Sunday, January 8, 2012

What do you learn through travel?

I was 21 years when I got on a plane to London.  All the money I had to my name was in my pocket.  I wasn't planning on coming back for a very long time.  It wasn't the first time I'd been somewhere new, but this time was different.  Where I would live and what I would do were unknown to me.   I had a vague idea that after several months of working and saving up a bit more, I could backpack around Europe on my own.  Doing it independently was important to me.  I learned much more that way.

The next year was an adventure.  I finally got a job as a receptionist in a small hotel.  I lived in the basement in dorm-like accommodations shared with the hotel chambermaids.  These women worked much harder than me, hardly spoke varying levels of English and enriched my life tremendously.  They became my fellow travelers within London.  I dated interesting men.  I visited every museum  I could.   I did a lot of watching.  I did some drinking and some dancing.  Most importantly, I made connections with many interesting people, young and old, in an age before email or Facebook.   . . . And, I learned quite a bit about myself.

After my time in London, I continued this method in Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France -- this time in motion.

Sometimes I would cross paths with your more 'typical' tourists from the United States who would say to me with envy  'Do this while you're young!  Once you are older you will not be able to'.  They meant that children, mortgages, jobs, etc. would keep me from traveling. 

They were right, to a point.  It does get much harder to justify these adventures when the bills need to get paid and diapers need to be changed. 

Recently, in a bold move, I returned to my old way of thinking and took my 9 year old son with me on a trip to London and Paris.  After our return my Aunt asked me, with a somewhat judgmental tone, "What would possess you to just up and take off on a trip like that?"

Now, at 42, a suburban wife and mother, how would I respond to 1) those tourists I met in passing and 2) those friends and family who don't quite 'get it'?  It may take quite some time to fully communicate the impulse I feel for wandering.  Not only is it fun and enriching, I think it's ESSENTIAL to properly educate my children.  Through travel we learn how to be citizens of the world.  We learn how to open ourselves up and be vulnerable, how to connect and trust, how to succeed, how to be competent.

We don't have to travel far.  A teachable traveler is one who wants to travel to the local museum or restaurant or regional park.  What sets the teachable traveler apart is his/her mindset.

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