Why Traveling Can Be A Critical Aspect Of A Healthy Spiritual Life

Why Traveling Can Be A Critical Aspect Of A Healthy Spiritual Life May 9, 2017

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Can traveling be a critical aspect of a healthy spiritual life?

Can traveling be a Christian act of worship?

Yes, I think so. In fact, few things have impacted my life and my heart the way traveling has.

I got my start traveling when I was just 14 and still a freshman in high school. My father (an archeologist at the time) took me to Central America for ten days that included snorkeling off the coral reefs of Belize, hiking along the western coast of Costa Rica, and scaling the great Mayan temples of Tikal, Guatemala.

I haven’t been the same since– and I’ve never stopped traveling. I’ve been to somewhere around 40 countries and spent close to eight years of my life overseas.

In fact, I grew to love and value diverse cultures so much, that I even when on to become a Doctor of Intercultural Studies.

I’ve now reached the age where I have an adult child, and my youngest is beyond the age I was when my journey first began. This has made me realize that, as my father did before me, it is time to begin instilling a love and appreciation for travel into those who will live on after I’m gone.

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High Place of Sacrifice, Petra, Jordan. Photo by Matthew Paul Turner

In the weeks and months to come, you’ll begin to notice on my blog and social media handles that I’m going to begin sharing more travel related content (I’ve begun sharing past travel photos on my Instagram, which you can follow here), and expanding the types of issues I discuss. My hope in adding this to the platform of typical content I already cover is that I might begin to spark the imagination of someone, somewhere, to continue this tradition of learning to see and love the world around us.

As I look back on my experiences traveling the globe, living abroad, and experiencing a diversity of cultures, I am growing more and more convinced that traveling is or can be a critical aspect of a healthy spiritual life, and can even be an act of worship. Here’s a few reasons why:

Traveling exposes us to the fullness of God’s creation, and gives us a deeper appreciation for what God has made.

I can count so many moments on my journey where traveling left me in awe of God’s creation. Whether standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, experiencing the sun rise over the Australian landscape from a hot air balloon, watching creatures of the sea through my snorkel mask in the Philippine Sea, or camping in Europe’s magnificent Alps, I have learned in those moments that something draws us closer to the heart of God if we allow it. The planet is a magnificent creation, and experiencing it in fullness and appreciation, can be an act of worship toward the creator.

Traveling can expand the capacity of our hearts to love others– and that’s the goal of the Christian life.

#wvbloggers

A post shared by Benjamin L. Corey (@benjaminlcorey) on

When we expose ourselves to different cultures, we expose ourselves to people who are infinitely loved and valued by the heart of God. Traveling teaches us that while we are all different in many ways, we are all part of the one humanity reconciled through Christ. Through traveling, we learn to appreciate our commonalities while also learning to celebrate our differences.

Traveling has a way of confronting our biases, stereotypes, and even bigotry that we didn’t even realize existed in our hearts. It has a way of revealing our privilege, our sheltered bubbles, and our tendency to see our way as the way.  And that confrontation can give birth to love, as we realize there are other ways of seeing, experiencing, and doing life on this planet.

As we realize and experience the reality of “they may live differently, but differently isn’t wrongly” and come to see our common humanity, we find our sheltered hearts begin to change into hearts of humility, appreciation, and love for others– especially others who are different.

When we learn to more deeply love others, we learn to more deeply love God– and there is no greater act of worship than this.

I am convinced that traveling– even if it is just an exploration that is slightly beyond the boundaries and culture you typically find yourself in, has a way of enhancing one’s spiritual life and drawing us closer to the heart of God.

As I look back, I am grateful that I have been able to have so many experiences in life where I stood in wonder of God’s creation. I am grateful for the vast exposure to people who are different than I am, grateful to have developed empathy for those who struggle more or differently, and grateful to have grown to appreciate and celebrate our commonalities and differences alike.

Some say that traveling is the greatest form of education, and I heartily agree with that. But traveling is also one of the greatest avenues to grow in your love for what God has created, and to expand the capacity of your heart to love your fellow image-bearers.

