07/03/2013 12:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ode to the Traveler and Why Terroir Is My Favorite Word


A few years ago at a wine party I learned that in the U.S. we name our wine after a location whereas in France they name the wines after the territory including the rainfail, other vegetation in essence the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. They call this term terroir. From that point forward, terroir has become my favorite word as it applies to much more than wine. I am thinking of the wonderful observation by Alfred Korzybski: the map is not the territory. In this era of big data, we think that because we can read or download something we have a way posses it. Our desire to own something may in fact get in the way of our actual appreciation and ability to be transformed.

That is why I felt it important to have this conversation with you as you are beginning your summer travel. Whether you are traveling with family or by yourself it is so important that you not only have a destination in mind, but that you also have a sense of place in mind. I highly recommend that you see a couple of movies and read a couple of pieces of fiction about the locations you are visiting. It is the stories and how a culture tells a story that allows you to see even more about a place -- in essence the terroir of a location. As an example, prior to my visit to Osaka, Japan, I saw Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and read Mitsuyo Kakuta's Woman on the Other Shore . In addition to the photographs I took, and the wine I shared, my presence had a knowing to it that made the trip exotic and familiar in the same breathe.

When you enrich your travel preparation with cultural depth, you will also gain an edge in global competence which is becoming more and more required in our digitally global economy. I like how Alexandra Levit says it best in her New York Times article Seeing the World as Your Stage, " Those who seek out people and situations foreign to them and master the ability to assimilate are far more likely to be successful in a world that is becoming both bigger and smaller at the same time."

For balance, I realize the audience I am speaking with is becoming more and more multi-national and due to frequent travel may need anchors on the other side -- finding a sense of home. One of my favorite voices on this is Harvard Business Review contributor Gianpiero Petriglieri who suggests, "hard as it may be to reconcile local and global homes, it is a privilege to inhabit both; without a local home we loose our roots, without a global home we lose our reach" in Moving Around Without Losing Your Roots.

Being a global citizen requires more than a global network. We need to learn the stories and the zeitgeist of the communities in which we interact. We need to understand the terroir. We become more compassionate, more globally competent, and finally transformed by the stories, the people and the memories of our journey.

I wish you safe travels and want to remind you to take lots of water, some gorp, a journal and a really good fiction novel to allow you to inhale the terroir of your destination.

I want to leave you with a blessing from John O'Donohue:
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.