A question people sometimes ask me is, Why do you like to travel so much? To be honest, it never really occurred to me that travel was a preference; I always considered it a luxury and opportunity that everyone would take if given the choice.
As it turns out, I do have a hard time staying in one place. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time traveling, whether locally or overseas, and it taught me that a big part of experiencing life to the fullest meant spending it in different communities.
Still, I understand that not everyone loves travel. In fact, my own father is a bit of a homebody, traveling only for work and rarely, nowadays, for pleasure. In his free time, he’s content strolling through a garden, working on his paintings, reading and napping. Not bad, I admit.
So I have to ask myself what, if anything, helped cultivate that desire to get out into the world. And more importantly, I’ve thought about what I learned from traveling as a child, and why I think it’s important for other children to travel too.
1) The world is bigger than I thought. Within the domain of our own homes, it is easy for children to think that the world is only as big as the street we live on. Traveling, I was forced to follow along, to be flexible, to compromise my own preferences, to do some things that scared me. I had to sleep when I wasn’t tired and get up when I was, to eat things I hadn’t eaten before. Ultimately I think that was good for me, and I don’t regret those times I spent doing what I wasn’t interested in, but staying with the group. It taught me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted, all the time.
2) I don’t need that much stuff. Admittedly, I used to be the souvenir junkie. As a child, I adored going to open markets and buying little trinkets and cheap jewelry. But, even as I hauled those keepsakes back home and placed them in my drawers, I would realize that I already had a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily remember owning. Traveling forced me to pare down to a suitcase on a regular basis. I learned, even if only subtly at the time, that I could live with less.
3) There are a lot of different people out there. It’s almost inevitable, as a child, to think that all the world eats, sleeps, learns, speaks, dresses and works the way we and our parents do. At least, that is the assumption that I made, until I started traveling. Interacting with people of different cultures– whether it was my family overseas or strangers at a new destination– I realized that my way of life was not, by any means, a standard. It was just one way.
4) On the other hand, people share many similarities. I had the opportunity to play soccer with kids in Costa Rica, to go hiking with friends in Asia, and participate in a Japan tour with a fellow 10-year-old girl from Australia. It was so easy to play, to laugh, to chat and to enjoy our moments together. At the core, I had realized, we weren’t that different from each other after all.
5) Home really is where the heart is. On longer trips abroad, I would miss my home. I would miss my bed, my friends, my daily routine. On certain trips I definitely missed the food we ate at home, too. But more importantly, I realized that when good relationships are built, home can be anywhere. The initial discomforts of a different way of life can be overcome by the growing comfort of new friends or old family members. In a way, I learned to be less attached to a house, and more attached to the people I loved.
Did you travel as a child? What kinds of trips did you go on, and what did you learn?
(Also, that top photo is of me and my cousin on the California coast– I believe I was about 5 and he was 3!)