Why we travel

passport coverIn 1968, after nearly seven years abroad, my husband and I, along with our two young children, paid a return visit to New Zealand, our homeland. My letters to parents after that visit indicate that we felt unsettled and were exploring how we could return permanently. Unfortunately, I no longer have the letter in which my mother must have suggested we would have been better off if we hadn’t left in the first place. But I do have my answer. Reading it again, I’m struck by how relevant my defense of the value of travel still is.

6 August 1968
A big question you asked, Mum, with a number of overtones. I think you really would have preferred your family to be more like [her sister’s children], wouldn’t you? I envy them too, in a way, settling down in the neighbourhood in which they were brought up, sharing common interests and activities with their parents and their local community.

It would have been simpler to have stayed at home. But the question is, whether you want a peaceful, comfortable life, or whether you need to know yourself. It does no harm to strip away a few illusions. The most important thing about travelling is that you quickly lose the complacent assurance that your own little set of values holds good for everybody. It is only by getting away from NZ that you can begin to see the country and its people in perspective, and it is only by being a foreigner in a different community that you can learn to be objective about social attitudes and customs.

I would be very sad not to have seen the things I have seen. It is not that our perceptions are dull in New Zealand, just that in many areas they cannot be awakened. All the art appreciation we had at school was poor second-hand stuff compared to our first sight of original Rembrandts in New York. History was unreal too, until we walked through the streets of London, or found, in the crypt of a Mediaeval abbey, a Saxon chapel built of masonry filched from Roman ruins. Childhood fairy stories had little meaning until I saw castles and village greens, and crooked pink cottages with overhanging thatch and winding sprays of apple blossom and ducks on a pond.

Of course there are difficulties, one being that it is very easy to finish up with a splendid pile of memories, and no homeland. But on the other hand, I now have a better idea of what sort of person I am, and this to me is more important.

9 Responses to “Why we travel”

  • Kate:

    You were wise beyond your years, my dear.

  • Alice Richards:

    As we age we appreciate and have memories of the growth, wisdom and adventures we have traveling to lands only read about as a youngster. Moving across the USA lead us to experience situations we never dreamed of. We also acknowledge the changes Society has made to affect us in undreamed of ways.

  • You never know what you’ll find in a pile of old letters–how lovely that your excavation yielded proof that even back then you were self-aware and had the strength to choose a path that would help you become the wise woman you are today. xoxo

  • Fran:

    My summer as an AFS exchange student to Athens at age 16
    led to junior year abroad in Paris, and a lifelong passion for all things foreign. Your insights resonate
    for me,

  • Joan Hansen:

    This is a wonderful mature, insightful letter. Mothers often want to keep their babies close, but you knew that part of growing up was seeing as much of the world as you could. You were gracious to your mother and the letter showed your assertive personality.

  • Judith Pogue:

    I have also benefitted from moving away from home–if only from Texas to California; from travel to foreign lands; and so much from knowing and learning from you!

  • Jewels:

    Yes, I treasure my travels abroad to England, Wales and Scotland. I can’t imagine who I would become without France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. And the art! Monet, Gentileschi, Rembrandt. Home lies within a travelers heart.

  • Harriet:

    Maureen, I like this piece. You were very aware at an early age of our most important journey, the geographical one being an entry point – lovely.

  • Nona:

    Reminds me of my experience living in Australia, Maureen. Traveling and living away from one’s homeland is most certainly an enriching and eye-opening life experience.

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