This is my 100th post on GringoPotpourri. Over the past two years, I have tried my best to blog about a variety of topics. Mexico – where I lived for much of that time; California – where I lived before that; and Tennessee – where I live today. Movies – one of my greatest pastimes, particularly during the cold weather months; hiking – another great hobby, and something I hope to write about with increasing frequency in the future; photography – with me in front of the lens as well as behind it; even politics – though politics-lite is perhaps a better way to describe my occasional rants about issues like U.S. intervention in Syria and Sochi as a venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
And I’ve written about travel. I have many passions in life, several of which are mentioned in the paragraph above. Travel, however, is at the top of the list. Many of my Loyal Readers are like-minded travelers. I thank them for continuing to follow my own adventures; most of them lead adventure-filled lives themselves. Although not every post I make is about travel, today’s entry is. The post can be enjoyed by anyone – my fellow journeymen to be sure, but also the dreamers and armchair travelers. I beg your pardon for continually plugging my blog across social media, and I thank you all for sticking with me these past two years and 100 posts! Let us raise our imaginary glasses to another two years and 100 more posts!
Why I Travel
My story starts out in my childhood. We took several road trips in the family station wagon (a wonderful cliché of Americana). Problem is, these trips were always to boring places. At least, boring places to a five-year-old kid. “Your grandpa has some land in Oklahoma,” my dad once said. “Let’s go check it out!” Yawn. I would beg and plead. “Please dad, I wanna go to Disney World like my friends do every summer, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease!” “Disney World is closed, son,” my dad would reply, and that was the end of that. The next summer, it was the same story. “Let’s wait a few more years until your sister is older,” he told me. Did he know hard that was for a kid?!?!
Flash forward three decades, and I still haven’t been to Walt Disney World. Somewhere between childhood disappointment and 2014, I fell in love with travel. More precisely, I fell in love with the idea of travel, something I had only limited experience with, yet yearned to experience full-on. It might have happened during my junior year of high school, after my fellow German students took a spring break trip to Bavaria and Innsbruck while I stayed home, unable to afford the cost of the trip. It might have happened during my junior year of college, when I had to turn down a semester abroad because I couldn’t afford another student loan. It might have happened over Thanksgiving of 1997, just six months after I graduated. I had only recently started my first “corporate” job, but spent the holiday with my fellow fraternity alums at our house’s national convention in San Antonio, Texas.
I guess I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when I fell in love with travel. I suppose it was a combination of time, enlightenment, and the aforementioned events. Still…I love it, and here are just a few reasons why:
- Traveling makes me feel smarter. I don’t have an advanced degree, and I didn’t pay much attention in history class when I was younger, but travel more than compensates. A trip to Washington, DC, for example, will teach you much about U.S. history, especially if you visit the monuments and read the placards. You don’t necessarily have to take the guided tours…but if you, my advice is to stay close to the guide and become a head-of-the-class nerd. They are well-trained, and there really aren’t many questions that they are unable to answer. The national and state parks are other examples of de-facto-education-through-travel. I have been able to correctly answer questions about yucca plants on Jeopardy! because I once took the self-guided loop trail through a grove of cholla cacti at Joshua Tree National Park.
- Traveling keeps me in shape and looking good. If you’ve been to London, Paris, New York, or even to O’Hare International Airport, you almost certainly did a lot of walking while you were there. On each trip to Paris I walk from the Eiffel Tower, along the River Seine, all the way to Notre Dame. That’s five miles! Walking isn’t always practical, but it gets you up close and personal with the place you are visiting moreso than shuttling around in a taxi or even riding the subway. If the city is built on a series of hills – such as San Francisco – you’ll feel your calves burn as you huff-and-puff to, say, Chinatown or Coit Tower perhaps. Hiking trips are obvious workouts, but even beach vacations can be recreational and calorie-burning. Ever walk the length of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu? Walking on sand is exhausting! Dodging the other beachgoers and sweating from the year-round humidity in Oahu is even more tiring. And that lobster sunburn? It may hurt to take a shower tomorrow morning, but ten days from now it’ll be a gorgeous tan!
- Travel is an escape. How many hours do you work in a typical week? If you answered “40,” you’re one of the lucky ones. I believe that no matter what your job, it’s important to take a break sometimes. There are days, weeks, or seasons when you just need to get away. You can relax on a cruise or on a golf holiday. You can hike the Grand Canyon or climb Pike’s Peak. You can visit a big city or hide out in a rustic cabin. These are all valid choices for your “escape.” I know a few people – Americans all – who never use their vacation days, but even in this country, that’s not as common as it once was. (Planes are more crowded now than ever before, yet business travel is down.) There is nothing shameful about getting away from everything for a few days, or for a few weeks. To be sure, there is a challenge in establishing a back-up plan so that emergencies can be handled remotely (or by someone else altogether) while you’re gone, but a good manager will understand this.
- Travel, like the world, is always evolving. The world is always changing, and travel changes along with it. Thanks to email, mobile phones, and social media, the world is smaller. We don’t need postcards or paper journals anymore; now we have Instagram and blogs such as this one. Continental Airlines and Mexicana Aviation no longer exist, but Southwest and Volaris are thriving! Lodging has also changed. Almost all hotels and motels have wifi. Seedy YMCAs have made way for everybody’s-doing-it Couchsurfing. Soulless cinder block dorm hostels have made way for boutique hostels with themed rooms. In much of the world, urban blight is slowly being renovated into way-cool art districts packed with galleries, restaurants, and retro charm. I am thinking of Los Angeles with its Downtown Art Walk, and of Oslo’s reclaimed Aker Brygge shipyard district. Similarly, remote archaeological sites are now easier to visit and are in various states of repair. Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida (literally, the Lost City) comes to mind, as does Guatemala’s Tikal. If you visited any of these places before 2000, you need to schedule a return trip.
I can elaborate on each of these points in much greater detail. Perhaps I will in future posts. For now, if you’re still following my rambling thought process, know that during my travels and over the course of my life I learned that there is more to see in the world than even the luckiest person could ever hope to see. I learned that long and short trips are both rewarding, but that vacation time is the most important benefit at any job. I learned that travel is an active lifestyle, and that even “boring” vacations like a family road trip to rural Oklahoma can have something to offer.
I shall conclude this entry with another cliché. It is definitely overused – apologies in advance – but it has also come to define my philosophy on travel. “The world is a book. Those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.
Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.