Opinion: How History Comes Alive When You Travel

Ryan Shannon

The One Way to Bring Boring History Lessons to Life

Travel has a plethora of benefits that range from reducing heart disease risk (according to Heart.org and this study from Syracuse University) to increasing happiness. But one of the most curious benefits is its history-enlivening properties.

Before traveling, history was my least favorite subject in school. And this is probably common among many students — while I’m biased, I don’t recall too many of my peers who were excited to go to history class. It’s seemingly dull, dry, and painfully boring.

But something changed in me after having traveled to nearly 30 countries. Now that I have traveled beyond my little town and have seen places I have only read about before, my mind has changed. Those memorized names and dates become more than words crammed into your head for a pop quiz. They become memories, experiences, sights, smells.

Travel Brings History to Life

While learning about the rise of the Byzantine Empire or the techniques Ancient Egyptians used to mummify bodies probably isn’t useful to the typical person, travel changes your perception of history. All those history textbooks you fell asleep reading, those documentaries on the Roman Empire that could have bored you to death — all those ancient documents works you were required to read finally come to life when you travel.

Names of people and places you can faintly recall become tangible and unforgettable. They become your surroundings. You realize you are walking through history. You realize that you, yourself, are a part of history.

The flat images in textbooks become 3D monuments before you. Their impression becomes etched in your mind forever. You note the smells in the air, the way you feel when you gaze upon historic monuments. Trust me, once you get off that plane and walk the streets and see the ruins of the Mayan temples, walk up the steps of the Colosseum, or take in the view of the Berlin Wall, your perception of history changes. You feel the connection between the past and the present.

When you think of The Great Wall of China, you no longer recall reading about it on page 367. But rather, it becomes dimensional and complex once experienced in person. It’s a live, tangible place.

History becomes a living and breathing experience rather than something flat and one-dimensional confined inside of classroom walls or the pages of a textbook. History becomes infused with the present — your learnings of history infuse with your preset memories. When you explore historical places, emotional imprints form — monuments become not only places of education, but places tied to personal experiences. You recall where you fell off your bike, or kissed your partner, or where you can still feel your calves aching after walking for miles.

In Conclusion

If you, your kids, or someone you know hates learning about history, the issue may stem from feeling disconnected from it. To feel more connected to history, it’s important to animate the past by seeing its remnants with your own eyes and through your own first-hand accounts.

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Digital nomad, I/O psychology student, entrepreneur. Visited nearly 30 countries. Author of 5 books on freelancing, travel, mental health.

Bellingham, WA
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