“After years of travel I’ve learnt a simple fact: you are never going to meet anyone truly interesting in a five-star hotel. To really experience a country you have to be cold, uncomfortable and woken at dawn by the sound of a local artisan clearing his throat and expectorating. You can keep your clean white sheets and air-conditioned lobbies—give me the unserviced cellar or a local pensione any time.”
Thus intones Philippe Miseree, the tiresome and (thankfully) fictional travel writer who subjects us to his purported wisdom in the satirical travel guide: Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry.1 This humorous tome is essentially a send-up of travel guides, and Philippe is the archetypal budget travel bore.
I was an enthusiastic backpacker for many years with my own views on how best to navigate the globe. And I was far from alone. Almost everyone has a view on how to travel: everything from “You must use public transport: it’s the only way to meet the locals” to “You must go on XYZ cruises: the quality of their service is second to none”.
Many with such opinions put their thoughts into print, and today travel-writing is a burgeoning genre. A Christian planning to go abroad for pleasure, work or study can certainly pick up some good advice from such books, articles and blogs. They might, for example, advise you to travel light, to get off the beaten track, not to rush, or travel with another person. They might share valuable tips on how to live overseas.
Unfortunately, very little is written that urges you to take into account God and his word. But, as I’ve discovered personally, living in the light of the Scriptures always yields great benefits, and given the absolute relevance of God to everything, his revealed priorities are crucial to all travel considerations.
In my last piece I set out some general tips for the Christian traveler. In my next article I’ll share some thoughts on whether we should travel and, if so, for how long. In this one I want to reflect briefly on how to travel in the light of some Christian concerns.
A great place to start is to consider how the nature of our travelling or overseas living arrangements might impact our relationship with God. Here it is very important to know thyself. Paul writes in Romans 12:3: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”. What are our spiritual strengths and weakness? How disciplined are we with our Bible reading and prayer? How will the behaviour of others impact our behaviour? What will being away from home and church do to us in each of these areas? It can be very helpful to get an older, wiser Christian who knows us well to give us their insights in these areas.
So, a Christian perspective on some common how to travel issues…
Some good preparation in the how to travel area can really pay spiritual dividends. Two friends of mine, let’s call them John and Brad, went on a young adults’ package tour of Europe a few years back. Before leaving, they resolved to keep each other accountable in terms of their quiet times and behaviour while away. Once overseas, they followed through on their commitment.
Near the end of the tour, they were in Amsterdam when the tour guide said to the group something like: “When you’re in Paris you go to the Eiffel Tower. When you’re in Rome you go to the Colosseum. And when you’re in Amsterdam you go to a sex show.” My friends faced a dilemma. The evening’s entertainment clearly fell outside the parameters of appropriate Christian behaviour, yet they were part of a group. What should they do?
Throughout the tour, John and Brad had gotten on well with their travelling companions, lived as Christians, and been public about their faith. When the plans for the night were announced, the two firmly decided that they would not go. In fact, they went further and encouraged other group members not to go. The relationships they had built up during the trip were such that they got a good hearing. In the end, the tour leaders went to the sex show… without anyone else from the tour group!
How would you have gone in that situation?
1. Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch, Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2003, p. 51.↩