Travel Program Director Patricia Andersson unwraps the gifts that travel brings us in honor of the holiday season.
By Patricia Andersson
In this holiday season where we Westerners focus on generosity and giving, I thought it would be interesting to explore the generosity of travel. For truly, when we invest in a relationship with it, what travel gives back to us is quite priceless. Here are some of its gifts – limited to five instead of the bazillion possibilities so maybe you’ll actually read them all.
We all get into routines, and they’re often comforting and give us a sense of control in our lives as we know what to expect. Traveling – no matter the destination – breaks up those daily habits and throws us into new situations and new landscapes, where we may be hearing an unfamiliar language and seeing unusual things. This is all very good for one’s brain, as it creates new neural pathways that keeps our brain from aging. It’s true! And this novelty cracks open possibilities for new ways of seeing the world which can translate into new ways of experiencing our lives once we return home.
Take a trip to a place where you get to experience the joys of “squatty-potties,” then come back and take another look at your bathroom — it suddenly doesn’t need remodeling as badly as you thought. Live out of a suitcase for a few weeks and then assess your stuffed closet. Maybe you don’t really need another new sweater. Experience the intense traffic jams in developing countries that include livestock and foot-pedalled vehicles, then take a read on your level of road rage on our well-maintained highways. Travel can shift your outlook to noticing how many of life’s frustrations are really just “first-world problems” and not so important after all.
Or maybe it’s really contraction. Not that we as travelers get smaller, but the world seems to. Our sense of family gets bigger as the boundaries between “us” and ‘them” disappear. Nationalities turn into merely interesting labels, while the humanity that connects us all becomes more real and shines much more brightly.
When we travel, things don’t always go as planned. (I could name a hundred examples – fill in your own.) In fact, some of the best things are unplanned, and come about from ”the happy accident.” A wrong turn brings us to a fantastic restaurant; a delayed flight sparks a conversation with someone who gives us needed information. Et cetera. Letting go of how we think things are going to be – or should be — allows us to just be in the flow of the moment, bringing us to full presence and engagement with what’s happening here and now, and finding all the peace — and joy — in that.
One of my most profound experiences took place in Nepal, while visiting a tiny village where Heifer was working. Our group was given a presentation by some of the village women, and one talked to us about learning to read as an adult. She was ecstatic with the independence this gave her, and very proud. She could now take a bus without asking for help because she could read the name of the destination. She could recognize numbers so could find her own way in a doctor’s office, as well as know if she was being given fair change. Yet our interpreter made a side comment that this low level of literacy was all they were aiming for – the village women would probably never get to the point where they would be reading books. I was shocked. No books, ever? Books have enriched my life so much; I cannot imagine a life without them! I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my taken-for-granted education, the magic of reading, and the world of books at my easy disposal. We have so very much to be thankful for!
Maybe some of my list sounds a little woo-woo, yet it’s true to my experience. I do feel that travel as DFW offers it has helped me to simplify my life, appreciate it more, be less caught up in day-to-day annoyances, and expand my sense of compassion and engagement.
And for these priceless gifts, I am truly grateful.