Just GO somewhere: Reasons you should travel

Recently, I’ve been dreaming more and more about traveling the world. You would think that going out of the country twice this year would be enough, but there’s something that is just so appealing to me about traveling, and it makes me want more.

Like you may have read on the “Who I Am” page or in my last post “23 Things,” my parents started exposing my brother and me to travel when we were tiny. (They’ve been all over the world, too!) When I was 10, I took my first overseas flight and the four of us toured six countries in Europe for three weeks. I’m pretty sure that when you’re exposed to travel, you don’t want to stop. Or maybe that’s just me!

Skip to my college years. Throughout the last four years, I’ve had the amazing opportunities to visit 11 countries on four continents to do mission work, study abroad, complete thesis research, and just to explore. During each of these travels, God opened my eyes to new experiences, cultures and ways of life, as well as to the stories of the people I met. And I want to encourage you to do the same.

I’ve compiled reasons I think YOU should travel to new cities, new states, new countries, and new continents. Here’s my plug… Just GO somewhere!

To see the world and to see God’s beautiful creation. This may sound obvious, but there’s so much beauty beyond what we see in our own worlds.

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(The Norwegian Fjords)

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(The canals of Amsterdam)

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(The Atlas Mountains of Morocco)

To experience new culture and new ways of life. We have a tendency to be ethnocentric and think our ways are the best. But we can really learn from seeing how other people and the rest of the world functions. When I lived in a village in Morocco, I was able to watch how the villagers walked through each day. While their lives were difficult, and most of them worked very hard, there was a simplicity to their lives that I envied. Read more about my experiences here.

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(Grand Mosque, Casablanca)

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(A traditional Berber house, Tighza, Morocco)

To try new food. While I do love hamburgers, fries, cobb salads, and most American foods, the rest of the world has so many flavors that are so much better! Fresh salmon in Norway, masala and curry in India, French cheeses and bread, Belgian chocolates, Mediterranean olive oils. And not to mention the coffee!! I may be biased, but Americans miss out on some good flavor.

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(Moroccan mint tea and cookies)

-To meet new people. Everyone has a story to tell if you take the time to listen. Most women I talked to in Morocco were readily willing to share their stories with me. What an incredible opportunity it is for us to love people by simply listening. An example is Fatima’s story (pictured below).

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To learn new ways to communicate. Not everyone speaks English. It means a lot to nationals if you try to speak their native languages. I remember learning short phrases like “Aapka naam kya hai?” (“What is your name?” in Hindi) and “Salaam, la bas?” (a typical Tachelhit greeting, like “Hello. How are you?”) to help relate to the nationals.

To appreciate what you have and to put things in perspective. Hearing about a place or different people is not the same as actually seeing it for yourself. I heard about the brothels in Mumbai, but until I actually met the women in the brothels, I could isolate myself from this tragedy. This is the same for how women are treated in Moroccan villages. I’ve read and heard so much about how women are treated in traditional Muslim cultures, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I saw it for myself.

It’s a call to action to participate in what God is doing outside of yourself. Life is not about glorifying ourselves; it’s about glorifying God. We are called to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces of Jesus to the world. Jesus’s command to believers is to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to serve others and share Jesus. We have been blessed to be a blessing.

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I love how Paul says this in Romans 10:11-15. He writes, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

If you haven’t already, create a bucket list of places you want to visit, and make it a point to see one of these places each year. I have a lofty goal of stepping foot in all 193 countries, meeting nationals, and sharing their stories and my experiences. Just the thought of that thrills me! I would also love to complete the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

In honor of all these places, and because of my love of maps, my dad and I bought an enormous world map (shown below) and put pins in all the locations we’ve visited. (I have one of my own in my room in Ohio.)

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Why do you think it’s important to travel? What places are on your bucket list?

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Marrakech Express: a.k.a. Twizzlers and Everwood (7/18/2011)

To be honest, Marrakech was not what I expected. Although, I’m not quite sure what exactly I expected in the first place. I suppose I imagined the marketplace scene from Aladdin, with lush fruit stands and handmade beads. While there is a large marketplace, Djmaa el Fna, we mostly spent our time going from the Riad (hotel) to the airport to search for our missing luggage. That was only one of the handful of mishaps that we encountered going from France to Morocco.

First, we spent more than an hour in the Paris metro waiting for specific tickets to get to the airport. And upon arriving at the airport only an hour and a half before our flight, we struggled to find our terminal and get through security in time. We arrived at the gate just in time to find out that our flight had been delayed (we only had an hour layover in Casablanca before having to catch the flight to Marrakech).

Anxiety really started to set in, which is unusual for me anymore. My emotions were going crazy from being frantic about finding the terminal in time and then being worried about missing our flight to Marrakech when someone was waiting for us at the airport. I was also sad about leaving France, tired from not getting much sleep, and nervous about the adventure upon which I was about to embark. I bet you can imagine what happened next… tears. Of course, it’s me. Thankfully, lots of prayer, texting my mother, and a hug from Kim helped to make things better.

