Why do we travel?

November 13, 2019 Cilla Utne No comments exist
At a Zoroastrian burial site in Iran, 2016.

“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” —Rumi

In my younger years, I had no idea why I was drawn to world travel. I just was. You know, like some people aren’t. I always thought it had to do with the places I traveled to, that there was somehow something ‘better’ about the way people lived in other cultures. I just felt better traveling than how I felt being at home. For many years, coming back home after months abroad, to my home culture of Sweden, I simply didn’t agree with “better home than away” or “home is where the heart is.” Of course, back then, that feeling had everything to do with me, and less the places I visited.

Walking on the beach in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, July 2016.

I believe strongly that we are drawn to that which we need to heal within ourselves, or we are likely to repeat patterns that our parents and grandparents started. In my own case, I believe I was subconsciously searching for ways to heal some old trauma that was a disruption in the tapestry of my family history. These are trans-generational experiences, also known as epigenetics. My immediate family on my mother’s side were Finnish-speaking refugees from a territory called Ingria that no longer exists, just southwest of St Petersburg, Russia. They escaped the former Soviet Union for Finland in 1943, and had to flee overnight to Sweden a couple years after the second World War was over. There was no ‘going back’, nor ‘coming home’. 

They ended up in Sweden after a decade of escaping Stalin’s death squads. Ethnic Finnish refugees of war, they were all Soviet citizens who had hoped for a new life and future in Finland, but had to up and leave again after a knock on the door in the middle of the night. An informant came to my grandfather’s rescue to let him know it would be best to leave, or he would get arrested and sent back to the Soviet Union – as happened to over 50,000 other Ingrians – and scattered across that vast territory as forced laborers. They fled overnight in a fishing boat, and after two decades fleeing for their lives, they barely made it across the stormy sea.

I think some family members carry these trans-generational memories more than others, because that’s just what genetics do. I never did feel particularly at home in Sweden. I have discovered through a lot of unpacking of some of these old family traumas (that’s what they are) mostly through family constellation work, that my own personal journey, both the inner and the outer, is directly linked to my family’s restless journey -– one that was forced upon them. My grandfather’s experience was exacerbated by the loss of two brothers in Stalin’s Red Army, and being forced away from their own land. My grandfather went to his grave with no love lost for “the Russians”. 

Not surprisingly, in my college years, once I started to dig into my own life’s purpose, I was drawn to intercultural consciousness and bridge building between people of different cultural backgrounds. My first career was as a cross-cultural trainer for corporate executives, something I am still involved with from time to time. For over two decades, I have worked with hundreds of expat families in transition who are moving overseas. Mostly upper management and C-suite executives with their spouses and children. When I would ask those clients “why did you choose to take on this international assignment,” most of them replied “to expand the experience for the family and for the children.” 

When my grandfather urged me to write down his story before he passed away in 1998, he said, “you need to record me and tell my story… It should be called Three countries, Three Children.”

My mother was born in the USSR in 1940, her sister in Finland in 1944, and her brother shortly after their dramatic escape to Sweden in early 1947. Three Countries, Three Children is a chapter in my own book (a work in progress…stay tuned!), because it’s very much my story too. 

So why do we travel? Well, if you think about it, aren’t we all refugees from somewhere? Who came over from the ‘old country’ and who or what did they leave behind? These journeys are very personal, individual and I believe in many cases it is just to find our own way to an inner peace, to realize that we are all connected, that borders and walls are just part of a political map that has little to do with the human experience of life. When we travel, we discover that we find a lot more in common with people of other cultures than we find differences. That’s where the magic happens.

Why do you travel? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

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