When asked ‘How has 10 months of travel affected my life?’. I usually ended up saying something short ….“It was an amazing trip!”, and maybe add a few extra words….fun, interesting…. the let my voice trail away as their eyes glaze over. A more meaningful answer takes extra time to describe, as without a doubt, the 10 months of travel had a tremendous impact on my life. It’s hard to know where to begin….
But I think the best ones to answer this question are my two young daughters (then age 9 and 11). For them, among other things, it was a year out of the usual day-to-day school routine although we did follow their school curriculum. They also had hands-on lessons in geography, history, social studies, math (currency conversion), add in impromptu lessons in geology (my background is in geology), biology (field trips with local guides learning about local flora and fauna), meeting and visiting with people and learning about their culture. Most importantly, and not part of any formal or informal lesson, the kids had an opportunity to meet and live with people and learn about their stories, their culture – daily rituals, customs around meals, families, music, spiritual beliefs. The kids have developed a social conscious – becoming aware that each country in the world and its people are diverse, each having its own history and cultural values – some of which may appear wrong though inexperienced eyes.
For me – I had not traveled very much around the world prior to this trip, but in a nutshell, travel has had an enormous impact on me. I’ve gained so much appreciation for the world; seeing, touching, hearing about ancient and more recent history in other countries, distant landscapes, interacting with people from other cultures and making connections with them. Having been there, lived there, seeing, eating, smelling, hearing with my own senses – is far richer in terms of gaining social and cultural wealth than reading or watching a documentary on TV about other cultures. Traveling to distant countries and experiencing different cultures has also taught me about my life. It is as though my eyes are now looking inward – instead of outward. I see and think differently now. Travel has taught me to be more open-minded and ‘see’ new with opportunities instead of simply following the same ruts.
Travel has also instilled a feeling of being grateful – grateful that I am healthy enough to travel, and also grateful that I live in a part of the world where we have the opportunity to go to school, to get an education, to get a well paying job and have the opportunity to travel. In many of the countries that we visited – those opportunities simply do not exist !. Extended travel has also helped me overcome the stresses of daily life. I remember how relaxed other cultures are, whereas back in the home environment, I notice the fast paced and stressful life experienced by my neighbors. There seems to be an endless list of things-to-do, driving kids to and from after school activities, and a fair amount of ’keeping up with the Jones’. I have simply stopped stressing about many things. I no longer feel the urge to be always on the go, to rush out to participate in every activity that comes along, or sign my kids up for every activity. Nor do I feel the urge to make a large addition to my house, or even buy a new car, or even buy more stuff. I have learned to be Content. I have lived with people that had a much smaller house than mine, did not even have a car, had much fewer personal possessions and did not rush around trying to do everything. They were Content. During the 10 months of travel, there were many situations that did not go as well as planned. We had our share of mistakes and misadventures, and my hard learned travel lesson was that patience, acceptance and the ability to go with the flow are the among the greatest of life lessons.
There is a downside however. I didn’t really travel until the age of 46 – much older than most. At my age, it is hard to go back to life as if nothing happened. That trip as caused a mixture of restlessness and contentment. Why didn’t I travel at a younger age, instead of pursuing a couple of academic degrees ?. If – only I had…. . That said, I am still young and healthy enough to travel. This first extended travel has teased me into new opportunities. It is now up to me to find a way to escape the need to sit in an office working for somebody else and staring at a computer screen while life passes by. There is now the temptation to quit my “safe and secure” job, forgo the perks of a comfortable chair in a warm office, pension and a medical benefits plan. Big decisions, and there is still the need to pay the bills and make money. Without a doubt, it is hard to slide back into a regular life after a life-changing extended travel experience. For now, I will use my new-found life skills; Contentment, Patience, Acceptance and the ability to go with the flow – and start planning the next trip.
How about you—how has extended travel affected your life?