I kept checking the time while we were on the flight. And the whole time, I thought for sure we had missed the flight. So, when we finally arrived in Casablanca, we spoke with a woman at the transfer desk. Turns out that flight was delayed as well. I was quite relieved, overjoyed might be the word.

Later, when we got to Marrakech, we discovered that our bags were still in Casablanca. After hours of waiting at the airport with no sign of them, we left to at least get a good night’s sleep in the hotel. Thankfully the hotel was air-conditioned, had wifi and had a free breakfast, because we ended up staying an extra night due to baggage problems. And the guys who were sent to pick us up (Ahmed and Mohamed) knew their way around and helped us, which made things a little easier on me. (Ahmed and Mohamed are cousins. Ahmed is also the brother of Carolyn’s husband Mohamed. We are staying with Carolyn, who is from the U.K. I’ll tell you more about her later.)

I did get to experience a little of Marrakech outside of the airport. The city reminded me of my visit to South Asia, which prepared me for this trip. The streets were dusty and crowded with people, cars, and mules. Motorcycles whipped by you (I was literally almost run over four times). Trash cans and traffic lights virtually do not exist, so we saw litter and a few close calls with accidents.

I also spent about an hour at a cafe by the place of the bombing in April, known as Cafe Argana. The area is a huge tourist spot. I felt strange seeing the building up close because I had been reading the latest news about the bombing for months in my tutorial, and I saw so many pictures of the aftermath of the attack. That experience was eerie for me though I’m not really sure why.IMG_0543     The day’s setback in Marrakech turned out to be a huge blessing, considering I wasn’t feeling well. Besides going to the airport twice and eating dinner at a cafe called “Ground Zero” (which happened to be by the most famous mosque in the city and is pictured above), we were able to spend the entire day resting in bed. Did I mention the room was air-conditioned? That in itself was a blessing, especially in the 110 degree heat of the desert. Any other down time we had, we spent it watching Everwood and eating a pound-and-a-half bag Twizzlers.
Oh the tastes of home…

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“Your love carries me, so I’m letting go.” (7/15/2011)

One night, I decided to walk the streets of Avignon alone to see the performers and have quiet time in the Jardin des Doms, the garden that is next to the Palais des Papes and that overlooks the Pont d’Avignon. I was feeling really down and discouraged. My heart was heavy and overwhelmed, and I honestly just wanted to go home. I was feeling so alone and so small. I even get teary-eyed now thinking about how sad I was for the first week of this trip.

But then I received a small reminder of God’s grace and His faithfulness, despite my weary self. Even though I just wanted to return to Nicole’s house, I felt the nudge to get a crêpe. After ordering my crêpe, I heard singing around the corner. As I continued to listen, my ears perked up and my heart was overjoyed because the group around the corner was singing “Blessed be the Name” in French. Once I got my crêpe, I went to sit on the curb and continue listening. (It was only a homeless man and myself who sat listening while everyone else walked by.) A few minutes later, tears began to steadily flow from my eyes as they started to sing “In Christ Alone” in English.

Here I was sitting in the middle of a busy street, weeping like a baby, and all because God reminded me that I’m not alone and that He paves the way for me. I was reminded of His patience and loving-kindness with my heavy heart, and that in spite of my anger, frustration, and sadness, He was able to bring me back to a place of brokenness and the amazing wonders of His grace and His Gospel for me. I was reminded that He pursues my heart constantly, and He rejoices over me. He reminded me that He gives gifts to His children, when we deserve nothing.

Psalm 73 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet, I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

After the singing stopped, I spoke with one of the women in the group, who was from England. Each year, this group (a mix of English and French people) perform during the festival and they’ve found a unique way to capture people’s attention in order to share the Gospel on the streets of Avignon. One man shares the story of how he was once lost, and He uses drawing to present the Gospel (based on John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life). The woman I spoke to heard my entire story, and I explained to her how much I missed home and community. And what’s really interesting is that she and I had been reading the same passage in Joshua 1 where God commands Joshua to take courage and to be bold and strong. She proceeded to pray for me in the middle of the street, and afterwards, I left with a joyful heart.

I feel like Joshua 1 and courage have been the theme of my trip to North Africa. And as I was about to leave France, the last thing Serge said to me was “Bon courage.” I realize that this is a very common French phrase when you say goodbye to someone, but I took this phrase to heart.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Courage. It’s hard to come by, especially as a broken sinner. But God’s grace has shown through it all, and He has provided little reminders every step of the way. It’s not by my strength that I can do anything, in fact I can do nothing on my own strength. But it’s only by the grace of God through Jesus, that I can do all things. And despite tiny mishaps and unexpected occurrences, I can still hold to the promise the God does all things for my good. For brokenness and weakness only bring me back to His grace and the Gospel.

