Our generation is marked by the privilege of travel. We are continuously encouraged to broaden our horizons, experience new cultures, and venture outside our comfort zones. Our high schools offer trips to Europe and South America, our universities trips to Asia and Africa. We travel abroad abundantly, marking new places on the map while simultaneously hoping the places we visit will leave a mark of their own on our experiences and character.
As a student currently living in Amman, Jordan after working in Israel and the West Bank this past summer, I am undoubtedly a proponent of seizing every opportunity one can to travel. I support traveling to the places you've always dreamed of, as well as the places you've never heard of. I believe in traveling with an openness and the kind of immersive willingness it takes to venture beyond the tourist sites, learn how to say "hello, how are you?" in another's language, and eat at the hidden, hole-in-the-wall place underneath the secondhand bookshop with an uneven number of tables and chairs.
Following this logic, it would appear that visiting every place we have the opportunity to see would be a good thing, right? However, while traveling to every place we can get our passport pages on may leave us with a wider variety of profile pictures and cover photos holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or leaning against the pyramids, in doing so I think we may be unintentionally missing out on developing some important, deeper connections with the places we visit. Is it better to visit as many destinations as we can, or should we allow ourselves to be drawn back to the places from which we have learned and grown -- the places which impacted more than just our Facebook albums -- even if it means foregoing the opportunity to become changed and transformed by a place we have not yet encountered?
I recently faced this dilemma. Here in Jordan, students are given a week off from classes in the beginning of October for Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday which commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to follow Allah's command of sacrificing his son Ishmael. Theoretically, during this time I had the opportunity to travel to a place I had never been before -- Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, India, and numerous other countries that lay a stone's throw away -- or return to Israel and the West Bank.
I took a chance. I went back.
Going back felt like getting wrapped up in the most familiar of favorite fall sweaters one thought had been accidentally misplaced, but found. Strangely enough, returning to Israel and the West Bank was so fulfilling for the exact opposite reason that I found it wonderful in the first place. When I first visited this region, I fell in love with it because it was brand new to me, kaleidoscopically diverse with an array of persuasive sounds, smells, and feelings. Now, going back, I loved it because what used to be unfamiliar -- the smooth click-clack-whoosh of the tram gliding by the crossing of Jaffa Street and King George in Jerusalem, the charming aroma of my favorite 10 shekel falafel joint, the sight of the useful hand gesture of putting one's thumb and fingers together and facing the hand upwards, signifying "wait just a moment, please" -- became familiar. I had developed a connection with this place.
I went back to the Mediterranean Sea, impressed and almost proud of its blatant indifference to the changing of seasons, and grateful I knew its reckless, yet measured melody. I visited my coworkers and friends from the NGO I worked for this past summer and happily re-experienced their unfaltering, fearless commitment to peace among Palestinians and Israelis. I walked past the hostel I hated and the apartment I loved in Tel Aviv, my thoughts brimming with memories of my own late night musings of life, humanity, God and fate, accompanied only by the cracks in the sidewalks and dreamily dusty street lights. I re-experienced this place for a second time, content with postcards and travel ads being my only encounter with the pyramids of Egypt and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul for the near future.
To me, travel should not be a hasty Easter egg hunt, haphazardly collecting place after place and adding them to our travel resume merely for the satisfaction of crossing another exotic location off the list. While seeing the world and its wide expanse of colorful cultures, ardent belief systems and timeless architecture is important, I feel that spending time in the particular places that have your heart is just as significant and worth pursuing. Maybe we're hesitant to return to places we've already been because we're afraid we'd be missing out on something else, or searching for the memory of an experience that isn't there anymore.
But this shouldn't stop us. Don't be afraid to go back. Because sometimes, once just isn't enough.