Growing up, December 26th was always a day for my sister and I to play with our new toys, wear our new clothes, and be a bit sad that Christmas was over for another year. This year, the gift Ben and I gave to each other was this trip. And it just so happens, it is the gift that keeps on giving.
Experiences, Memories and Stories
There is a well known travel quote by Ibn Battuta that says “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” It is the experiences that do that. In the past four months alone we have gone scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, learned how to mountaineer using crampons, ice axes, and helmets in the mountains of New Zealand, learned to surf at the world-famous Bondi Beach, toured Singapore’s lavish city, done a heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, and spent endless hours getting lost in Bangkok’s markets.
Last week when we were in the Sydney airport waiting for our connecting flight to Singapore I saw a sign in the restroom that I still can’t get out of my head. It said “Do not stand on toilet seat.” I was totally confused. Why would anyone ever stand on a toilet seat? But as I continued to think about it, it dawned on me that much of the world uses squat toilets. As jarring as it was for me the first time I saw a hole in the ground, I am sure its the same for those who aren’t used to European toilets. It makes sense that people who haven’t seen our toilets would stand on the seat. But without the experiences that we’ve had, that perspective wouldn’t be possible. I am hugely grateful for that gift.
Spending the holidays outside the Midwest has also provided us with the perspective that many, if not most, of the Christmas songs are pretty irrelevant to Christians in most of the world. It’s been hilarious to listen to “White Christmas,” or “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” when it was 90+ degrees in Australia, Singapore, and Thailand. Until now, I hadn’t thought about how so many of our beloved songs don’t apply to many who celebrate Christmas.
A connection with the people and cultures in different parts of the world is what continues to drive our wanderlust. We’ve met people from all over the world, and have been fortunate to keep in contact with several. It’s awesome to meet up with a friend in London that you originally met on safari in Africa and talk travel with others you met in Thailand that live in Egypt and Latvia. It’s also amazing to pick the brains of the locals to find out what they love and don’t love about where they live. Connections with different cultures around the world are also remarkable. I will forever have more respect for the countries that we have visited because I learned about pieces of their history, ate their food, walked their streets, shopped at their markets, visited their places of worship, and got to know as much as I could about what is important to them. That connection is something that I cherish, and it is one of the best gifts that travel gives us.
We have spent hours waiting for transportation, whether it’s at the airport, train station, bus station, or even stuck in traffic. When traveling from the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, to my cousin’s house in Kampala, Uganda, the 44.5 km (28 miles) drive took more than six hours. Coming from America, we have also found that most other places in the world work at a different pace than what we are used too. Travel has taught us that you can’t plan for everything and patience is one of the most important virtues to have.
This gift has come in many different forms. First of all, we have much more confidence when it comes to getting around in different places, in places where they don’t speak English, using public transportation, and in countries where people try to scam you. Our research, lots of smiles, and hand gestures have helped with this.
I think our confidence has also increased because of our experiences. Prior to visiting SE Asia I knew little to nothing about Buddhism. Prior to visiting Uganda, I had never stepped foot inside a Mosque or wore a hijab. Prior to visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina I had never had Ćevapčići. These are just a few of the experiences that have increased our confidence because we’ve gained knowledge. Knowing about different cultures, religions, cuisines, celebrations, languages, etc. gives us a greater perspective of the world, and provides background when we go to other countries that may have similar cuisine, celebrations, clothing, beliefs, etc.
Finally, our confidence has also increased because of obstacles we’ve had to overcome. Someday we will write about our flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda, and how the airline we were booked on was grounded for weeks before we arrived but we were never told. So when we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya after traveling for 24 hours, we had to figure out how to get to Kampala, when no one was willing to help us. We also had to figure out what to do when our luggage got lost in Amsterdam, and ultimately traveled to more countries that we did, and we landed in Ljubljana, Slovenia wearing jeans and sweaters even though it was 100 degrees. We’ve learned from our frustrations and now know what to do if/when we’re ever in those situations again. Having those tools is definitely a confidence booster.
James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” I love this quote, and Ben and I take it to heart. We have eaten everything from Cuy (Guinea Pig) in Peru, to Balut (fertilized duck egg) in Vietnam, to a Century Egg (preserved egg) in Thailand. We try everything once for a couple reasons. First, we don’t want to be rude, and second, because these things are oftentimes important to the culture of the places we are in. More than just food, we have stepped foot in places of worship for a handful of religions, and we have celebrated holidays that we didn’t know existed before visiting a certain place. We’ve also learned about cultural norms that we don’t necessarily agree with or understand. But the gift of openness has allowed us to experience many things, learn a lot, and even brought some of our now favorite things to our attention and we are so thankful.
Education, Exposure, Awareness
This one might be a bit redundant, but I think it deserves its own headline simply because of how important it is. Travel has taught us more than we could ever put into words. Not only have we learned about cultures, people, sports, religions, foods, celebrations, history, language, etc. But we have also learned that as much as there is to see in the world, and as big as the world is, people are people no matter where you are. They are working to provide for their families. They are cheering on their children as they take their first steps. They are helping each other when they drop something. They are angry when people are rude. There is poverty everywhere. There are disabilities everywhere. There are wonderful people everywhere and, unfortunately, there are terrible people everywhere. But overwhelmingly there are good humans with good hearts, and I love continuing to have that reinforced.
I can’t wait to see what gifts travel will give us next.