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When Travelling Isn’t As Satisfying As I’d Hoped

Written by Ryan Lim, Singapore


I was at the happiest place on earth in my favourite country in the world. As many young Singaporean graduates do, I was travelling in Japan for my graduation trip with friends. And we were in Tokyo Disneyland, which was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip.

However, as my friend ushered me into the It’s a Wonderful World ride, I was suddenly struck by an empty feeling for what we were doing. The overpriced merchandise, the hour-long queues and the ache of my tired feet, all just to chase a 3-minute high on some ride or attraction. It all just seemed rather . . . pointless.

The tiredness was just a small part of the fatigue I had been experiencing after graduation. There was the frenzied planning we did to get the perfect itinerary, the frantic hopping from location to location to squeeze in as many activities as possible, and huge amounts of money spent on swiftly discarded souvenirs.

All these made me wonder, “Why do we put ourselves through so much for these things?”

What am I really looking for from my travels?

Holidays, with their promise of happy interruptions, are often used to try to fill this gnawing hole in our hearts. I can’t help but feel that there is always “something more” than the humdrum of my everyday life, and these trips are just stop-gaps to the lack I feel within.

And I would often try to make my travels picture-perfect, to capture our “happiest moments” just to prove that I’m “living the life”, only to arrive back home exhausted.

I also tend to put so much stock into travel because I romanticise it—I picture myself reaching the most beautiful place and meeting the perfect person, with whom I can share the greatest discoveries. Of course, these fantasies have not come to pass, but I continue to pin my hopes that all these would happen on my next holiday adventure.

Thankfully, Jesus beckons travellers like me, who drift like a ghost from holiday to holiday, to Himself. He calls out gently to me with these words:

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:2)

It’s as C.S. Lewis described, I’m like an ignorant child making mudpies in a slum because I can’t imagine what is meant by a real holiday at the sea. I keep spending money on things and experiences just to chase that short-lived thrill, instead of going to God and asking Him to help me experience the true joy that comes from being in His presence (Psalm 16:11).

This joy comes from trusting and resting in God’s promises and having a thankful spirit that is constantly aware of our sovereign Creator. When I see that it is He who has made everything beautiful in its time, and that eating, drinking, and enjoying life are good gifts from Him, this brings me joy and enables me to keep doing good (Ecclesiastes 3:11-13).

Why travel is still good but not enough

Even as I ruminate on the problems of travel, I’m also brought to consider why travel has such a hold over my heart, why it still gives me such a thrill despite its inadequacy.

The answer came in the book I was rereading—The Last Battle, the final installation of the Narnia series. In it, C.S. Lewis describes a new Narnia that is much better than the old one: “The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as it if it meant more.”

This tells me that I was made for somewhere deeper and more. As this song from the popular anime Your Name goes: “And where the end of this life lies / I’ve always been insisting there was something that I’ve longing for”. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says the very same thing—that God has “put eternity into man’s heart”.

I still find travelling wonderful because of the feasting on delicious food, the fostering of fond friendships, and the beholding of God’s beautiful creation, yet all these inevitably come to an end. As late pastor Tim Keller puts it:

There is nothing better than ordinary life (and travel!), except that it’s always going away. Ordinary life is food and work and chairs by the fire and hugs and dancing and mountains—this world. God loves it so much He gave His only Son so we—and the rest of this ordinary world—could be redeemed and made perfect. And that’s what is in store for us.

As with all good things in life, travelling is currently marred by a groaning creation. But I’m gripped by the hope that one day, God is going to redeem it all. I’m encouraged and excited when I think about the day when there will be an endless feast, endless friendships, and endless Creation, as God promised:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And He will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

As we groan inwardly for a destination we have yet to know, may we learn to wait in eager expectation for the redemption of both ourselves and the whole Creation (Romans 8:23). May we not worship travel itself; rather, may the good gift of travelling be a tantalising foretaste of the world to come.

The next time you hit up a beach in Bali, get to feast on sushi in Japan, or go diving with your buddies in Tioman Island, take a moment to drink it all in and thank God for His amazing creation, which He will one day restore to its full glory.

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