Why do we travel? Travel Stories (2019 Edition) features travel writing from the community.
By Claudia Marie Huynh
The first thing I noticed in Barcelona was not just the colors or the music. It was the need I felt to notice everything.
I walked slowly to immerse myself in this mysterious and beautiful city. Towering trees lined the sidewalks, while a man strummed his guitar under the cloudless sky. It was hot and humid, and locals and tourists filled the terraces with their cigarettes and beers, making it feel like summer even though fall had just begun. Plants dangled off the balconies of old apartment buildings, and each wall was painted a different shade of yellow, red, or brown. The genius of Antoni Gaudí emanated from Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and La Sagrada Familia, as his humbling and breathtaking architecture emphasized his belief that all of man’s creations started with God and nature. Barcelona has served as the inspiration for songs, books, and paintings, and I was there to experience it myself on my first solo trip in several months. And within less than a day since arriving, one thing became very clear to me: this city is alive.
The vibrancy of Barcelona made my heart beat faster as music flooded through the plazas, and the twists and turns of the narrow alleys led me to someplace new. Even eating the food is a unique experience – each restaurant and tapas bar offered a variety of dishes that can simply be described as infinite, unexpected, aesthetically pleasing combinations of flavors. At the Mercado de La Boqueria, vendors sold fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and candies, and all the tapas bars were packed with customers. I returned to La Boqueria three times for lunch, and each time a vendor or a chef would ask me where I am from, to which they would respond with a warm smile and a welcome.
But what made this experience valuable was seeing how hard everyone worked – amidst all the clamor of the crowds and seemingly endless orders, paella, sangria, and patatas bravas appearing over the countertops for customers scrunched on barstools. It reminded me how wonderful and talented people can be, and that the little things we take for granted – like a plate of calamari or a skillet of fish – could take a village to make.
Barcelona is a city of surprises. It grabs hold of you and awakens all your senses. It sweeps you off your feet and transports you to a world of endless art, music, and history, where you must let yourself go and surrender to the unexpected in order to truly experience it.
Before my trip to Spain, I was feeling burnt out. Living and working in San Francisco can easily turn one into a workaholic. I found myself constantly preoccupied and stressed about the typical imperatives of adulthood – work, savings, my relationships, building my future, and so on – and I rarely ever did anything for myself. In hindsight, there were many situations where I felt so sad, helpless, and lost. What am I doing with my life? Will I ever achieve my goals? Who is the person I am becoming, and will she do any good in this world?
Barcelona rejuvenated me. It reignited the embers in my heart. It humbled me with the fact that the world is much bigger than me and my fears, and it is filled with endless possibilities. All of these solidified the immense value of travel.
Traveling is the best form of education because it challenges you and your beliefs in ways that sitting in a classroom or an office never could. Experiencing a foreign place for the first time makes you feel alive, and almost like a child as you marvel and wonder. Most of all, it will make you insatiably curious and hungry to learn.
If one city in this corner of the world can make me feel this much, what more does this big, beautiful world have to offer?
Of course, those with a passion for travel can also face a great deal of judgment, such as being labeled as someone who is never satisfied, showing off, chasing after an unrealistic dream, or simply craving an escape from their life. While this may be true for some, I argue that the real value of travel is found not while you are abroad, but rather in the inevitable transformation that comes afterwards.
This is different for everyone, but I can attest to the humility, knowledge, joys, and gratitude that I have drawn from my travels abroad. Travel is not an expense, but an investment in yourself and your journey to discovering your place and purpose in the world. Material things are of no consequence compared to the experiences that we have, as they shape us by opening our minds and filling our hearts. And passing on what we learn from these experiences is part of the impact we leave behind in this world.
I am infinitely grateful for the experiences I’ve been blessed to have – both the good and the bad – and my adventures won’t end here. I hope they never will.
About the Author: Claudia Marie Huynh lives and works in San Francisco, California. She last traveled to Spain and is going to England next.
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