This love for expanding one’s horizons, growing the capacity of our hearts to see and love others, and the value of travel as a spiritual act of worship, is something I deeply long to pass on to the next generation– which is why in the future you’ll begin to see me talk a lot more about this.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Your picture of Austria reminds me of the wilderness of Alaska and Canada. If you’ve never been there, you should go (unless you mind the cold).

  • Michael Pickel

    Good points, Benjamin. I’ve noticed that most of my most socially conservstive friends and kin are the ones who never left the country, or if they did, it was to visit “England,” which, while wonderful historically, isn’t all that broadening or culturally challenging. Taking “escorted” tours with other Americans of similar backgrounds isolated the traveler and sets up more “us vs them” perspectives. One needs to get out, get among ‘en and experience different people and cultures. Thanks!

  • SamHamilton

    Some people prefer different types of vacation. Don’t get all self-righteous about where you choose to travel. Some people prefer exotic, far-away locales. Others prefer to spend time at the local lake. It’s not a character flaw.

    In addition, encountering people of other cultures abroad is a beneficial thing, but let’s be careful about overly-sanctifying what is, at heart, an expensive hobby the privileged few can enjoy. Most Americans don’t have the time or resources to travel internationally (at least beyond our close neighbors), and that’s fine.

  • SamHamilton

    Thanks for sharing. What a blessing you’ve been able to travel so much.

  • slochmoeller

    I appreciate the points here, but I think you need to check your privilege, Ben. Would I love to travel to forty countries and expand my horizons? Of course. But when I barely have the gas money to get to Walmart and back, It’s galling to here about “Travelling as a form of Spiritual growth.”

  • I know huh. Me too I thought that too. How I wish I could travel!! So anyway we finally could afford Wi-Fi at home and I travel now via Google maps street view anywhere in the world that Google cars go. Being chronically ill and in bed most days I prop up my Samsung Tab tablet on my chest and it’s a Magic Carpet Ride to France generally. I can even take pictures and keep them in a My File to visit my favorite places in the world. I know it’s not much but it’s what is. What I can afford. And at some level of the acceptability of acceptance I have many privileges!!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a278f627373a95cbb6f3bdd55df2c3868ab9570437c7fd7e908e5af08f2c9d0d.jpg

  • Matthew

    Spot on.

    Traveling certainly changed me. Where I would probably have remained stuck in my ideas and notions about how the world “ought to be” learned from the culture I was born and raised in (U.S.A.), traveling helped me to see that there were other stories, other notions, other ideas, etc. that in turn helped me better understand my own story as well as the stories of others.

    Having just got back from a trip myself in the German Alps, this article couldn´t be more than fitting right about now. Thanks!

  • Matthew

    Can´t seem to post the photo right now, but I just got back from the German Alps. Wonderful too :-)!

  • Matthew

    I was not rich and I was in debt, but I still found a way to travel internationally. If a young and poor Australian (for example) on a gap year can find a way to see the entire world, there´s no reason an American can´t find a way to do it as well.

    It wasn´t until I traveled and lived outside the U.S. for any length of time that I realized just how ignorant I was about how things really are in the world.

    (Edited)

  • Bones

    Americans and Europeans have no excuse.

    In the time it takes for me to drive across Australia, they could have driven through 20 countries.

  • I wrote the following on my blog back in 2006:

    Traveling away from one’s home for vacation or work or vocation can change a person’s life.

    What is it about travel that does that to a person?

    1. Senses are heightened. Sights, smells and tastes are more intense. Memories are “burned” in more deeply.

    2. When you are away, the usual cares and stresses of everyday life are gone. You are at attention.

    3. Being in another culture helps you see things about yourself and your way of doing things that you take for granted, that you never even think about. It works two ways. It may cause you to confirm your existing way or it may suggest to you a better way.

    4. The chance to be with people and share with them and develop new relationships always has assorted benefits.

    4. In a different place and environment, one gets a chance to view things from a different perspective. One can rediscover one’s self.

    6. One always benefits from learning the history of a place and the manner of its people.

    I write this based on my experience since I spent the summers of 1970 and 1971, between college terms, in Holland, Germany and Austria, doing church work. The people I met, both the ones native to those places, as well as other Americans, are still vivid in my memories.

