Personal Post: How Travel Has Made Me Grateful

The holidays are upon us!  While spending time with family and friends, gift exchanges and gaining five pounds from all the food and drinks consumed is typical for this time of year, people also tend to spend time reflecting on their lives…what went well, what didn’t and what changes will be made in the new year.  In my case, traveling more than ever this year has allowed me to reflect on a more consistent basis.

2014 Travel

This year I’ve been to Netherlands, Tanzania, Romania, Turkey, Haiti, Bahamas, and soon Curacao; not to mention other cities in the United States I’ve visited.  Some for work, all for pleasure.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit the wealthiest neighborhoods, and some of the poorest in most of the places visited.

During my most recent trip to Haiti, I spent most of my time in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  However, in order to maximize my time in-country, I planned a weekend to neighboring southern city, Jacmel.  A colleague who lives in Haiti referred a driver to me that would be able to take us on the 2-hour ride to Jacmel and back to Port-au-Prince.  I secured a hotel, set up city tours, and found local restaurants to try. Planning a weekend away was working out perfectly.  However, as the weekend approached, I tried calling the driver to confirm our plans but his phone was turned off.  I asked one of the Administrative Assistants in my office, who was Haitian, to call the driver just in case I wasn’t dialing the number correctly.  She confirmed that indeed his phone was turned off.

The next day, I asked the assistant to call the driver again.  And again, she told me his phone was still off.  “That’s so weird that his phone is still off,” I said.  “It’s not that weird,” she replied.  “The electricity could have gone off and he may not have had a way to charge his phone.  It happens a lot here.”  My heart sank.  While I’m not sure the reason he phone was turned off, I felt awful for assuming the driver was irresponsible instead of thinking it was a possibility that he had logistical problems due to less than stellar Haitian infrastructure.  Simple things like stable electricity is a luxury, and not a luxury afforded to many people across the world.

I’ve seen conditions that are a reality for some people that I couldn’t dare dream of living in.  In both Tanzania and Haiti, I experienced children as young as three running alongside my car, begging for any money I could spare.  But no matter how poor people are or the terrible conditions they’re living in, most people I’ve met have had the greatest attitudes toward life.  It puts life into perspective about what’s really important.

Travel Gives Perspective

I am a firm believer that travel broadens horizons and gives life perspective.  One of my favorite quotes is by Henry Miller: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  As I reflect on my experiences abroad, I can’t help but to be reminded that many people experience hardship right in my own backyard.  Homelessness, poverty, lack of education, mental disease, racism among other issues are problems at home too.  To me, travel almost amplifies problems at home. Some parts of Baltimore look comparable to some of the poorest parts in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  It’s a constant reminder than no matter how far I travel, I’ll never be able to forget the realities of home.

Being Grateful

I may not be wealthy, traveled the most extensively, or have the largest blog following (smile!).  But I am grateful to live in a place where my electricity works, I have a warm place to sleep at night with a sturdy roof over my head, and the only reason I sometimes worry about where my next meal is coming from is because I don’t feel like cooking it.  And when I need a change in scenery, I have the means to take a weekend trip to a city close by, or book an international getaway.  Many people, even within my own city and community, do not have the same opportunities.  I do my best not take the slightest things for granted and always looking at the bright side of situations.  Travel has a way of changing your perspective.  I look forward to the adventures and perspective 2015’s travel will bring.

Photo Credit: Ashlee Tuck