26 November 2013

Have Passport, Will Travel

As my countdown to Thanksgiving continues, today, I’m thankful for the ability to travel. 
Few things have influenced me as much as seeing the world. I’ve been to six continents and when I think about items on my bucket list, almost all of them include travel. 
 Even though my father grew up in China and then London before emigrating to the U.S. when he was 22, there was no emphasis on exploring the world when I was growing up. My father was a workaholic and he was also in the National Guard, so much of his time away from the office was spent at Fort Bragg. Other than traveling to Los Angeles when I was 10 to visit my paternal grandparents and make the requisite childhood pilgrimage to Disneyland (in part because my father won a sale contest), most of our travel was limited to North Carolina and trips to see my maternal grandmother in Atlanta, where my mother grew up. My father was seldom with us because we would go when he was on military maneuvers every summer. 
We also had a cottage on Kerr Lake on the North Carolina/Virginia border and so any spare time was usually spent there. Looking back as an adult, I get it and I had a great time fishing and water skiing (or trying to), but as a kid, I really resented that while my friends would come back with great stories from Florida and Hawaii, my farthest adventures were 60 miles up the road. 
Perhaps because of my father’s background, but more likely due to her own curiosity, my sister took her junior year of college abroad in Reading, England. The summer after I graduated from high school, my dad, mom and I went to meet her. It was my father’s first time returning to the U.K. and my mom’s and my first time out of the U.S. 
Want a recipe for potential disaster? Put together a family who has never really traveled together and dump them in a foreign land and reconnect them with a daughter/sister who has experienced her first real taste of freedom for the past 10 months. We had no idea how to navigate that. While we had some great memories, especially meeting Dad’s best friend from college and my parents spending their anniversary in Paris on Bastille Day, it was a little like the Griswolds’ European vacation. 
Inspired by my sister, I spent my junior year abroad in Germany and I never pass up a chance to go somewhere new. I’ve probably been to around 25 countries, including Mali and Lebanon, places most tourists don’t go. 
I’m the me I want myself to be when I travel: adventurous, open to new things, alert, listening more than talking, absorbing, respectful, curious, and, most of all, happy. A citizen of the world. 
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Isn’t that so true? I’ve found it impossible to go somewhere and not come away feeling that despite language differences, political differences, cultural differences, etc. we really are much more alike than different. And we are all united.
Travel has enriched my life in ways that nothing else has and made me the person I am today. I can’t wait to see what country the next stamp in my passport comes from.
As I mentioned Saturday, for the next several days, I’m giving to food banks in the nation’s poorest cities. The fourth poorest city in the U.S. is Gadsden, Ala. The town has a poverty rate of 21.2% and it has been socked by the recession: 25% of the homes in Gadsden were valued at less than $50,000 in 2012. 
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