There’s travel, and there’s travel. Sometimes we make trips to see the sights. But sometimes, it’s to experience the culture, and that’s how baby boomer Lauren Rombach of Littleton, Colorado, has been spending the past few years. Lauren is a longtime special ed teacher who is making the most of her retirement.

As I ponder my next adventure toward the road less traveled, I find myself thinking more and more about the quote, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

Lauren Rombach at the African Leadership University Barefoot Fancy Party in Mauritius.

Those who don’t like to travel might think this is a misnomer, because to travel, you have to start out with a certain amount of money. The word “rich,” after all, usually equates with money, so you’d think traveling — and spending money to do it — could only make you poorer, not richer. But here’s a better way to see it: traveling makes you richer in ways that are unfathomable until you do it.

The English Immersion class at African Leadership University in Mauritius.

When I talk with others about the places I’ve been, I realize that I am passionate to the point of being evangelical. I had only traveled out of the United States once before I was 40 and before that, I never felt any sort of wanderlust for the road less traveled. Since my retirement three years ago though, I have traveled to all parts of the globe. I have been enriched by friendships that I never would have experienced had I not visited different countries and cultures. When my husband and I taught English to college students at African Leadership University in Mauritius, we had a group of friends that encompassed people from Morocco, South Africa, Italy, and England via Zimbabwe. We spent weekends together sharing food and experiences and I treasure that time together.

Lauren with Chinese student, Vivian, in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Spending money on experiences instead of possessions has changed my perspective about how I want to live my life. I don’t want to be engulfed in the culture of conspicuous consumption any more. After visiting Hanoi, I thought that maybe one day my husband and I would just disappear into seclusion loving the simple life and lots of noodles.

The “Oldbie Group” in Mauritius gather for dinner.

It could be argued that travel isn’t the only thing we can buy to make our lives richer. Wouldn’t buying a gift for someone, without any strings attached, do the same thing? Maybe.

Some people might think that the idea of travel and making yourself richer is a privileged and elitist sentiment. I now see the value of time spent in places as opposed to time spent trying to grow my bank account. When I taught students in China and Mauritius, I learned as much or more from them as they learned from me. One of my students from China spent two weeks at our home a few months ago. Times with her are some of the best memories of my life.

Lauren enjoying the Mon Choisse Beach in Mauritius for the first time.

I now realize that travel has made me richer in ways that I never would have imagined before and I now see how rich I really am. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience the people and countries that I have because not everyone has that opportunity in their lives. I know that I am one of the richest people on the planet.


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