When I was 10 years old, my grandfather decided that he was going to throw away a couple years’ worth of National Geographic Magazines. I was struck by a cool picture on the front of one and asked if I could have them instead. I spent that summer sailing down the Orinoco River, dancing salsa in Old Havana, exploring chimpanzee reserves in Tanzania, and climbing K2 through the pages. I rode camels in the Sahara and horses in Petra. I learned about Cossacks and Roma. I created a list of food I wanted to try with names I couldn’t spell, let alone pronounce. The travel bug hit me hard.
I love traveling – planning a trip is pretty high on my list of favourite pastimes. There are few (if any) places in the world that I don’t want to see. I’ve checked a couple things off the list that 10-year old me made, but for each thing I accomplish, more are added. Riding a camel in the Sahara made me realise that I need to swim with dolphins and try skydiving. Seeing Michelangelo’s Pietà made me yearn to see the world’s largest stone Buddha in China and Machu Picchu. Don’t even get me started on Stonehenge.
But the thing I love most about traveling is the way it pushes me to pay attention to things happening around me. Reading Nietzsche on the beach in Morocco made me stop and think about the lives of women in that culture, who I saw covered from head to toe and laughing hysterically in the water. Finding an English language bookstore in Siena, Italy, and buying a book about leaving it all behind to settle in a new country spawned more than a few daydreams about doing it myself. Sitting for hours in a tiny church in Scotland with people I had known for a couple of weeks, discussing Scottish politics, religion, and favourite comfort foods showed me how close we all are despite the many miles and different cultures.
In less than a week, I’ll be heading out for my most recent trip. It’s a big family trip this time to see where my father’s family originated. I’m ridiculously excited to get on that plane, even knowing what difficulties await. I’ll be the navigator while my mom tries to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and my sister will adamantly refuse to wake up before 10. But some of my favourite stories come from those kinds of challenges – if you’re interested, ask me about sitting in the hooligan section of a soccer stadium. We’ll all leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for my Dad, his family, and, consequently, each other.
So I guess what I’m really saying is – go buy National Geographic. And a travel journal. And prepare yourself for an overwhelming need to dive in, learn about other cultures, and maybe a bit about yourself. If you need me, I’ll be contemplating my existence in the Guinness brewery, because there’s always something to learn from the local “cuisine” as well!