    I am not only talking about trips abroad. Traveling in northern New Mexico, when I first began working, created a new set of experiences and feelings. The annual trips we made from Arkansas to Michigan to see grandparents while growing up is a part of who I am and what I am. When I was young, even going into remote (to me) regions of the county to smaller country churches, provided me with some memories of a world that has largely vanished and memories for which I’m grateful.

    Traveling is an opportunity for spiritual growth.

    Here is something interesting which I just came across: 10 Tips for Spiritual Travel from Joe Dispenza http://www.myprimetime.com/trainers/dispenza_tips/

    I think all travel can be spiritual if you want it to be.

  • I found travel (to Germany and France on military history trips) to be a real eye-opener. It lifted me out of the parochial mindset completely, and made me realise that there is a huge great big world out there. Full of people, who speak different languages but are otherwise just like me.

    It puts everything ‘back home’ into perspective. You’ve just travelled 900 miles to go to Colditz Castle in the former East Germany, you’ve walked the paths they walked, you’ve seen the places where people lived and died, and you come back to work and find that the boss wants you to insert an extra semicolon in that document.

    Somehow everything else seems petty when you’ve seen what you’ve seen, and spoken to the people you’ve met, and learned about what life and death was like in, for example, March 1942, at St. Nazaire where the Commandos did their suicidal mission to cripple the Joubert Dock in order to stop the Germans using it for the ‘Tirpitz’. And you’ve visited the war graves for both sides. You’ve seen the huge concrete U-boat pens from where the Germans launched their depredations against the Allied convoys.

    Somehow life can never be the same again.

    But this is for the best. It is indeed good to go overseas to see how the others live. They’re not all that different from those at home, you know.

  • Matthew

    Sydney to Perth in a fried-out Kombi:

    41 hours, 3934 kilometers, 2444,474 miles

    Wow …

  • SamHamilton

    That’s great you had that opportunity and desire to do it. I’m not saying it’s not worth the effort to try doing, but it shouldn’t make someone who hasn’t done what you’ve done an object of criticism (particularly to score cheap political points).

    We’re looking to take my family of four to visit family in a European country. Plane tickets alone would cost us upwards of $3500. Then there’s food, lodging, etc. And we’re relatively comfortable financially, but this is still stretch for us. Frequent international travel is a privilege for either the well-off or single.

  • Bones

    Your miles are a bit out..

  • Matthew

    Thanks. I was indeed single when I did the bulk of my traveling. I think the problem is that in America the idea of traveling is not really important culturally. I don’t think the idea of a gap year even exists in American culture. In America, you are supposed to graduate high school at 18, then immediately start learning a trade or entering university. Why does it all have to happen so soon? Why not encourage American youth to travel a bit before making other life commitments?

  • SamHamilton

    There’s certainly no such thing as a gap year (outside of Mormonism, though they don’t call it that). I’d appreciate such a cultural development, for sure. Traveling internationally is definitely not the default, though part of that may stem from how large the U.S. is. We can travel thousands of miles within our own country at very little cost. There are innumerable places to visit and things to experience right here.

  • Matthew

    Yes but is Michigan (for example) all that different from, say, New Jersey? Although I understand there are innumerable places to visit in the U.S., I don’t think such should replace the inherent value of cross cultural travel. One problem with many Americans is that they have little knowledge of the world outside their borders and that is a huge negative given the role in world affairs the U.S. plays.

  • Jennny

    DH and I grew up in London but got our first jobs in a very rural area of the UK. It was so parochial – you couldn’t make it up. Kids capable of getting a place at Oxford or Cambridge whom my DH taught, refused to go any further than the local poor college 30miles away and were incredulous he should suggest anything else. More than one said they supported the local soccer team so would have to be near enough to attend matches every weekend. We didn’t want our kids to be like that and were able to move away when they were small. I am proud that a DD, 18yo, went to S Africa for 6m to work with HIVAIDS orphans. She quickly lost naivety when collecting babies from the gutter and cleaning maggots out of their wounds. She had a place at Oxbridge to read english, which she did but couldn’t forget those HIVAIDS kids and after graduation went straight into med school and is now a doctor.

