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It's no secret, I love to travel. I just got back from three weeks in Portugal and while I was there I started thinking about the "why" of it all. I even asked a few people what it was that they liked about travel and what made them want to do more. Some had started young. Their parents took them on trips from an early age and even lived outside of the U.S. in some cases. For them, it was normal to experience foreign lands ... it was just something they did.
My family pretty much stayed put when I was growing up. My mother was first generation of immigrant parents who sacrificed a lot to flee their countries and who died young. My mother didn't speak english until she was in the first grade. My father's mother immigrated from Nova Scotia and after getting married, never even returned to Canada. Neither of my parents traveled with me farther than a few trips around New England and to New Jersey a couple of times to see distant relatives. I think it probably felt safe to stay close to home.
I didn't really think about going anywhere until I was in the sixth grade and my teacher had just returned from a year in New Zealand. She was so excited to tell us about her experience. Then, in junior high school, one day, at an assembly, we heard a high school senior tell us about her trip to southeast Asia with a foreign exchange program. I got thoroughly caught up in her excitement and told myself that I wanted to do that one day.
Photo by Florencia Potter
My thoughts and desires went out to the Universe and after a three-month application and interview process, I found my 16-year old self on my way to Brazil for a year. I am so glad that I had that opportunity before I could really know what I might be getting myself into. Ignorance was bliss. I mean, I did well in school and I was considered to be smart, but what does a 16-year old really know about much of anything outside of their everyday life?!? That year turned out to be hard, challenging, and ultimately, the best year of my life up 'til that point.
I knew everyone would be speaking a different language. I figured the food would be a little unfamiliar. I was "ready" to wear slightly different clothing and use another form of money. I even thought I was very open-minded and I may have been more open than some, however, I had no idea how foreign living in another country could be! It was also wonderful, although not at first.
My family didn't speak english and I didn't speak Portuguese. I picked up a little bug after just a few weeks and when I ran to the bathroom to be sick, they all went with me. They held my hand when we crossed the street (I finally noticed that a lot of people held hands, regardless of age) and we spent the first month getting ready for five nights (!) of Carnaval, the huge celebration before Lent starts. I thought they were weird and not being able to communicate easily made me doubt myself and what I had been thinking when I applied to the exchange program. Fortunately, I learned Portuguese pretty quickly and that made things a little less stressful, however, I really turned the corner when I stopped comparing everything around me to what I knew in the U.S. and started to simply be with whatever was in front of me. Wayne Dyer used to say, "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change." Instead of viewing my new surroundings as strange or unusual or even abnormal, I opened myself up to this culture, country, and its people and began to experience it in all its beauty. Yes, it was very different from what I was used to and that became charming, incredibly interesting, and I fell in love.
I wish I had taken my children on more trips when they were growing up. I did take them to Brazil once for six weeks and it was fun. Their father didn't share my wanderlust and I used that as an excuse to not go much further than Disney World. As an older adult, starting in my mid forties, I've been making up for "lost time". I love being home-based in Boston in part because Europe feels so close. When I was on the west coast a couple of years ago, I felt like I was "already half-way there" (ha!) and I took a trip to Australia.
Photo by Steve Shreve
I am fascinated by both the differences and similarities in different cultures.
I also love that travel stretches me. Being in a situation that is sometimes uncomfortable simply because it is unfamiliar has taught me to let go of judgements and often give someone or something the benefit of the doubt. I've learned to look for the surprise or delight right around the corner and I've been reminded that a smile goes a long way in any language.
It's impossible to know what you'll learn or see or experience, even if you read every travel guide there is on wherever you're traveling. You simply can't know what you won't know and that's ok. Being in unknown territory forces us to rely on our inner divine knowing. I truly believe that we are all better people when we let ourselves enter the worlds of others with the intention of gaining even just a little more understanding. This is what I wish for you.