Panorama of Vatican

Oh, to be a traveler: The joys of the uncomfortable

October 25, 2018 / By: Zoe Anderson-Miller
Bernardi blogger

Zoe Anderson-Miller is a sophomore double majoring in Justice & Peace Studies and Women’s Studies on the Pre-Law track with the hope of fighting against human sex-trafficking as a lawyer. Currently, she is completing her core curriculum in Rome and is embracing the chaotic life of a traveler. 

Constantly moving. Wanting to know more. Open to risks and experiences. Hungry for culture. These are the words that come to mind when I think of a traveler. The image I see is someone with little material goods, picking up just what they need wherever they are. An easy to talk to and eager to be made aware kind of soul that floats where they find interest. The dictionary defines a traveler as “one that goes on a trip or journey”, I believe this journey could be of a mental, intellectual, or cultural nature. Reading an essay collection by Alain de Botton called The Art of Travel, our English class is encouraged to embark on our own journey by examining and falling into the exotic differences we perceive by being away from home. De Botton asks,“Why be seduced by something as small as a front door in another country? Why fall in love with a place because it has trams and its people seldom have curtains in their homes? However absurd the intense reactions provoked by such a small (and mute) foreign elements may seem, the pattern is at least familiar from our personal lives.” A traveler seeks to find what is exotic to them. I see the cascading deep green spades of ivy clinging desperately to the Italian alleyways and feel like a voyageur trekking new paths. I trip over the bumbling jagged cobblestones of the busy streets and can’t help but smile at their simplistic beauty. The everyday mundane details that differ from their normal or original surroundings. Someone who is taking a journey wants to be uncomfortable in the unfamiliar.

To be uncomfortable in the unfamiliar. This is a concept we have been latching onto in class called negative capability. It is the idea that you can have internal or external conflict with an idea, a situation, a place, but the negative capability is the acknowledgement that you are uncomfortable and being present in that. I believe a traveler is someone who yearns for adventures full of these differences that prompt negative capability. I find myself attempting to settle into this discomfort when I catch the different languages rolling off of foreign tongues and let them wrestle for familiarity in my mind’s eye. I have not the faintest idea what is being shouted, cooed, and directed over my head. To be surrounded by hundreds of people in a crowd full of laughing, yelling, and crying, and to not know what anyone is saying is a serious moment of personal discomfort. However, I find myself wanting it and searching for it as an opportunity to learn and grow within myself. I find that there are many misconceptions about people who choose to follow these yearnings. Travelers are often considered as care-free, irresponsible, and lazy people who have decided to opt out of making a name for themselves through hard work and personal struggle. I believe that these negative connections to the word “traveler” come from a place of jealousy and yearning. 

Photo for Bernardi Blog

This is a traveler by the name of Kiersten Rich, an American citizen who quit her job to go and travel abroad. She was stuck in an office job and decided to move on and find herself in travel. She has traveled to more than 60 countries and has started a business from her blog. She is a perfect example of a traveler that could be depicted as the stereotypical: lazy and irresponsible for quitting her job. Yet, she became successful and found her passion through travel.

This jealousy and yearning comes from a deeper sense of ourselves many of us are not even fully aware of. We are constantly searching for who we truly are, as opposed to what society has formed us to be based on who we are surrounded by and where we are placed on this expanse of earth. When we travel, we gain the opportunities to find ourselves through the exotic things that make us feel happy and truly at home within ourselves. Everyone, according to Alain de Botton, yearns to find their true selves in travel, “We are all of us … scattered at birth by the wind onto various countries, … we are in adulthood granted the freedom imaginatively to re-create our identity in line with our true allegiances.” Really think about this. We see people go and travel the world in an effort to find themselves, and it works. People come back with an air of confidence, a taste for the exotically different, and knowing themselves. We become jealous and judgmental about these travelers because they are yearning to be uncomfortable in an effort to understand themselves and the world in a different way. It is hard for us to see someone so open to the idea of negative capability where we become frustrated and need a definite answer. Watching someone live up to seeing the world and further their sense of self forces people to recognize their own standing and whether or not they truly believe they belong there, whether or not they are ok with being uncomfortable there. 

Photo for Bernardi Blog

This photo of a traveler depicts someone who is content in a simple moment. Not there simply for the sights, but for the experience. Waiting for the train on their own, they are open to what is coming and ready to take on the discomfort of traveling alone and free.

While in Rome, I have not seen many people I would call a traveler. There are temporary tourists, blowing off their negative capability because they are only passing through—there is no time for true reflection on their discomfort. So far, there was only one woman I saw who fit the part. She was walking around Campo di Fiori during the market; I noticed her because she was wearing a small hiking backpack despite the heat.  She was wearing loose, yet practical clothing, a few soft bracelets, and very dirty walking shoes. She was asking the vendor questions in broken Italian and seemed to speak a language I didn’t understand; yet, she still listened intently to his responses and tried to interact. This was all in a few moments but looking back on this I recognize that she seemed someone who was excited to learn the culture and had traveled miles to get to where she was. Even though she didn’t know the language, she was willing to try and was willing to be uncomfortable just to learn. I don’t know if she was at the end of her journey or just starting, but she was, in that moment, living the exotic life she saw. She was living in negative capability, an uncomfortable kind of comfort.