that work. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Hi Lily,

    This is such beautiful piece. I love that statement “Because this is the purpose of my life!”
    Travel is certainly so much more that just taking a break, the last part of the article where you have posed questions is truly compelling.

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    1. Yes! I’m so glad you get that too! My husband didn’t have the travel bug the way that I did for a long time, but thankfully, since moving abroad and having seeing some really amazing things, he finally “gets” it too. I agree that traveling is about so much more than taking a break or being extravagant. It’s about seeing the world in new ways and hopefully loving other people better because of it. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved that post! Traveling and seeing the world around is like a spiritual nirvana for some!
    I would love to be a traveler too.. Well finances, family and life need to be organized for me to plan my journeys sometime soon!

    Luv,
    Bilna

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    1. I always felt frustrated and unable to travel because of finances and jobs with little vacation time, etc. Our move to Korea has made a lot travel within Asia possible, but now I realize that even before that I WAS making travel a priority – it just wasn’t always the big trips I dreamed of. When we lived in the US and worked regular 9-5 jobs we still found ways to make travel a part of our lives. We just traveled to places we could drive to and only went for a weekend instead of taking off across the world. 😉 And that has encouraged me that we can continue to make travel a part of our lives even when this living abroad chapter is over. And I hope you can too!

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  4. I really felt inspired by your post. Usually I’m always thinking about bills and that makes me find an excuse to postpone a vacation. I just never thought of a trip as a spiritual experience. Now I feel like that it will give me a step forward. Also the pictures are amazing.

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    1. I’m so glad you were inspired! It mean a lot to me to know that these words mattered to you. I’m sure not everyone has the same spiritual connection to traveling, but for those of us who do it is profound and can’t really be replicated by anything else. I hope you are able to carve out some time and space for travel in your life soon. And thanks about the pictures. 🙂

      Like

  5. When I was 18 my grandpa brought me along on his yearly trip to Hawaii because my great-grandmother was getting very old and needed someone to take care of her in order for her to go on the trip. This was when I was still in my old church culture, so I was very strict about having “daily devotions.” I remember grabbing my bible and taking it out to sit on the beach as the sun came up. It was stunning — the beautiful water lapping against the shore, the sandy beach, the bright sunshine, etc. So I kept getting distracted and felt like I wasn’t doing my devotionals right; I even prayed up a quick sorry ’bout that. But then I realized that I think wonder is worship.

    Loved all the pictures and the way you so beautifully illustrated each one. 🙂

    Like

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