The value of traveling for spiritual growth

Elizabeth White, Editor

Sierra Nevada College senior and interdisciplinary studies major Hannah Smith has always had a yearning for travel but between working, interning, and going to school full-time, there did not seem to be enough time in her schedule to make it work.

Her plan was originally to travel full-time after graduation, but the grind of everyday life made waiting difficult. This fall semester she decided to stop waiting and start doing, and only two weeks in advance, she booked a ticket to Peru to hike Machu Picchu.

Thousands of tourists flock to Machu Picchu every year for the luscious green mountains, culture, and also for spiritual purposes. As a woman traveling alone, it posed certain dangers for Smith, but she wanted to be alone for the spiritual aspect of the trip.

“I have always had the desire to not be stagnant, both physically and mentally,” Smith said. She believes that traveling teaches something new about yourself. “You meet new friends and get to see and be a part of new cultures and languages, eat new food, and see some really beautiful things that remind you how big the world is.”

Before Smith went to Peru, the pressures of work, school, and personal life were getting to her, and she needed another reason to get out of bed in the morning.

“[My coworker] had casually men tioned that I should travel somewhere by myself to help, and mentioned Machu Picchu and Peru. The thought stuck with me, so I bought a plane ticket that night,” Smith said.

She believes that traveling alone as a woman improved her overall well-being tremendously, and encourages other women to do the same, despite the risks and challenges.

“Don’t be afraid, just do it, and alone,” Smith said. “Be smart about it of course. Things can always happen, people can be weird or creepy and you can fall into some uncomfortable situations for sure, but don’t limit yourself because of it. Just because we are women doesn’t mean we should miss out on life and travel.”

SNC alumnus and psychology graduate Ikela Lewis, who is now a substance abuse counselor, believes that traveling can actually help heal trauma.

“Changing environments allows your brain to physically change its structure,” Lewis said. “When you’re traveling, your brain doesn’t know where it is. It hasn’t been able to build a routine for that environment. This is a great opportunity for introspection as well as building an experiment with new habits and new modes of thinking.”

He believes that traveling is a great way to increase happiness for various reasons and has budget traveled to Vietnam, China, Spain, and Morocco in the last couple of years.

“I always suspect to learn something new about humanity and other cultures,” Lewis said. “I gain confidence in my ability to problem solve, a deeper appreciation for my love of others and my passion for sharing that love freely, I gain appreciation for the life I have been given, a respect for the transience and impermanence of all things, and I gain the memories and stories to share with others to hopefully inspire them to have their own experiences.”

Although many believe traveling is only for those who are privileged, Smith and Lewis both found that budget traveling was actually more enjoyable. They traveled to lower-budget countries and stayed in hostels and met new people.

“Traveling does not need to be expensive. Save your money, do your research, and be willing to budget and you can travel basically anywhere in the world,” Lewis said. “The style of traveling glamorized on social media where you stay in resorts and pay for tours is just one form of traveling.”

According to SNC professor Sheri Leigh O’Connor, traveling not only increases happiness, but also learning and creativity. This is why O’Connor leads a trip to Japan every year for Sierra Nevada College for both ceramics and skiing.

“My father and his father, said the best education is travel, I so agree,” O’Connor said. “It’s such an eye-opening experience to visit a very different culture. Students learn all about their daily rituals, the way they make artwork, their aesthetic, the culture, the religions, the architecture, and so much more.”

She believes that being around Japanese culture is adventuresome and enjoyable not only for herself but for her students as well. While students find art to be therapeutic regardless, in Japan, students find themselves trying new things such as indigo dyeing or bamboo projects in a wood shop to expand their creative horizons.

O’Connor believes that traveling is important for a person’s development, especially when they are young.

“Travel while you can now, before you start working, have a family, and get tied down,” O’Connor said. “SNC offers great travel opportunities that cost far less than commercial tours, and you’ll go with a group of students that you’ll have a lot of fun with, enjoying all the foreign culture has to offer.”