There are many things I’m grateful to my parents for having taught me, but one thing stands out above everything: the notion that traveling is almost as essential as breathing. That to truly begin to understand the world and your place in it, you must put yourself far outside your comfort zone and constantly seek ways, in Proustian terms, to see things through “new eyes.”
Whether it’s to exotic locations on the other side of the globe, or simply to a different part of your own country where the ideology and culture are far different from what you’ve always known to be true, to travel is to grow.
Though I’m undecided as to whether I will eventually wander down the road of parenthood, I know that if I do, I will do my best to raise my children as travelers. And to teach them that to travel is to embark on a never-ending lesson of appreciation, acceptance and challenging your own inherent notions of what constitutes “normal.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited 40 different countries (and lived in six of them) and many of my greatest life lessons have come from traveling.
So after thinking about what advice I would give my (possible) future children — and my niece and two nephews who have already begun their lives as travelers — I came up with this:
What a great treat it is for you to see the world through someone else’s eyes. The opportunity to travel world comes as both a pleasure and a great responsibility.
You’ll learn so much. You’ll see things that confuse you, that make you sob with profound sadness and laugh with your whole body. You’ll wonder why the world can be so beautiful and so unjust at the same time. You’ll ask yourself why you’ve been given the chance to live such a wonderful life – why you deserve to travel – while other people struggle to simply survive each day living in such terrible conditions.
But don’t lose heart or begrudge the opportunity you have. Take this moment to interact with these people with great respect and esteem. Look them in the eye, no matter how heartbreaking or repulsive their situation might seem to you. Smile and say hello. Whether or not you give money to those who ask for it is your choice, but the one thing you cannot do is ignore them. Sometimes a simple acknowledgement of their presence can feel much more valuable to them than any amount of money.
… to travel is to embark on a never-ending lesson of appreciation, acceptance and challenging your own inherent notions of what constitutes ‘normal.’
When someone invites you to eat with them, say yes – even if the fare on offer repels your stomach. They might be offering you what is an entire week’s worth of food for them and they would rather go hungry than be inhospitable. Observe how everyone around you interacts at the table and remember that they might be waiting for you, as their honored guest, to take the first bite. Tell them how delicious it is and how much you appreciate the meal. Respect any form of prayer that comes before or after the meal, even if you do not share their beliefs.
Remember, just because something feels unfamiliar and challenging to your own notions, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. While it’s good to share your opinions and cultural customs, don’t force them onto people. Even if you’re in a part of your own country where the dominating political beliefs are strongly different to your own, stop for a moment to consider why that is and try to understand rather than judge – education levels, income and intergenerational influence are often what help shape these beliefs. Celebrate the differences and this precious opportunity you have to see the world from an entirely different perspective.
And finally: Travel often. In the end, all those material possessions will be worth far less than the memories that you’ll treasure forever.
Whether you travel near or far, do you adopt this mindset?
Images via Sadie Culberson