Our generation has romanticized and idolized the idea of travel more than anyone before them, and between the countless travel blogs, curated Instagram feeds, and glossy vacation magazines we see daily, it feels impossible to find contentment while staying in one location. But traveling is not the key to finding joy or filling our souls.
The invention of the internet forever ruined the contentment of the adventure-seeking soul. Since I first logged into Facebook as a middle schooler, I’ve drooled over pictures of people sitting on car hoods at the rim of the Grand Canyon or throwing their hands in the air in front of a volcano. I’ve dreamed of places with names like Machu-Pichu and Lithuania (that I couldn’t have dreamed of being able to place on a map, of course) and insisted the old globe in the storage closet be pulled out and placed in my room. I had Pinterest boards filled with pictures of mountain ranges with quotes like “Jobs Fill Your Pocket, But Adventures Fill Your Soul” pasted over them. I was a world traveler who just lacked opportunity, I was certain.
So when I had been in college for a few years and began to hear talk of the study abroad program at my school, I was in. That was all the convincing it took. I stood in line at the post office and ordered my passport, and when it came in the mail, I made my roommate chase me around my city with a camera to capture the perfect Instagram picture to share the good news with my friends: “I’m going overseas. I finally get to travel the world.”
Two airplane meals and one accidentally stolen airline blanket later (sorry, Aer Lingus!), I’ve been spending my summer taking classes and wandering through foreign countrysides and cities. And while it has been an amazing experience and I am learning so much, I am also here to testify that, contrary to what my Pinterest board would tell you, “adventure” does not “fill your soul.”
Adventure does not fill your soul. Travel will not fill your soul. Taking beautiful Instagram shots that deserve #wanderlust and earn 200 likes will not fill your soul (400 or 1,000 likes will not fill your soul either, by the way). Meeting new people, seeing new lands, or having the experiences of a lifetime will not fill your soul.
Traveling is so fun. It’s also extremely educational and will stretch your worldview in wonderful ways. Learning that the world is much bigger than your home country and local news, meeting people who’ve lived out their entire existence on a different continent than you, and experiencing new cultures will grow you and change you in positive ways. This summer has been a dream come true for me, it has been fun for sure, and it has changed me forever. There are moments I look around and can hardly believe the present life circumstances the Lord has given me to live. But it is not filling up my soul.
Traveling, I’ve learned, is not as romantic as I once imagined. No one posts the photos of the groggy, jet lagged days or the bus of exhausted students who just want to sleep while the driver insists on blasting his cd of Irish pub jigs. Traveling is less glamorous than I pictured. It includes phone calls home when I’m so exhausted I cry, times when I get so sick of the people I’m traveling with I could scream, and nights where “adventure” is nowhere to be found as I plod through a term paper at midnight. Traveling, while it is “doing life” on a different continent, it is still just life with all same ups and downs and completely flat moments. We take photos and celebrate the beautiful moments of traveling, and while there are many of these, we have to refuse to buy into the lie that a beautifully photographed moment means a fulfilled soul.
The reason travel will not fill your soul is because it was never suppose to. If you are looking to fill some void in your life by traveling, you could spend the rest of your days living on the road and end with only a suitcase full of stinky laundry. You will always need more.
Travel will not fill you up, just as much as money, relationships, or anything else we chase in life will not. For a little while, there might be some happiness as a result, but not the lasting joy you’re seeking. That is because contentment and fulfillment come through Jesus Christ.
True joy, true contentment, and true fullness of life comes from living with God and living life God’s way. The system is rigged to continually disappoint until we realize that our love should not lie within the pleasures of this life, as wonderful as they may be, but in the purpose we find in Christ. It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and for what we are living. Life with Jesus is not always easy or filling in this broken world, but we can find true purpose, true contentment, true rest, and true joy when we seek His face.
If we’re unhappy at home, we will be unhappy on the road. If we are selfish and unfulfilled now, we will be selfish and unfulfilled overseas. A mission trip or semester abroad or foreign internship will not fix our problems or give us purpose. But if we are seeking and loving the Lord and living in His light, our souls will find contentment and joy, whether at home or in Lithuania (that’s in Northern Europe. I’ve matured a lot since middle school, obviously).
So travel when and if you can. See new corners of this huge and magnificent and broken world, grow your worldview, and learn new perspectives on life. But next time you drool over a #wanderlust Instagram post and itch for another stamp in your passport, remember that without Jesus, the happiest tropical destination is empty, and even the most “common” of circumstances with Him can be full of joy. It is only in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.
words and images by Casey VanderStel