Austria Column: Travel will not change your life

Edyta Wolk


Edyta WolkI’m going to be completely honest  I hate traveling.  

I hate sleeping in new beds every night; I hate getting motion sick on long bus rides; and I HATE hearing “I don’t know; what do you want to do?” every time friends try to make plans.  

And at the end of the day, all this hassle is just for seeing some old statues or buildings — because it’s not like we have buildings in America. I would actually argue that we have something better than actual buildings in America: Google Images of every building you’d ever want to see.

Obviously, I’m being sarcastic here, but I’m truly not as interested in travel as most. In case you think this opinion arises out of ignorance, I should explain that I’ve actually traveled quite a bit throughout my life. Travels to about 10 different countries, to cities ranging from London to Paris to Krakow have characterized every summer since I can remember. You might be wondering why I even bothered studying abroad in Austria. And why in the world would I be the one writing an advice column about it?  

Well, despite this rocky start, my intention with this column is to be at least somewhat upliftingBecause actually, I am quite excited to be here. I’m just not excited to travel per se. 

Travel itself is not glamorous in any sense — it’s tiring and expensive, and there’s always a chance of getting seated by some creepy weirdo on the bus. So, I don’t like to travel. What I do like, however, is to adventure. I don’t like going to new places, but I do like experiencing them.  

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my travels, it’s that traveling itself doesn’t change you, but the experiences you have along the way do. 

Here’s what I mean: If you’re going to visit a thousand-year-old church just to take a few pictures and leave, you might as well stay home and Google some images. But you can make this a memorable experience by praying there, getting to know its history and taking in the art and music. When you walk through the Old Town in Vienna, don’t just take selfies and leave  try the traditional food, familiarize yourself with the culture and do something silly with your friends. The only way to truly get something out of traveling is to have an adventurous, curious attitude and to try new things.  

So many people dream of seeing the world, dining on the Eiffel Tower or hiking in the Alps, and they anticipate being changed for the better by it. They often speak of “finding themselves” during this process. Yet places alone cannot reveal deep truths about your life or completely change your perspective.  

At the end of the day, the Eiffel Tower is just a pointy building, and your life will not be changed by seeing it. What will leave a lasting impact on you, however, are the friends you go to the Eiffel Tower with and the culture that you experience there. It’s about the laughs you share and the mistakes you make. 

That’s why I’m so excited for this semester. I really want to make new memories and build relationships I will hold onto for the rest of my life. Because I won’t remember what Salzburg looks like 10 years from now, but I will remember the crazy things my friends and I did there.  

What I’m trying to say is that travel shouldn’t be about checking famous places off a list and taking hundreds of photos just for the sake of saying you’ve been there. The Gaming team strongly emphasized this message during orientation; they told us to be not tourists but pilgrims seeing each experience as an opportunity to grow. They encouraged us to make each trip meaningful and intentional rather than just another stop on a race around Europe.  

This same idea can apply to any area of life, including life on main campus. Franciscan is, in theory, the perfect place for growing in holiness, given its uber-Catholic community. But there’s only so much a place can do. You can spend four years at Franciscan but never go to adoration, never take your theology classes seriously, never join a household, etc. You can leave completely unchanged.  

It’s up to you to be open to growth and to have the positive and trusting attitude necessary for God to work in your life. No place you visit can inspire you against your will.  

I don’t think I will ever like traveling, with its 12-hour bus drives and sketchy hostels. But once I recognize that my goal isn’t just to see a place but to experience it, even these unpleasant aspects of the journey take on a new dimension. They become part of the ups and downs that every good pilgrimage or story has.