Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Has Travel Shaped You?

On a whim last week, I picked up a new novel at the library without really knowing anything about it.

I do it that way often rather than seeking out bestsellers or even classics-- I love feeling surprised by a new discovery and the randomness of it. Of course, the title had the word travel in it, which is always alluring to me. On top of that the author, Sue Monk Kidd, is the creator of "The Secret Life of Bees", which I fell hard for.

In any case, I inhaled this book in about two days... it was about travel to Greece, Turkey, and France, but also about travel with a loved one, and also the epiphanies we have while we're in a foreign environment.
The book got me thinking about my own life and travel adventures, and how it's certainly true that I've learned things about myself, made life-changing decisions, and been inspired by things I've seen and experienced away from home.

A few major events come to mind-- as a middle school student in Mexico, I first grappled with poverty and what it means to live in a developing country. From that point, I learned to appreciate every material comfort I had, and at the same time to disassociate things with fulfillment.

Later, as a Peace Corps in Namibia, I learned to intuit whether situations were safe or dangerous, and more importantly, when I had no control over outcomes, to simply "trust" other people.

I would say now in Japan as a married person without a career (a scary prospect to me lately), I'm looking for new and fresh ways to carve a niche for myself and feeling excited about that. More about this big change to come...

Finally, I've had the other kinds of epiphanies abroad too- I decided to end a relationship that wasn't right for me, I learned that I really can drive a stick shift up an icy mountain in Poland, and now I know how to barter over the price of a scarf with the best of them.

So, what about you out there? What have you learned about yourself away from home? What big decisions have you made? How has travel shaped or changed you?

10 comments:

The pale observer said...

Do you recommend the book??

Travel called to me from at least 5 years old. As a suburban kid in Canada, I always dreamed of something else 'out there'. When I lived in Botswana for a year at 18 I knew I would never want to settle down in the traditional sense.

Now, having lived as an adult and a mother in Ghana for the past 14 years, I believe I am forever changed. I have lived through, and come out the other side of 'the naive volunteer' - and now living as a professional, as an expat, I have come to terms with living that completely different lifestyle. I have definitely disassociated things with happiness and fulfillment and will never feel like home is a building somewhere. I am looking forward to our next adventure of life in the Caribbean on our boat.

Thanks for the post!!!

Fly Girl said...

Although I've never traveled any place for longer than 2 weeks, I believe that each experience has affected me in some way. The most memorable was probably in Brazil, where I was without the ability to communicate, which is extremely important to me as a writer, for the first time in all of my travels. I always learn some of the language of where ever I'm going but the Portuguese tripped me up and all my pronunciations were wrong. I felt ineffectual and stupid. It kept me from doing a few things initially but I realized that I wasn't being judged for my lack of language ability. Brazilians are very warm and accepting and I learned to communicate in other ways. That experience taught me that language is not as important as I thought and that it's the intention and postivie attitude that really matters.

Shannon OD said...

Travel made me really aware of the fact that I am not an anomaly. All of my friends have taken a more traditional path of a 9-5 job, house, mortgage, kids. I was the odd person out because I didn't want to do that right way - but on the road ALL the other backpackers are in the same position and I am a part of a community :-)

Mary and Sean said...

Pale observer (Holli),
I do recommend the book since I like this author and the message...she talks a lot about symbols we encounter in foreign environments and how we latch onto those and bring them back with us. I'd say that's true of my time in Africa, and maybe yours too?

Like you, I had the travel bug early! Wow, can't wait to read all about your new adventure! When does that start?

Mary and Sean said...

Fly girl,
That's a good point about language-- I've felt the same kind of paralysis before too. It's humbling, but it sure motivates me to try to communicate in other languages, and at least know what it feels like to be in the dark in a foreign tongue.

Mary and Sean said...

Shannon,
You are absolutely right about finding kindred spirits on your travels! I felt the same way about not taking the normal path... I was the last of any of my friends to "settle" down and even then it was a big joke that I was marrying "up". My friends all joked that my bohemian life was impoverished, but I would never change that time or lifestyle.

peregrina feminina said...

I could write a whole journal entry on this topic, but I'll simply say that travel had made me a stronger person and has helped me accept the world as it is.

Travelin'Fool said...

Travel has instilled confidence in me that was not there (at the level it is now) prior to traipsing about for three months in Central America. I had no clue what I was doing prior to going, but I made it, I loved it, and I would do it again!

The pale observer said...

Thanks Mary - the new adventure - life on a boat starts in June 2011. Gotta see my youngest through the end of highschool first :)

Anil said...

If anything I've realized how similar people despite cultural variation. We are all so much more alike than we are different. I think the world would be a much better place if more people could see that and we treated each other with that in mind.

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