The beginning of a long journey

The effects of jet lag on my son Connor at the Rome airport

Three years ago last month, I am riding out to my homeward-bound plane in an air-conditioned bus across the sweltering tarmac of Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci airport, Rome’s international port of entry and departure for air travelers. I suddenly have two thoughts. The first is, “Whatever happened to jet ways?” I never thought I’d miss shuffling to my plane down that irregularly bent mystery tunnel with fellow passengers all vying for limited overhead space. But here I am, bumping along the runway with 80 other standing passengers, downright nostalgic for a boarding method I never really thought about until now.

My second thought goes a bit deeper: “Why has this trip through Italy felt like so much more than just another vacation?” I have spent the last 15 days traveling on an intergenerational adventure with my wife, two sons and my parents. Before this trip, I thought that for travel to be meaningful, you had to sacrifice something, go someplace uncomfortable or ride rickety busses rather than planes to remote areas to build character.

I spent eight years working for World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization. So I assumed any trip with meaning or purpose would have to be for others. And perhaps it does, but sometimes those others can be your own family.  Sometimes you find wonder and meaning as far as the other side of the world and yet as close as the people you live with every day. You just notice it – and them – more when you get out of your familiar settings.

These initial thoughts quickly led to other questions:

  • How does God fit into this wonderful/awful/boring/exciting thing we call travel?
  • How can something like travel – pleasure travel mind you, not missions trips or something overtly “spiritual” like a pilgrimage or a trip to visit a dying relative – become helpful to others, even redemptive?
  • Why does this trip (and others I’ve taken) seem to operate on multiple levels, the highly entertaining parts somehow merging with moments that I know are transformative but in ways I can’t quite describe?
  • Why have I never read anything on how to think about travel from a Christian perspective (other than how to travel to “Christian” sites or prepare for the aforementioned pilgrimage or short-term missions trip)?
  • Is there even such a thing as a “theology of travel?” If so, what the heck does that look like or mean?
  • How did that other tarmac bus that left the gate after ours get to the plane first?

I’ve traveled to almost forty countries and have lived for extensive periods of time abroad. But like most of us, before this moment I never really questioned why I enjoyed travel so much or how I could consistently travel in a meaningful manner, one that not only moved me physically from Point A to Point B but that also moved my very soul.

That short trek across the Rome tarmac started a longer journey, one that continues here.

Over the last three years, I’ve read dozens of books and articles on diverse subjects, interviewed innumerable travelers and have reflected on my own journeys and the travel experiences that seem common to all who venture forth from their homes into the unknown.

In the following entries, I will share with you what I’ve learned and will invite you to do the same. Together, we’ll explore what makes the difference between an eventful trip and a meaningful journey. And most of all, we’ll look at how to apply what you learn traveling to the rest of your life.

I hope you enjoy the journey…

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