Lately, I have been thinking a lot about traveling and what it really means. I have been exploring countries for almost a decade and the people I meet, generally remind me of how lucky I am. They often say they would travel as much as I do, if only they had the chance to do so. They then generally go on about how their job, their family, their rent or their studies are holding them back and preventing them from catching that next flight to Paris or Tokyo.
Nowadays, traveling is seen as this accessible thing that we do to escape our daily routine; whenever we get vacations, we want to go travel the world. For some, it has even become a real profession. How many travel bloggers, writers and photographers do you follow, read or like on your social networks? And don’t tell me you never were a bit envious of the places they were traveling to while you were stuck at home, wishing you could be enjoying that same drink on a beach in Bali or trekking those mountains in the Himalayas. We long for the freedom that travel inspires, the openness it brings to our mind and the feeling of fulfillment that often comes along with it.
But have you ever asked yourself what travel really means? If you look up the word “travel” in the dictionary, you’ll find different definitions. For some, it is the action of “making a journey, typically of some length;” for others, it is “to go from one place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship.” The definition of this verb does not imply that this is something necessarily enjoyable–we do–and by doing so, by only using the referential were are familiar with, the one that we best know, we tend to forget something very simple. Travel is not always desired or even enjoyable, and moving to another country, does not mean we’re necessarily lucky.
Re-Defining the Idea of “Travel”
In January, I took on a new job, located in Jordan. Fascinated by the Middle-East, I was beyond excited to start working and living there. Once again, I’d get to experience life in a different place: a new environment and tons of surprises. I was answering the call of my beloved region and I instantly pictured myself in the souks of Amman’s old town, floating in the Dead Sea or sleeping under the stars in the desert of Wadi Rum. I simply could not wait to take on that mission. What I experienced since I got here moved me so deeply that it completely changed the way I now look at traveling. All the stars in the sky and all the salt in the sea could not make up from what I learned from the people I work with.
I spend most of my days with Syrian refugees. I travel the region to listen to them and document their stories. All the people I meet have one point in common: each and every one of them has traveled. The only difference with what it means to most of us when we think of a trip, is their motivation. For the first time in my life, I met travelers who did not see their journey as something enjoyable, rather as their only way to escape what they defined as hell. I heard terrifying stories and witnessed horrific wounds. Some physical, others psychological and all terribly real. But something remained common: traveling was seen as a tragedy rather than leisure by all of the people who had embarked on this life adventure.
If you talk to refugees, they’ll tell you how much they miss their life back home. Most of them will describe Syria as this beautiful place that they long to return to. They’ll tell you how no other country in the world could make up for what they had. Listening to them talking about their life, made me realize how grateful I should feel to have somewhere I can still call home no matter where in the world I am. And how unappreciative I had probably been, over the past few years, to only want to escape it whenever I was given the occasion.
All these discussions made me re-evaluate what life and travel were about. It made me think twice before undertaking a trip. Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about traveling and I don’t have the intention to stop. But I just thought a little more about why I always chose to move. And then, one day, it all made sense. I was not lucky to travel, I was only lucky to be able to make that decision. Lucky enough to be able to choose a timeframe and a destination.
Appreciating the Freedom of Choice & Travel
I then came to a simple conclusion: traveling itself is not good or bad, it’s what generates it that defines its value. It is the freedom of choice that it often implies, that we should be feel lucky of. It is the fact that we can select where and when we want to go somewhere, that we can afford it and that we know we won’t find ourselves stuck at the border. It is the fact that we choose where to go according to our taste, and that we know that what we’re leaving behind will be there when we’re back. This is what we should be grateful for. THIS is our luck.
I am a passionate traveler and there are always new places that I want to discover. Working with refugees does not make me feel guilty about wanting to do so. I will always continue on my journey to explore the world, but my discussions with the Syrians over the past few months have really opened my eyes on my freedom of choice, on the easiness of my life and on the value of a home.
I am not lucky to travel; I am lucky to choose if and when I want to do so. Lucky of my nationality–or rather my passport–lucky that there is no war going on in my country. Of all these things that were given to me by destiny, all these things that I did not deserve nor control, all these things that allow me to do something I love: to go explore the world. Not everybody is that lucky. That’s just how it is.
So let’s take the chance we’ve been given and make it powerful. Let’s keep traveling the world and let us spread the word: let’s open our borders to the ones who are stuck when they are fleeing hell; and let’s never forget that tomorrow, it could be us as well.
Though she was born in France, Elisa usually describes herself as a world citizen. She has lived, studied, worked and traveled in more than 50 countries throughout her life and she loves to share her passion for the world with others. When she is not planning her next trip or writing about the last one, Elisa likes to help people in need and get involved in various not-for-profit projects. She enjoys meeting people wherever she goes, taking pictures of literally everything she finds interesting or funny and trying local food no matter the country she ends up in. Elisa usually travels with a big backpack carrying her “life”, which is why a lot of people she met along the way nicknamed her “the turtle.” Follow her on Instagram: @everydayimtravelin.