I flew on an airplane for the first time when I was 18. My brother and two friends traveled with me to New York City. I can’t remember why we picked New York as our destination or why we decided to go in January when bitter cold temperatures seized the northeast. I do remember confetti littered on the ground, left over from New Year’s Eve celebrations and the wind that cut between skyscrapers and stung my skin. I also remember clutching my purse in protection against pickpockets who could spot us a mile away thanks to brightly colored winter wear that contrasted with a sea of New Yorkers donned in black and gray.
We zipped around from one touristy hot spot to the next, seeing everything from a Broadway play to the Statue of Liberty and even securing seats in the audience of a David Letterman show.
Aside from just enjoying the sights, the trip opened my eyes to see that a lot of life happens outside of my little bubble. As silly or naive as it sounds, I walked around New York processing the fact that thousands of people called that very spot home, and it was so very different from my own concept of home. The scenery I was taking in as fresh and exciting would be considered simply commonplace to its residents. My normal isn’t the only normal.
The second time I flew in an airplane, I was a college student headed to Italy for a month-long photography course. If New York City was eye-opening, Europe was mind-blowing. The art, the architecture, and the picturesque places that are “normal” for Italians created sensory overload for this Southern suburban dweller. Watching Italians around me, I wondered how they could walk down the cobblestone streets seemingly unaffected by the beauty around them: Michelangelo’s David, melt-in-your-mouth pastas, the music of church bells, and pristine gardens. Thinking of the places I have lived, I do know it’s easy to take certain things for granted. It’s easy to miss what’s right in front of you if it’s always been there.
Since moving to Abu Dhabi, we’ve traveled frequently, and while I still jump at any travel opportunity, the sparkle and newness of exploring different cities has somewhat faded since that first trip to New York. During this period I’m considering why I value travel. Traveling can create uncomfortable or challenging situations, but more often it’s exhilarating and awe-inspiring. My experiences have taught me that God’s creation is beautiful, that the world is huge and I occupy only a very small piece of it, that the sun and sky and moon looks much the same wherever you are, and that my home is a very special place. When I planned my trip to Italy, I remember thinking that when I’m old and gray I would rather have the memories of Italy in my mind than the few thousand dollars it cost in my bank account. The memories I’ve accumulated of places far and wide are valuable to me, but I think that value would be diminished if I didn’t have a place on this earth to call home, where I belong.
I haven’t been to the United States in almost two years, and I’m anticipating my reaction to my own homecoming. In one regard, I expect things to be as they always were. On the other hand, I know that traveling has changed my perspective, so I’m excited to see what new beauty and value I find in my own home town.