I love going on a relaxing beach vacay as much as the next person, but there really is nothing quite like a trip where you opt for activity over relaxation. Those trips where you absorb the culture and history of a place unlike where you live your day-to-day life.
There is a clear connection between travel and history, and some of my favorite trips I’ve been on I loved because it felt like I had the chance to live inside history. Roaming the streets of Paris and London, despite both being bustling metropolises, made me feel like I had been dropped into the early 20th century. The infrastructure of both cities, and of most major European cities in general, valued the maintenance of history in a way that most major American city infrastructure fails to. You instantly get a sense for how old both the cities are. With that long historical lineage readily apparent at every corner — from cathedrals and palaces to storefronts and alleys — you cannot ignore how small and insignificant each of us are as individuals; time stretches back far beyond what we have experienced in our small lifetimes and it will continue to extend far beyond us.
While feeling insignificant may sound daunting and distressing, I actually think it’s a positive reminder of our position in both space and time. For example, I live in an apartment, and I very rarely feel the history of the place where I live. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Before I lived here, someone else did. Before that, someone built the room I’m writing this editorial in. Before there was an apartment complex, there was something else. Maybe there was another building, a shuttered business that was demolished. There was definitely a forest, filled with trees and weeds and mushrooms and bugs and birds. If I really wanted to, there is a record somewhere where I could access the past of the place where my feet are currently planted. I will never do that, because I have a job and relationships and responsibilities that are more worth my time than that endeavor. But just because I will never know the history of my space doesn’t mean that history isn’t real. Whether I acknowledge it or not, everything in my life has roots in the past, even if that past is less romantic than that of the palaces of London or the cafes of Paris.
The truth is, you don’t have to travel to live inside history. We do, every single day. Acknowledging our history, however, will often be more uncomfortable than exploring beautiful architecture or discovering interesting facts. If I were to scour those records, for instance, I might find that there was once a home here in which a family was forced out of the area by a hedge fund that acquired land nearby, increasing the property value and therefore property taxes. Maybe I will find that the company that owns my complex has donated to the campaign of the Republican candidate running on anti-LGBTQ promises. Maybe the forest that was once here was home to an endemic species that is now endangered. When you think of these possibilities that may be hiding around every corner — from the strip malls and parking lots to luxury high rises and Instagrammable coffee shops — it makes sense that the reminder of our place in history can feel more devastating than enlightening.
Travel can make history feel exciting, romantic, and adventurous, but history can also be gruesome and dismal. History is a story that was lived by real people, and it’s our duty to honor and protect the real people impacted by looking directly at our mistakes and preventing them from happening again. We should not stray from recognizing the truth of our history, no matter how disheartening it may be, or else we may be doomed to continue to repeat it.