'Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.'-Miriam Beard
In January, I boarded a transatlantic flight ready to spend eight days with one of my college roommate visiting four major European cities: Vienna, Bratislava, Salzburg, and Munich, in addition the Bavarian and Austrian countryside. The trip was filled with tons of laughter, wandering, delicious food-and of course, beer-and opportunities to learn about different cultures, history, and myself.
I left for this trip on the three-year anniversary of my departure to Barcelona, Spain, where I studied abroad. Prior to that trip, with the exception of Israel, most of my vacations were spent lying on the beach somewhere. My experience abroad propelled me to change how I thought about travel; I understood Beard's quote: traveling leads to a change in your thoughts, knowledge, and view of the world. Three years and 11 countries later, my wanderlust is still in full force, growing stronger with each trip.
Nevertheless, I was met with skepticism before I left. Many people asked me why I was going. I am sure part of this was because I was going to Germany, somewhere that many Jews feel strongly about not visiting, which is something I had felt it the past. Even with that being a factor, most people's confusion seemed to be because they wondered why I was flying across the world for "no reason."
To be honest, I did have a reason. My friend was in Prague for a conference and wanted to travel after, but even if that wasn't the circumstance, did that mean I had no reason to go? Of course not. Yet, with each person who inquired about my trip, I felt the need to legitimize my travel plans with a detailed explanation of how this trip came to be.
I've heard for years that it's psychologically proven that people are happier when they spend money on experiences other than material goods and that "travel is the only thing that you can buy that makes you richer." I couldn't agree more and still, I often feel the need to defend myself for choosing to use my money to travel. I often feel that people think it's more socially acceptable to spend money on material goods over experiences.
As cliché as it is, I am at the point in my life where it is ideal to travel. I am quite jealous of my friends who grew up outside of the United States because their cultures often embrace travel more than we do, which makes it easier to do so. It isn't uncommon to start seeing the world after finishing high school, university, or service in their country's military. How many Israelis do you know who have spent a few months in South America, just because? How many Europeans do you know who worked at summer camp and stayed afterward to travel or work temporarily outside of their homeland? I could make a long list at this point. However, when I thought about doing something similar after college graduation, it panicked me because that wasn't the socially acceptable plan of transitioning to the working world without taking a moment to do as much as blink. Although I did spend three months working at camp, it somehow felt easier to justify than going to intern in Israel for six months or teaching abroad.
A year and half later, I regret feeling guilty about wanting to prioritize travel. It felt great to use my days off to experience where The Sound of Music was filmed, drink at one of the most famous beer halls in the world, hike a fortress, and see the gorgeous place that inspired Disney's Castle. As I sit at my desk under the florescent lights, I daydream about the places on my bucket list. I want to get myself in the habit of being spontaneous; I'm never getting rid of my "travel bug." People spend their time and money on what is important to them and as I look out at snow covered Chicago, I know I want to make it a point to see the world.
Lauren Schmidt, who lives in Chicago, works at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Midwest office in Chicago and is a contributor to Oy! Chicago.