"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." - Augustine of HippoI think I've mentioned in a previous post that I grew up poor. We didn't have much money and there was very rarely any 'extra' to be had. When I was a teen I remember having 1 present at Christmas while other friends recounted the numbers of gifts received from their parents alone. I'm not saying this for sympathy - believe me we didn't starve or go homeless - but for context.
One of the consequences of our family income level was travel - or, specifically, the lack of it. "Vacation" consisted of two weeks every Fall when we would drive across southern South Dakota on I-90 to Sioux Falls and turn south. We spent those two weeks in a small town, Lennox, where one of my dad's brothers lived and my dad went pheasant hunting with brothers, brothers-in-law, nephews, cousins, and whoever else had a shotgun and a free afternoon.
I was 16 before I ever traveled outside of South Dakota. The thought of going abroad to study for a year in high school was never even on my radar. I didn't even know if there was such a program at my high school. It didn't occur to me in college either. I was 36 before I finally made it out of the country and I've been making up for lost time since then visiting country #32 last summer.
I'll be honest and say that if I have a regret in life that would be it - that I didn't start traveling much sooner. The adventure of traveling has been one of the greatest gifts I've experienced. Exploring a new place, experiencing a new culture, meeting new people, is one of the most intense learning experiences you can have and has been one of the great joys of my life.
Yesterday, we said good-bye to my niece at the airport. She's spending a year in Auckland, New Zealand
as an au pair. She had to whittle down her clothing and other necessities into 2 suitcases and a carryon. She has 'met' the family via Skype. She has talked to the family's former au pair. But she doesn't really know anybody at her destination. She had to muster the courage to do something that most of us won't ever do - live in a new culture on her own. She's moving away from her family and friends and all she knows to live in an entirely new environment.
Even though New Zealand is considered a western culture and the majority of people living there (90%) do speak English, it is still 'foreign' for an American. Any culture that you weren't raised in is a 'foreign' culture and visiting or beginning to live in a foreign culture is exhausting. All the things we take for granted in our home culture are now in question and you must be continually on the alert to avoid giving offense or, in the case of driving on the left, getting yourself or someone else killed.
So, I tip my hat to my amazing niece. She is doing what I didn't - she's starting her traveling career young. She's going to have at least a dozen years more than I for exploring the world, meeting new people, and racking up those experiences that shape you in ways that non-travelers will never know. She's shaping her sense of self, growing her self-confidence, and creating her life. I admire her spirit, her courage, her incredible sense of adventure. Bon voyage! Or, in Maori, Bon rerenga!