5 Reasons to Hit the Road (Less Travelled)
A recent survey among older Americans revealed a surprising regret – not that they wished they had saved more money, or that they were sorry they didn’t have kids, or were sorry that they did have kids, or any of the more usual suspects in the regret column. No, the thing they regretted most was not traveling more when they were young.
Now, first we should differentiate between travel and vacations:
Vacations are usually trips to some nearby hot spot (Cancun, Miami, etc.) where the focus is on a contrasting mix of daytime relaxation on beach and by pool, sipping drinks that look like a kiddie confection but are guaranteed to lay you out, and a frenetic nighttime scene featuring more deceptive drinks and some boogieing to the bongos.
Travel, on the other hand, usually entails visiting a culture that is different from the norm (such as India or Morocco), where the money is different, the food is different, the behavioral norms are different, and is not necessarily relaxing at all. Travel often takes you much further afield and into situations that can be unpredictable and challenging.
So why would any young woman choose travel over vacation? We all have lives that carry a certain amount of stress, of obligation, of responsibility. When we get time away from work, why wouldn’t we settle for plopping down on a beach chair and summoning the drinks boy? Here’s why:
Forget your troubles and just get happy
Whenever I travel to a place like Morocco or India, the environment is so stimulating on every level that it is impossible to stay in my obsessive interior world. These places demand full concentration on being in the moment, as they swamp your senses and snap your synapses. Typically, by the time I return home, I find that I have forgotten to think about the challenges in my life for the duration of my time away and, as an added bonus, have subconsciously developed a realization that these problems are not nearly as important or difficult as they seemed prior to the trip.
Get it while you can
Marriage, having families, and assuming the larger responsibilities that come with time, can make it hard to travel, and can limit the places you’re able to travel to. It’s a brave parent indeed that will lug children and baggage off to an exotic locale when the kids are crying to go to Orlando. Partners may also balk at travel to unfamiliar and challenging countries. Go while you are young and carefree and make unilateral choices to visit the places that intrigue and inspire you.
They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot
With the world rapidly becoming homogenized with a Starbucks and/or McDonald’s on every corner (my friend and I counted four Starbucks’ on one block in Hong Kong!!) it’s a good idea to get there before “there” becomes the same as “here”. A good case in point is Cuba which, while a Caribbean island, has retained a flavor all its own because it was cut off from American business and trade. You may be sure that now relationships between the two countries are warming up, Cuba will soon begin to resemble St. Thomas and the other tourist filled islands in the area. Still wonderful to visit, but lacking that individual character that makes a trip truly memorable.
Broaden your mind instead of your butt
Travel to places that have different cultures from ours can present happenings that could never otherwise be experienced. I will always remember being in a tour bus on a rural road in India and seeing a completely naked holy man walking down the street adorned with nothing but feathers and beads. Nobody was paying the least amount of attention to him, while my friend and I were were suffused with giggles at this unexpected apparition.
Driving through small villages where the women were working in the fields harvesting mustard grass, while the men lounged around the communal swimming hole, gave us a glimpse into the division of labor in that part of the world. Visiting Da Nang in Vietnam, a place I knew only from stories about the Vietnam War, it turned out to be a beautiful, barely developed beach community and not the ravaged war zone I had imagined. Cappadocia in central Turkey looks more like a landscape from the Moon or Mars than planet Earth. And so on. These images live on in the mind, long after drinks by the pool at Club Med have faded into oblivion.
Home Sweet Home
And when your travels are done, the sweet relief you will feel about returning to your reassuringly familiar home town is very different to the feeling of regret most often experienced when returning from more traditional trips for relaxation. I always feel an appreciation for what America is and what it offers when I get off the homeward-bound plane, while simultaneously vowing to go far afield again on my next trip.
Bon voyage, and don’t drink the water!!!