February 19th, 2018
I am not even sure when the travel bug bit me and started my lifelong passion for exploring and adventure.
Maybe the obsession started at 10 years old, in the back of a station wagon during a cross-country move from Chicago to California. I was just so mesmerized by the rolling mountains, deserts, cactus and fruit trees-sights I had never seen before. Or maybe the obsession began during my first international experience as an exchange student in Japan during my senior year of high school. It was intimidating and fascinating to immerse myself in a culture where I couldn't read any letter or signs.
But if I really pinpoint it, I think my passion became an obsession during the summer after college where I spent 3 months backpacking and hosteling through Europe and Africa with my sister and some college kids. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see. The more cultures I interacted with , the more I wanted to learn. And this want just seems to continue.
Now, I have visited more than 1/4 of the world's countries, seen more than 3/4 of the United States, and stepped foot all 7 continents.
Travel has changed me in numerous ways, but here are the 5 best gifts it's given me.
1. A Broadened Perspective
Everyone knows that travel exposes you to different cultures. In Japan, I felt intrigued by the way society treated their elderly, with revere and complete respect. In Denmark and Norway I remember feeling joyful that new parents received long maternity leaves to bond with their new babies. I particularly love Latin countries, as they enjoy a slower pace of life, often centered on family and friends.
Some people lead opulent lifestyles, but so many more are just trying to survive. I have seen roofless houses in Morocco, Egypt and Mexico. I met very young Swazi children selling trinkets in the crowded streets to help support their families. Women and children washing clothes over rocks in the Amazon River in Peru. They asked if they could wash my clothes for money. I returned to the river the day I was leaving and donated all my clothes and Peruvian money I had left to help them and their families. These experiences help me appreciate and not take for granted my home in America, the roof over my head, clean and accessible drinking water,a washer and dryer, and free, stocked restrooms.
2. A Humbling Balance Between Mindfulness & Spontaneity
Traveling helps me live in the moment and leap outside my comfort zone. Simply put, I feel like I experience life more vividly when I'm traveling.
In Cuba, I felt frozen in time amidst all the historic cars and buildings. In Machu Picchu, the astounding and spectacular views took my breath away (literally -due to the high altitude.)
Recently the most life-changing experience I had was in Antarctica. I remember staring at this untouched, pristine, and frozen white continent and thinking , this is the most beautiful place I've ever seen Truly, Nature at it's best. Nothing helps me feel more grounded than our Earth's beauty.
Also, when in a new destination, I love going off the beaten path and ducking into local spots, like pubs, cafes and coffee houses. Hanging out with the locals is my favorite way to truly experience a new culture. I've also learned that some of the most memorable parts of a trip are the ones that make me fell the most alive. Some of my favorite adventures include, climbing inside the Eygptian pyramids, hiking to Sillustani tombs in Puno, nearly 15,000ft high, climbing the Great Wall of China, visiting Shark Alley in Africa, Hiking through rainforests and ruins in Pompeii, Greece, ,Mexico ,St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, Getting my fortune read by a Spanish- speaking Cuban shaman, (great info) climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbor bridge and most recently Polar plunging into -0.2 ocean in Antarctica. Somehow I seem to adapt a more adventurous YOLO version of myself when traveling,I mean who knows if I'll ever go back.
3. Intimate Friendships
There is no doubt that traveling has helped widen my peer circle. I have met so many friends through my travels
that I want to travel with again. In fact , the group that I just spent 27 days with in Patagonia and Antarctica got along so well that there could be a reunion tour in the Arctic next year.
I just find it so inspiring to talk to like-minded people and hear of the places they like visiting. I just met a woman who had traveled to 130 countries. I was just amazed by her and all her wonderful travel stories .Although my friends live all around the world it is great to keep up on social media with them. I love seeing their travel pictures and they are excited to see mine. I met two ladies, on separate trips, that live within 30 minutes from me so it's always great to see and catch up with them. Someone I met traveling in Africa came to visit me. In fact, I met a German man in Nashville last summer during the lunar eclipse , and he plans to visit us in Germany when I visit in a few months. Travel has taught me that adventure knows no city bounds.
4. Creative Spending
We all know by nature, that traveling is far from cheap, especially after you factor in plane tickets, lodging, transportation and attractions. As teachers,we had wonderful schedules that matched with our children's vacation breaks. However not always the funds to match those long vacations.
Instead of cutting out traveling, I just had to make our ventures more inexpensive and creative. We camped a lot and spent many blissful summers traveling and exploring America's great national parks. I recall many meals consisting of stovetop chili, quick-made pancakes, or messy s'mores and Jiffypop.
We spent many wonderful summers also traveling to Mexico and the Caribbean as these were pretty cheap locales. One summer my kids emptied our 5 gallon change jar. Didn't know how quickly spare change added up, but it funded a wonderful week exploring Tulum and Chichen Itza. Another time my teenage daughter was begging to go on a summer vacation. I told her she could use my $2000 check for teaching summerschool but nothing more. That girl was committed. She found a last minute deal for $1995 for our family to go to Jamaica. Yes ,Mon best trip ever!!
5. Passing on the Travel Torch
I most cherish being able to share my passion with others. I feel blessed I have been able to share this joy of the world with my children. My happiest memories are when I traveled with my family. My children are young adults now, and are active travelers themselves (coincidentaly they just came back from Cabo where they went swimming wiith the whalesharks.
Also as an elementary school teacher, I have experienced the greatest pleasure in helping to inspire a younger generation to think more globally and beyond the limits of their hometown. If I was doing a lesson plan on volcanos or rainforests, I could show them pictures of Costa Rica or Belize. If we were studying animal groups, I could show them the fish from the Great Barrier Reef or the elephants of Africa. I brought in all kinds of things I collect such as , artifacts, handicrafts, currency and sand to bring cultures to life in my classroom. The students just absolutely loved this!!
It felt so gratifying to hear my students' parents tell me that I had inspired their children to learn and see more about the world we live in. In fact some students started to do some traveling with their own families. They would love to come back and tell me about their own adventures.
Children are curious and always would ask me "Teacher where do you want to go?" My standard response would be "Anywhere and Everywhere, because this world is one beautiful and amazing place."
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