06/09/2011 05:40 pm ET | Updated Aug 09, 2011

Going Off the Beaten Path

With all of the political upheaval in the Middle East, it's not surprising that quite a few people questioned my decision to travel to Jordan this spring. People lump the entire Middle East together, so they assume that because there is violence in Syria, Egypt, Israel, Bahrain and Yemen that it must be dangerous in Jordan. And while at points our group was only a few hours' drive from some of the cities in Syria where there has been heavy fighting between reformers and the military, we never felt unsafe. On the same days that we could view the lights of Israel and Egypt in the distance from Mount Nebo and the shores of Aqaba, the newspapers were posting stories of new tensions and terrorism threats. But rather than feel unsafe, we felt incredibly welcomed, even lucky to be visiting with so few other tourists -- and at a time when it's more important than ever to understand this region.

Almost on our own, we toured sites like Jerash (one of the greatest intact Roman ruins in the world), Petra (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and Madaba (home of the earliest map of the Holy Land). We were fortunate enough to be able to visit private houses for meals and to meet an incredible assortment of Jordanians, from ambassadors, senators and CEOs to NGO directors, Palestine refugees and royals. We floated in the Dead Sea, climbed to where Moses first viewed the Holy Land and slept out in a tented camp in the desert of Wadi Rum. Some rode camels, snorkeled in the Red Sea and were lathered in Dead Sea mud. We all left with hopes to return soon and to explore places that we were tempted to stay on to visit, like Lebanon and Jerusalem. But yes, we did feel pangs of frustration and sorrow. Frustration that we won't be able to persuade more people to come see the incredible majesty and magic of this country, and sorrow for the incredible mistrust that those in the region have for America and for the possibility that Jordan and its people will suffer in the current turmoil that swirls around them. The trip once again affirmed my deep belief in the transformative nature of travel, and served as a reminder of the massive rewards we reap when we continue to explore the world's little-known corners.

This is the topic of a new book by one of the 20th century's great travel writers, Paul Theroux. "In the course of my wandering life, travel has changed...," he writes in his fascinating new book The Tao of Travel. "The conceit of Internet-inspired omniscience has produced the arrogant delusion that the physical effort of travel is superfluous. Yet there are many parts of the world that are little known and worth visiting, and there was a time in traveling when some parts of the earth offered any traveler the Columbus or Crusoe thrill of discovery."

I could not agree more. I love that I can take an overnight flight from New York and wake up in Amman, London, Paris, Rio or Rome but I think it's important to mix the easy travel with the harder and more adventurous kind that delivers that Columbus kind of thrill. As Theroux so eloquently puts it, "As an adult traveling alone in remote and cut-off places, I learned a great deal about the world and myself: the strangeness, the joy, the liberation and truth of travel, the way loneliness -- such a trial at home -- is the condition of a traveler." And, often, the key to understanding.

Read Melissa's report on the Indagare Insider Trip to Jordan