what travel means to me now

i remember as a young girl that i felt different when i traveled. i remember being electrified with the streets of chicago or new york; feeling a sizzle in my veins when i saw street dancers in boston or cirque du soleil in montreal.
it has been a long time since i've felt that new aliveness when i've traveled somewhere. i am drawn in by the beauty of places i visit, but i feel peace, not excitement. not even the eiffel tower made me feel like i was in a movie. it was another day of reality: a beautiful, memorable one, but still real.
maybe that's how growing up works. maybe things lose their magic.
in any case, i'm not torn up about it. i also remember, wherever i traveled, feeling a keen sense of notbelongingness. i was very conscious of looking like a tourist. something i should not have been ashamed of; having the opportunity to travel is something to be proud of. i felt the urgency to walk fast, to jump on metros without a sign of confusion, and to absolutely know where i was going.
in all my travels, every single one of my most memorable experiences are not about the places i saw. everything that had a profound impact on me was because of a person i met.
in montreal i bonded with an entire ward of immigrants and learned how to do the air kiss and gained a deep true love for the world cup, because everyone in the ward was so passionately rooting for their home country. in france i met missionaries in their wards and explored the latin quarter with my cousin michael. in new york city i got to meet and stay with the coolest married couple i've ever met & fall in love with a primary full of chinese kids.
i am not a jetsetter, nor do i wish to be one. i will always welcome the opportunity to go someplace new and expand my comfort zone, and see the beauty the world has to offer. but the reason that i go places is not to tour them. i want to understand them.
i want to stay. i want a home in the places i go to. the exciting thing about the world to me, now, is the people who are living in it, the stories they can tell me, and the love we can share.
i have seen a lot of places. i haven't traveled extensively, but i have more than most my age. i have done this because it is my priority. seeing the world is much greater than having things, but knowing people is much greater than seeing the world.
the word china means very different things to my head and to my heart. my head still has a notion of china that it's had my whole life--a country of little space. full of people, factories, a communist country, "asia", and all the generalizations of the kind of people who live there. what my heart feels about china is absolutely independent of their asianness, of communism, overpopulation. the entirety of what i feel for china is what i feel for home: a place full of people that i love from the bottom of my heart. a place of comfort and nostalgic memories. it is my home. one of them.
i learned none of that by climbing the great wall or walking through tienanmen square.
the power of travel is that, when done right, the traveler comes out of it with a greater understanding of the human race. because we really aren't all different races, we are one. and when people urge us young people to travel, i think, it isn't so that we can look at places we've never seen. it is so we have the opportunity to become a citizen of the world.
i really do believe that it doesn't much matter where you go; it matters who you meet and what you feel. settings don't change people. people change people.