Essay: Traveling – The New Pilgrimage

Hannah Harrington, BFR Managing Editor

After traveling through four countries for fifty-plus days, it is safe to say that I miss the comforts of my California home. I miss my bed and not having to consult my suitcase every time I need a pair of underwear. If I sound like I’m complaining, let me rephrase my sentiments: despite the fact that I have seen some incredible things and spent time with people from all over the world, traveling is not simply the romantic, beautiful pictures I’ve put on Instagram. At the moment, I have three countries left to visit, but would gladly change my flight home if my plans were not set in stone. I have begun to ask myself, why it is that I traveled here, and why it is that we travel at all. I have come to the conclusion that travelers of the twenty-first century, particularly millennials, are pilgrims of a sort, searching the world and its monuments for some shred of truth about themselves and the world around them. I remain unconvinced as to whether we can find truth at all. I have been left with a lot of questions instead. What is it that makes travel so widely popularized? What gives us the idea to travel in the first place? The phenomenon of travel has gained speed over the last century, and we are able to see so much thanks to the wonders of technology. The biggest fear I have about my own travel is whether I’ll be able to find anything truly authentic.

One of my favorite parts of my month long stay in Paris was visiting cafes and restaurants owned by foreigners. Many of these cafes, mostly run by young, hip Americans or Australians, have opened in the last two to three years. If California borrowed the Parisian cafe lifestyle, then Paris certainly borrowed the California aesthetic. What is most alluring about these cafes, my favorites being HolyBelly, a brunch haven in the Canal district, and Ob-La-Di, a small hideaway in the Marais district, is that there is a community of expatriates who visit them on a regular basis. Though my stay was only four weeks, I managed to become a regular at the cafes and become familiar with their community. A common question that goes around is what these young people are doing in the city anyway—why abandon home for a place that doesn’t even speak your language? There is a sense that expatriates are constantly searching, be it for adventure or self, and they are convinced they will find it outside their own communities.

This spirit of wanderlust defines our generation. We are disillusioned by our culture, and we can temporarily escape it by traveling. We search for authentic experience somewhere outside our own familiarity, but can we find it? What we have left are flocks of twenty-something travelers all backpacking across various locales. Do we find what we’re looking for? What is both alluring and troublesome about travel is the sense of restlessness, that settling down somewhere must be avoided. However, it was only when I settled into a routine in Paris that I was able to appreciate it fully. The fear of settling down, I think, is similar to our fear of oncoming adulthood; we have to see all that we need to see before resigning ourselves to the deep dark dungeon of cubicles and bills. We had better get it in while we can.

Despite my qualms with modern-day travel, traveling has been, for lack of a better term, life changing. What I did not expect when I boarded my flight two months ago is that I would come back with a better understanding of my own country. I have become more in-tune with my own fears, desires, and insecurities. I understand why I was encouraged to travel by older friends and family. You can bet I’ll return home with a suitcase full of gratitude—and a whole lot of Eiffel tower keychains, too.

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