The True Spirit and Meaning of Travel: What We Can Learn From Christmas

“A t the heart of the Christmas story is a baby — God as a naked, poor, newborn refugee. God as utter absence of power. Not a bearded patriarch obsessed with doctrine and church law, but a kid who grew up to teach in parables. Who told people to love, to train their hearts to be kind, to let their life be their witness.”

Included in this article called How to reclaim the true meaning of Christmas written by Julia Baird for ABC News — the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American Broadcasting Company — are these five steps to “Put Christ Back into Christmas”:

  1. Share with poor
  2. Renounce war
  3. Welcome refugees
  4. Love neighbours and enemies
  5. Live lives of enticing humble beauty

The True Spirit and Meaning of Travel: What We Can Learn From Christmas

After almost two months of what seems to be non-stop advertisements for endless sales and a continuous onslaught of music in celebration of one of the holiest days for Christians around the world, there are people who believe that the true spirit and meaning of Christmas is lost in a vast sea of commercialism and profit — and I could not help but wonder if a similar sentiment can be analogous to the true spirit and meaning of travel.

Although the miles and points of frequent travel loyalty programs can indeed be potentially valuable to being able to better afford travel; and while elite level status in a frequent travel loyalty program can result in enjoying the opulence of luxurious benefits and amenities — such as fine foods and creatures comforts at theoretically no extra cost — they are not the reasons why I travel…

…but there are people who will do just about anything when a potentially lucrative deal is presented — such as the now-infamous discount of 90 percent off of flights operated by Garuda Indonesia, which bills itself as the airline of Indonesia and had the frequent flier community salivating over this deal to the point of people considering travel all the way to places as far away as Jakarta or Singapore to take advantage of this offer.

There is a real adrenaline rush when considering the lengths some people will go to secure a deal — no matter how potentially lucrative it might be; and especially considering that the consummation of the deal may not be guaranteed — and such stories can be the foundations for interesting articles…

…but are miles, points and elite level status generally the commercialism equivalent of travel in recent years? As has been said by some people pertaining to the modern perception of Christmas, has the true spirit and meaning of travel become lost in the frenzy of taking advantage of that next great deal?

Travel and Christmas as Topics is Nothing New

Travel and Christmas are integral parts of the story of the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie which debuted the life of seemingly hapless George Bailey in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, New York where his passion for travel was surpassed only by his determination to always do the right thing.

At one point, a simple yet costly mistake committed by his Uncle Billy unraveled everything for which George Bailey had worked hard — so hard that he never did get an chance to indulge in his passion to travel all over the world, which caused him to become so despondent that he contemplated committing suicide on Christmas Eve by plunging off of an old bridge into the icy waters or a raging river during a snowfall at night. A bumbling Christmas angel named Clarence had to show him what life would have been like had he never been alive — and to this day, I find it amazing how much we all matter — to one extent or another — to the lives of people around us.

You and I are so fortunate to have done many times over what George Bailey never had a chance to do — but although travel might have been easier had frequent travel loyalty programs existed back then, does anyone really believe that he would have been obsessed with miles, points and elite level status?


There is nothing wrong with engaging in the excitement of snagging that next great deal to build up the balance of miles or points in that frequent travel loyalty program account. In fact, I have been known to participate in that myself now and then…

…but for me, travel is not about miles and points and elite level status, which are simply means to an end. Travel is about visiting new places; learning new languages; observing the rituals and traditions of various cultures; trying new foods to eat; and enjoying experiences one would not experience at home. It is about looking out the window and watching the world pass by on my way from one destination to another. It brings about a better education of other people like no other medium in the world — an education which encourages diversity; discourages stereotyping; strengthens tolerance; and promotes understanding all year long. I have learned far more from traveling than from anything else.

Similarly, I have heard people say that Christmas is the time of year where peace, joy, love, cheer and helping others should be spread by all people around the world. I never understood why Christmas should be different than any other time of the year. Shouldn’t what makes Christmas such a special time of year to millions of people around the world be observed all year long?

One tradition to remember your travels — if you do not already do it — is to pick up a small souvenir made in the country in which you travel and hang it on your Christmas tree every year. Every souvenir you hang on your tree will remind you of your travel to that particular country — as well as what you experienced and learned there. Admiring a tree such as that would eventually be like seeing the whole world at once.

A lot can be learned from both Christmas and travel — I have already outlined some of the aforementioned benefits of both — and although perhaps some people may think that the time to do so is long overdue, it is never too late to start…

…and with that, I wish you a Merry Christmas; a Joyous Chanukah; and safe travels to you for many years to come.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

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