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Sur le Pont d’Avignon (7/15/2011)

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Upon exiting the TGV in Avignon, I saw Serge (host dad) from a distance. With a big smile on his face, he waved and then greeted me with a strong hug, which is a bit odd for French people considering they “bises” instead of hug. (But I definitely prefer hugs.) Nicole (host mom) greeted me in the same way when I arrived at her house 20 minutes later. I was so excited to see them and spend time with them, considering I hadn’t seen them in more than a year. IMG_0531During my time in Avignon, the annual Festival d’Avignon was just getting started. This festival lasts for three weeks each July, and during this time, thousands of performances occur, including street performers, and “spectacles” (shows) in one of the 70 theaters in and around the walls of the city. The shows in theaters begin at 11:00 a.m. and continue until 2:00 a.m, and these cost money. But performs also align the main streets and squares of the city, near the Palais des Papes and Rue de la République. You’ll find carnival acts, jugglers, painters, singers, and musicians, and even performers who read plays.

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During the festival, I was able to see two shows, a wonderful rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Imagine-toi” a mime show. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was quite difficult to understand because it was in French and the actors spoke quickly. But the great part about the show was that only two people performed all the characters, and with different, intricate costumes for each character. (The actors were Kim’s host sister and her host sister’s boyfriend.)

And the mime show… I expected something similar to what you’re probably imaging right now, I’m sure. Black costume, white gloves, white face paint, and a black beret. Well, I was totally wrong. There was no make-up, no black beret, and no creepiness. The mime, who was staying in Nicole’s apartment downstairs, won the Moliere award in 2007. The show was incredible. He did his own sounds effects for each scene, and he involved the audience on multiple occasions. If you’ve ever watched “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and the game they play called “Sound Effects,” that was what the show was like, except that he created his own. In fact, he did so much physical activity, that he was dripping in sweat by the end of the one-hour performance. The show made Serge, Nicole, and me laugh out loud many times, which means it had to be funny.

To help you imagine it a bit, the mime stepped in gum, chewed it violently (smacking his lips), stretched it out, and then proceeded to play the bass with it. I’m sure you’re wondering how he could make it funny. Well, just trust me, he did.

And finally, the best part of the few days in Avignon, besides seeing familiar faces and sites, was going to the Mediterranean Sea with Florian, Christelle, and Natalie. The beach was filled with sunbathers and children building castles, and all the while, ice cream vendors carried their carts up and down the beach repeatedly shouting, “A la glace, à la glace, chou chou, boissons.”

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And the perfect end to a great day à la plage, stopping along the highway to take pictures in a sunflower field, which cover southern France. (In order to get to the field, we had to run through a field of wheat and climb through a giant ditch, no big deal.) We survived, and Kim has great pictures to show for it.

“We’ll always have Paris.” (7/8/2011)

As I write this post, I am watching the sunset illuminate the golden fields of wheat on the way to southern France. The trees display the brightness and warmth of the summer sun. We travel for miles without seeing a single building or car, but only catch a glimpse of several signal towers in the distance. Every so often, we pass a cluster of older French homes surrounded by more fields of gold.  How beautiful creation is when away from the busyness of the city.

Just 20 minutes ago, we were sitting in the Gare de Lyon in Paris and resting our legs while streams of people scurried around us.  The middle of the train station is a lot like the center of Paris, where most of the tourist spots are located.

Both of us being in love with Paris, we made sure that we visited the major tourist attractions (*insert French accent): le Tour Eiffel, le Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Notre Dame, le Louvre. But what was great about this trip is that we weren’t on a schedule, and that we have both already seen the attractions of Paris, so we could enjoy the little parts of Paris.

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I think it’s safe to consider ourselves experts on the métro system, and we managed to carry many a conversation in French (mainly Kim speaking and me listening, adding my two cents every so often). These conversations included a two-hour talk with a 60-year-old French artist at Montmartre, gathering a group of seven French firefighters, talking to two older gentlemen at a café while they smoked their cigarettes, reminiscing in a restaurant about America with a family from Los Angeles, and laughing with an old woman who was working on a “mot croissier” (crossword) while waiting for her clothes to dry in the laundry mat.

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And of course, we explored the backstreets of the city, which are actually quite beautiful. Tucked away from tourists hide romantic gardens with flowers that smell like rose soap and sweet cherry candy (not the kind that tastes like medicine). We discovered a skate park, siblings playing soccer, and children playing “tag” in a small maze of tall bushes.

But like any city, there are parts that aren’t so magical, like the battle of jet lag and crankiness, and dragging about 80 pounds of luggage each through the city. We’re definitely going to have strong shoulders, calves, and backs by the end of this trip, that is unless they give out on us before reaching that point. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now, bring on the Avignon reunion with Nicole and Serge (my host family from last year), and Florian and Christelle (French friends)!