The True Meaning Of Travel: An Introspective Look After the Notre-Dame de Paris Fire

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True Meaning of Travel

Now more than ever we as human beings on this Earth are bombarded with images of all types from everywhere around the world. As we speak, armies of other humans are exploring every crevice of this planet in search of the perfect shot. Many lose their lives during ill-fated attempts at discovering what no one else has. It’s fair to say this desire to see and do is part of the human existence for most people.

While 90% of what we are shown online is heavily curated and dare I say fake, that doesn’t change the fact that technology allows us to see it in almost real time. And it also doesn’t change the fact that the world, its cultures and its people are pretty darn amazing. What is also amazing is the history asking to be discovered around the world. Despite the many religions and cultures, we are all humans and thus in some ways history belongs to us all.

But this visual buffet of “totally awesome” places and things no doubt has a good and a dark side. On the plus side you can fill your bucket list with unique experiences and locales you perhaps would have never even seen before, but on the bad side those fake images are designed to make you feel like you are missing out. They convince us that travel is the cure to all of life’s problems. Travel IS NOT the cure to all of life’s problems, but it is a path towards growth.

When I awoke on Tuesday morning I found that Notre Dame in Paris had partially burned. Upon hearing of the fire it seems people felt compelled to share their travel stories and pictures from the iconic cathedral. Paris is high on so many bucket lists, thus it isn’t a surprise a lot of people have visited.

Seeing all of my beautiful friends with Notre Dame got me thinking. How many people had it on their bucket list? How many people said they would go there some day, but never made it? How many people are still convinced they will go? Thankfully the cathedral isn’t all lost and most likely will rebuild and reopen someday, but it won’t be the same. If you didn’t go before yesterday you lost the chance of seeing it in that form, but does it really matter?

Notre Dame was/is over 700 years old with materials dating back up to 900 years. We have convinced ourselves that we want to visit these places to see what they are, but the truth is we only see a glimpse of them in one moment. While they can outlive humans, human made structures ultimately suffer the same fate eventually. What starts as something shiny and new ultimately changes and decays over time. Despite our best efforts to preserve beauty, nature often takes its toll as well.

So what is my point? I have always said people need to stop making lists and to just travel as much as they can within the realities of their life. I realized a long time ago that the more you travel the bigger the world becomes. There are far too many cool places to go and see in one’s lifetime, so the most important thing becomes doing and seeing what you can.

Notre-Dame de Paris was/is an iconic structure and is well worth the visit. It’s towering ceilings were awe-inspiring and its history both good and bad mind opening. On a day like this I will reflect on my fond memories of the moment in time I shared with it, but also will remember how all of the temples, mosques and churches I have visited have had the same effect on me.

Jasmine, Ellie and Shawn Reece in front of Notre-Dame de Paris in 2016.

So at a time when one of the world’s great monuments is in peril, let us remember that travel makes us better humans. Seeing relics of the past and present in various forms and states of decay opens our minds and makes us more tolerant. My favorite places on this Earth weren’t wonders of the world or high on most people’s lists. When one icon dies there are a thousand more to take its place on that darn list.

I have spent the past 13 years of my life traveling around the world. Just in that small spec of time in the history of Earth, I have seen so much change and have come to respect just how fast it comes upon us. Right now for example I am in Bangkok and I can’t even tell you how much the Thai capital has evolved (both good and bad) since my first visits in 2008.

So yeah, I am bummed about Notre Dame, but I also can’t wait to share another moment with it when the building emerges as something new. Travel exposes us to many gifts including a look at history that is incredibly powerful. It allows us to contemplate where we as humans have come from and perhaps more importantly where we are headed. We can’t do that in the same way sitting at home making lists. We just can’t.

Did you ever visit Notre Dame? Was it on your bucket list? Has this fire made you think twice about putting off visiting the icons of your dreams? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. I have been there. I was in complete awe of it. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it before this happened. My heart broke as I watched it burn. I think what has surprised me the most, is how some people just see it as a building. No big deal. Who cares? Those people make me sad that they can’t see the history that can never be replaced. I’m guessing a lot of those people have never been.

  2. I have been fortunate that early on I climbed the stairs to the top of the Koelner Dom, the Ulmer Dom, the Muenchner Frauenkirche, and have been in Paris and enjoyed Notre Dame on several occasions. However, having made over a hundred trips to Europe and explored virtually every nook and cranny of the continent by rental car, I still maintain that the over hyped tourist icons are truly over hyped and that the only way to truly experience Europe is to rent a car, forget a detailed itinerary, and find true adventure on the yellow brick roads and in the villages. If you haven’t rented a car and toured Portugal and Green Spain, you haven’t lived! Life is short. Checking off a bucket list is a total waste of time. So often I have observed the hordes of Japanese tourists following their guides through European cities, and I wonder just how much of those bull horned lectures on European history they recall after arrival back home..

  3. What a great read here. Thank you for posting this.

    Paris is sadly one of the cities we haven’t visited yet. We’ve been to quite a few places in Europe and frequently look at the pictures and are immediately transported back to the place and time we took them.

    In just 8 years we’ve taken 13 trips to Europe which is great. Wouldn’t trade a single moment of it.

    I couldn’t agree with you more – it’s great to travel, explore, discover, and grow.

    And yes I’m now planning a trip to Paris!


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