How Traveling to Cambodia Didn’t Change Me

Media team from College Park Church for World Relief CambodiaTwo weeks ago I went on a volunteer trip to Cambodia and spent four days with a media team making photos and video. It was a dream experience. And yet somehow I stalled for days trying to think of something to say about it all.

I expected to be so full of words that I imagined spending all 20 flight hours on my way home writing them all down so I could publish every thoughtful musing and adventurous tale as soon as I landed.

And yet…nothing came.

So I got a little scared. Does this make me a bad traveler? A bad writer? A heartless wench? Does this mean I’ve lost my sense of wonder and adventure? Or worse yet, lost my voice?

Well, no.

I just needed to start writing. And thinking from a different perspective.

Should Travel Transform You?

A lot of the common rhetoric on travel is about its power to transform you: how it can shift your perspective, open your eyes, change your identity, and make you that much more of an awesome person.

I’m totally behind all that, by the way. But I think there is a danger in the expectation that taking a trip will transform your life, like walking into a church and expecting to see the face of God or entering a temple and expecting to reach enlightenment.

Buddhist temple in Cambodia

Perhaps it does work like that for some people. But travel has never been a one-and-done experience for me. As a Third Culture Kid (Huh? What’s that? I explain it here.), I’ve been traveling since my days in utero.

Travel never changed me. Travel made me.

At Home on the Road

Being a TCK has meant I’ve always been at home and I’ve always been a foreigner, wherever I go. But when I’m in the U.S., I’m expected to be American – to look American, act American, feel American. Hip hip hurray.

The expectation, the assumption of normalcy because I’m blonde, white, and blue-eyed, smothers me with a subtle pressure to accept and conform.

But on the road, there is no such expectation. I am the foreigner. I am meant to be the foreigner. And I’m at home in my foreignness.

So traveling to Cambodia was really more of a homecoming than an outward journey full of transformative moments. I thought I was leaving my comfort zone when I left the States, but I was actually returning to it.

In a country I had never been to before, I found myself nodding along comfortably to a resounding YES ringing in my soul. And it was about as wonderful as the coziness of coming home for Christmas.

Cambodia was indeed exotic and new and adventurous, but all of that in itself isn’t new to me. All of that is me. It’s like my water, my air, my shelter. Without these crossings of borders I would suffocate.

Hence I ate a grilled frog and a fried tarantula and walked through a rice paddy in my bare feet. I sat cross-legged on the bamboo floor of a stilted house, took off my shoes before entering a temple, placed my palms together and raised them to my forehead in greeting and gratitude.

All of these were new experiences, but they were also normal experiences.

What Then Is Travel? 

Cambodian motorcycle cart

Travel shouldn’t be something reserved for rich honeymooners or crunchy backpackers. It shouldn’t be a once or twice in a lifetime experience or a pin point on the map of our lives marking an enlightening moment.

Travel should be a lifestyle, a constant conversation, a continual acceptance of the new and adventurous, the weird, strange, different, exotic wonderfulness of this world.

It shouldn’t change us for one moment in time. It should be slowly forming us at all times.

When I got home, a friend and I went out for Vietnamese food. In the back of the restaurant where I eventually found the bathroom, it wasn’t air conditioned. It was warm and muggy. Voices from the kitchen chattered in a language I couldn’t understand. It smelled like flies feasting on rotting fruit.

I smiled in approval. This was Indianapolis. This was Vietnam. This was Asia and North America. This was the world.

I was still home and yet still traveling.

In reality we don’t need to cross a political border to explore a jungle of new cultures and experiences or to be transformed by travel. All we really have to do is keep exploring our own world with intention and pushing the limits of our own personal boundaries.

If I can always remember the last new thing I ate, the last new language I tried to pronounce, the last new person I tried to understand, then I’ll always be a traveler. As long as I don’t let my backyard confine me, I’ll always be on the road no matter where I am.

The only question left is, where to next?

2 thoughts on “How Traveling to Cambodia Didn’t Change Me

  • June 13, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Beautifully written, Jess!! How true that you don’t always have to cross geographical borders to gain a sense of travel, although I’d love to do that more often too. I’m so glad that you’re further discovering your love of travel, especially since it is a way for you to feel at home. A way to quench the longings of your soul.

    • June 13, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Indeed it is. 🙂 Thanks for the love!


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