New Year’s Eve is just around the corner. The new year is a time to look back on the past and make plans for the future. It is also a time of gratitude and reflection. It’s been a rough year for everyone for many and various reasons. This year, I’ve thought a lot about past travel experiences and found myself wondering what travel might look like in the aftermath of the pandemic. How will the travel industry change? How will I be viewed based on my citizenship and my country’s Covid response when I eventually visit other places? Who knows.
What I do know is that I am so grateful to have parents who worked hard to bring my sister and me with them when they travelled as we were growing up. To have lived a life where I have had the privilege from a young age to experience different cultures and what it feels like to roam around the globe. Travelling from childhood, throughout adolescence, and into young adulthood has instilled in me many values and life lessons that I may not have attained or learned if I had not spent time exploring. Today, I would like to share with you some of the things that I learned from time spent adventuring with my family and eventually, all on my own.
I am not saying that these are things you will not learn or value if you do not travel. Although, time spent in other countries or on the road really set the stage for the lessons I am about to share and gave me the context and perspective that I needed to learn these things.
One of the first trips I remember it going to Ottawa with my grandparents when I was 10. I always loved visiting museums and historical sites and they always did everything they could to cultivate experiences like that for me. We visited Parliament, the Canadian Museum of History, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum to name a few memorable sites. This trip taught me to slow down and read the interpretive signs. Soak up all the history and knowledge you can about the place you are visiting. It is worth the time as you will remember what you learned there forever. Before heading to the airport in St. John’s to catch our flight to the capital city, we visited the Railway Coastal Museum where my grandparents bought me a journal from the gift shop. They encouraged me to write in it throughout our entire trip to Ottawa. I am so glad they did as now I often capture every moment of my travel experiences, whether it is through a journal, this blog, or with my camera. I still have my Ottawa journal today.
In 2009, my family left Canada and the USA for the first time and went to Mexico. This was the most formative travel experience of my early life without a doubt. This was my first time seeing people in real life who were very different from me– physically, spiritually, and culturally. In Mexico, I solidified the core value that not everybody has the same story as me, but we are all human. Also on this trip, my younger sister fell off a hammock and bust up her mouth pretty badly. My parents had to take her to a Mexican hospital (where they received amazing care), passing armed checkpoints on the way. I was so afraid while they were gone. They had to put down $2000 USD before physicians would even look at my sister. I learned that night to always purchase travel insurance. I’d never go anywhere without it now and I’ll never forget that night. Stay safe and keep your butt covered!
I was 15 when my parents, sister, and I visited my grandparents in Arizona. We did lots of exciting things on that trip. We explored the desert, went to Vegas, toured the Hoover Dam, and spent a night in Tombstone. I always heard on TV and in movies that tourist destinations are money traps or a corny waste of time. I quickly learned that for me, this is not true. Tourist spots can be fantastic! I loved the exaggerated reenactments, the larger than life landmarks, and the unending gift shops. These spots emulate what an area is known for and engrain that symbolism permanently in your memory. That said, don’t waste your money on souvenirs. I purchased items on this trip (and many others) that I no longer even look at or have in my possession. Instead, I started collecting postcards. This way, I have something to search for in the vibrant gift shops that don’t cost a fortune or take up precious space in my luggage. Once I get home, I can keep them in an album that sits on my bookshelf to cherish forever and show to my guests.
While I had travelled within Canada as an unaccompanied minor several times before, going to Europe with my school was my first big trip without my parents. It was also my first time outside of North America and the Caribbean and here, my love for travel really took hold. It was different for me to not have my family with me while I was learning so much and seeing sights they wouldn’t be able to appreciate to the same degree. I was also the youngest person on this trip and many of the other students were not my close friends. I was intimidated but so excited. I think the core lesson that I learned from going to Europe was to step outside your comfort zone. I had to build a lot of courage to take a Trans-Atlantic flight without my mom and dad, talk to older kids who I didn’t know that well, and keep myself safe in swarming crowds in London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. I think this trip allowed me to be fearless in pursuing bigger and better travel goals in my future.
In 2015, I took a weekend trip to Montreal with my boyfriend and two gal pals to see ACDC live. In Montreal, I was able to attain the opposite value that I did in Arizona and Vegas in 2011 regarding my love for tourist attractions (but these two values don’t cancel each other out). Here, I truly wandered around a new city for the first time. We didn’t have a plan, we didn’t know where we were headed, we didn’t know the city, and we didn’t do any research in advance. Chat with locals and ditch the agenda. Ask the people who live in the town or city where they like to go. Wander the streets and eat or shop wherever you find yourself. That said, be self-aware and fuck politeness if you feel uncomfortable in any situation, especially when you’re wandering without a plan. You don’t have to be polite to strangers. We felt like we were being followed by some rowdy people one night when we were out looking for a nightclub so we ran to put some distance between us and them. Looking back, we probably looked so silly– but we did what we had to do to feel safe in that moment.
I spent four weeks volunteering in Sri Lanka in 2018. It felt like all my prior travel experience had prepared me for that moment. I had my family to thank for the support and the exposure and the motivation. This was the first time I really researched for a trip because the culture, the climate, and the accommodations would be so different from anything I’d experienced before. Do your homework. What is appropriate and respectful in one culture may not be in another. Taking from the lesson I learned a decade ago in Ottawa, I kept a journal. From Mexico, I remembered that the people I was about to work with in Sri Lanka would have vastly different stories than mine and I had to try my best to appreciate their perspective and empathize. Because of Arizona, I wanted to hit up all the notable tourist destinations, but because of Montreal, I knew I’d also want to just wander. And because of Europe, I was prepared to step on that Trans-Atlantic flight.
That brings me to this time last year. My last time travelling before the pandemic. Another unforgettable trip with my mom, dad, and sister that I will forever be grateful for. My life lesson from New York is one realized in hindsight. Don’t take anything for granted. Especially your ability to freely roam freely across borders and into other people’s hometowns. You never know when you will no longer have that privilege afforded to you. Society can change on a dime. Covid-19 has caused a major paradigm shift in virtually every industry, but the impact on the travel industry is one of the most notable. We don’t know when we’ll be able to travel the way we did before or what the future of travel might look like. I hold hope and confidence that it will be possible to explore our globe in a meaningful and safe way once again. And for that time, I have one final lesson that I’ve learned over the years: Do not let horror stories about travelling keep you from going somewhere. Covid-19-related travel horror tales surely abound, as they do for every destination on Earth in every era throughout time. Safety lies largely within individual actions– you have to be aware and do what you can to keep yourself safe. Whatever unpreventable horror that may happen to you while abroad can also happen on your own street. We never know what lies in our minutes, hours, days, and years ahead. So why stop yourself from seeing incredible parts of the world because of a fear instilled by someone else? Get out there. See what you can. Show gratitude for your opportunities. Live your life to the fullest.
I hope we’re all out adventuring again soon. Thanks for reading,