Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hello World

I had the opportunity to travel to 38 countries before I met my husband and settle down, and to this day my travel experiences have shaped almost all my decisions, from eating choices to voting.  

Some of my most memorable times have happened overseas.  My husband and I got married in Killarney, Ireland; and we took our twins to Okinawa, Japan for their first birthday. 

Travel is an essential component in my past experience, it has enhanced so many aspects of my life. The people I have met and the lifelong friends I have made overseas are dear to my heart.

In a few weeks I will have the opportunity to take our 10-year-old twins on a month-long trip to Japan (Thanks in part to my twin sister who has lived there for 11 years and my supportive husband.) I am very excited for our children (cousins!) to spend a significant amount of time together and build special memories, but the idea of the life lessons we will learn on this trip has also absorbed my thoughts.  

So what are some valuable lessons I learned when I traveled? And what would be my wish list for our twins to discover?

Firstly, and this is an easy one - travel light for opportunity and independence. We are only taking carry-ons so we will not need to rely on luggage carts or individuals for assistance. 

I know from personal experience that the less you carry on a trip the more remarkable your trip will be.  I overpacked for my first international trip and getting from terminal to terminal was awkward and backbreaking.  It was hard to get on and off trains and frankly I felt naive and unrefined. I vowed never to make that mistake again.  

On my next trip I packed very light (no check-on bags) and my unplanned 6-hour layover in Schiphol airport (Amsterdam) resulted in a spontaneous (and memorable) trip to the Anne Frank House. Because I did not have to worry about collecting and rechecking any bags, or finding a locker; I was able to use every minute to broaden my life experience by hopping on the train to this extraordinary historical landmark.

I hope my kids discover early in life that things weigh you down and can keep you from doing things. Pack less things to make more room for experiences. 

Things happen. When you travel to foreign lands you learn quickly that you are not the center of the world and although you may have planned every detail of your trip perfectly that does not mean that it will turn out that way. In fact, chances are it won’t. And guess what? That is okay!  

Travel is an opportunity to discover more about yourself. To live spontaneously with an open heart and mind.  I am reminded of a favorite quote by Charles Swindoll,  “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”  Adopt this quote as your travel mantra. 

It truly is a small world and I am excited for the new perspective this trip will give my children. Not just about the obvious such as food and language, but about their place in the world.  Other cultures matter; the world is small and we are all connected.  

One year after I had visited Turkey, that country was struck with a devastating earthquake and 6,000 people were killed. As someone who had just visited, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone that I had a conversation with at a cafe had lost a loved one; or if someone that said hi to me on the street was affected by the tragic quake; my visit brought the headline to life for me by mixing up emotions and concern.  

When an acquaintance mentioned his irritation at the United States for sending money to Turkey to help in the quake recovery; I was truly astonished. I was very saddened by the headlines and wanted to help too. Travel changes your perspective and helps you identify with other people. 

Keep an open mind about opportunities; a nonjudgmental almost novice outlook frees your mind from the clutter of a schedule and unrealistic expectations. You don’t always have to do what the “vacation books” suggest, (that is someone else’s bucket list).  

If you just want to find an amazing spot to sit and read your favorite book - do it. Create memories that mean something to you versus checking off a list.  Allow yourself to just quietly “exist” from time to time. Look around and really absorb the city; the sites; the smells; and the sounds.  You may find that “happy place” you will revisit again and again. 

To this day, I remember sitting on a park bench in Rome and just watching and soaking in the feeling of being a part of that exact moment at that time in Rome. Thinking what would it be like to live here; to drive your moped to work; to stop in the coffee shop across the Colosseum for your daily coffee fix.  It is one of my favorite memories, and now 10 years later when I quiet my brain and think back to that time, I can still hear the sounds and experience what it felt like to truly “be” in Rome.  Exist quietly from time to time and add new meaning to your travel experience. 

I laughed out loud when I discovered this quote by Dagobert D. Runes,  “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”   This is so true!

Take it easy on souvenirs.  I planned early in my “traveling years” to buy either a linen, pottery, or a print from the places that really moved me. This was with the intention to bring home only souvenirs that I would use. Now years later when my husband and I have decided to “reduce clutter” and keep only items that are useful and bring back good memories I can choose to actually keep most of my travel keepsakes because they have a use in our home.  

Respect the locals and their traditions and any sacred customs or guidelines. 

When I visited China, our tour guide warned us not to speak out about any opposing viewpoints any of us may have with the Chinese government.  He could not promise that we wouldn’t be arrested for not respecting rules and opinions set by their government.  This is an extreme example, but we will be visiting  sacred temples, etc., and even though we may not believe in their specific rituals we need to respect the rights and customs of the locals that do - even if we don’t agree or understand.  It is a great lesson in empathy and a wonderful way to open your mind to new opinions and ideas. 

Learning new ideas doesn't mean you need to change your own, it just makes the world a much more interesting place. 

Use the skill of map reading. Although I agree is it a smart idea to use a GPS system in the busy streets of a foreign land; before you head out on your adventure look at a map to give you an overview of the amazing world you are about to experience. 

And lastly, leave all expectations behind.  

Travel with a mind open to new ideas; leave preconceived notions at home; and be just be wowed at all the “newness.”   The need to be in control is “mind clutter.”  Flexibility is a good thing. The need to control your day and fixed agendas will steal life experiences from you.  

Remember that your trip starts the minute you walk out your door. There is some truth in the old cliche “It is not all about the destination it is about the journey.”