  • Tim

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain

  • SamHamilton

    I complete agree. Traveling to another part of the country is not that much of a different cultural experience, though it depends on what part of Jersey (haha….my home state). But you can see some pretty amazing things in different parts of the country, particularly when it comes to the land. I’m just saying that faced with a choice of spending several hundred dollars and traveling domestically or spending several thousand and traveling internationally, it’s not hard to figure out why so many people choose the former and it’s hard for me to be critical of that.

  • Matthew

    Got it. I was born and raised in New Jersey. My formative years were spent in Sussex County.

  • Matthew

    “A Million Miles Away” – The Plimsouls – 1983

  • SamHamilton

    Ah, so you get my joke. Sussex is a beautiful part of the state. I grew up a little southeast of there.

  • Realist1234

    I need to get out more…

  • You say that there is no such thing as a ‘gap year’ in American culture. I didn’t know that. I realise I don’t know much about American culture (despite doing a road trip in Texas in 2009), especially at the age where you’d take a ‘gap year’ (maybe late teens/early twenties). But would it not be possible to buck the trend and jolly well take a gap year despite what ‘society’ thinks? I mean I realise there are many other factors like money and whatnot. I just wondered if it was like ‘technically’ feasible. Or not, of course. How would it work/not work?

  • Matthew

    When mom and dad are basically shouting things like:

    “It´s a jungle out there!”

    “Get a job!”

    “Fill out those college applications!”

    Etc. etc. — it´s tough to get the support one needs for such an adventure. In order to do a gap year (or more) one needs to be able to save some money in preparation for such a trip. One does that in America (typically) by living at home with parents, working and saving, not paying rent, etc. Some parents might fund such an adventure, but that´s not typical in America.

    This simply doesn´t go over so well in most American homes and families I don´t think. Traveling and seeing the world on a gap year, for a lot of Americans, is viewed as a lazy choice by an unmotivated person who has no idea what they want in life. I don´t agree with this outlook of course, but that´s what it was like when I lived in America at least.

    By the time most American kids are of age to even think about taking a gap year, they are already saddled with car payments, car insurance, and other expenses. Most have to work a part-time job while in university or while learning a trade I think. Then if they do go to uni, soon after graduation most are strapped with a high amount of student loan debt.

    I was more positive in an earlier post about the prospects of a gap year in America, but the more I think about it, it´s really tough to do given the cultural pressures that exist in the U.S. to date.

    How do people finance a gap year where you are from Tony Cutty?

    (Edited)

  • SamHamilton

    It’s absolutely possible to take gap year. No laws against it…it’s just not customary. The only thing I’d consider is how a college might view it on an application (assuming the gap year took place after high school and before college). It would probably depend on what one did during that year… I would guess a college would view taking a year to travel abroad as a good thing…taking a year to live at home and contemplate what you wanted to do with your life, not as much.

  • I’m in the UK. Usually a teenager gets a part-time job and saves up for the travel and food etc. Also, if there are no plans to go on to higher education (University) then they can get a temporary job, save up and go.

    I also know a young lady who is taking a gap year but not travelling; instead she wants to do educational psychology so she is working as a classroom assistant for a year between the end of school and the start of University. That’s not really a gap year as such, in that it is with a vocational objective, but it’s still not straight from ‘high school’ to Uni.

  • Fair enough, thanks for that, Sam. I can imagine those two reactions from Colleges, lol :) Plus, if you are going to pay for your education with a College, why do they mind what you have been doing? I suppose they might be worried if they think you might ‘flunk’ the ourse; that would look bad on the College I guess.

  • SamHamilton

    Yes, I guess more selective colleges might care. Less selective ones probably don’t. Where are you from, by the way?

  • SamHamilton

    I was thinking a bit more about this, thinking back to my senior year in high school. You’re right that it simply wouldn’t go over well, at least for a high school grad with goods grades and prospects. The big question everyone asked everyone else in the spring of that year was “Where are you going to college?” There were some people who weren’t college bound, but they went to trade school or were going to go work locally or something. The school even printed a list of where everyone was going in the local paper. I can’t image anyone putting “travel” next to their name. You would have been seen as a flunky.

  • Originally Yorkshire, UK but I now live in Devon, also in the UK

  • Wow that’s a great quote :)