Travel as an Exercise in Thanksgiving

There's such serenity to this moment. My legs dangle off the dock as the sun begins to set over the water, with a family of ducks floating underneath my feet, small boats cruising by ever few minutes, the occasional fish jumping out of the water, and a couple of swans on the far side of the banks awaiting food from passerbys. I close my eyes as a sense of calm and gratitude sweeps over me, giving me chills on this warm summer day. There's nothing that unordinary about this moment, as it isn't anything I haven't seen while sitting on a dock on the San Francisco Bay. That is until I open my eyes to see a Discovery Channel cruiser approaching the dock and the captain speaking to me in Dutch. And it's at this moment that I quickly realize that this is no ordinary moment, as I'm not sitting on a dock in the San Francisco Bay, but rather a dock on one of Amsterdam's many canals.

My relationship with travel is often one of love. This is blatant if you've spent any amount of time on my blog. However, it's no fantasy or drinking the Kool-Aid type of love. It was just hours prior to sitting on the dock that my feelings toward travel were that of disdain. Momentarily, I even considered cutting my trip short - two months short in fact, and going back to San Francisco. That was after a series of travel gaffes, getting an hour of sleep in a dormitory room of 10 people, and a fight involving my stomach and a bowl of spicy noodles. However, my feelings of disdain toward travel are short-lived, quickly replaced with feelings of gratitude and bliss. Yet those times of dissatisfaction are essential to the travel experience, because without them, travel would be so one-dimensional. It's times like those in Amsterdam, where I'm reminded of the preciousness of travel, and taken to a place of thanksgiving.

I remember the first time I really ever traveled abroad to a country that was different then my own. It was for a summer in college to South Africa. While a career in travel writing was unbeknownst to me at the time, one of my first evenings saw me writing somewhat deliriously about my initial experiences, after spending the day playing sports, eating dinner, and hanging out with local African students. To the casual onlooker, this was no different then my day-to-day activities as a college student in America. However, beneath the surface, my worldview was being changed as I spent time at the ground level, submerging myself in a culture that was different from my own.

Simplicity, contentment, tranquility, and bliss. These were some of the words that I wrote down that best described the characteristics of the first people I spent time with in South Africa. But it wasn't just any simplicity, contentment, tranquility, and bliss. It was a kind that I had never personally experienced. While it seemed that I was interested in wealth of material possessions, the people I met in South Africa seemed more interested in being rich in those more intangible things. What amazed me about this perspective is that it was amidst less then desirable circumstances. Many of these people had lived during the worst of apartheid, which was the system of racial segregation that was enforced in South Africa for decades until the mid-1990s. Yet amidst that, contentment and simplicity thrived among the people I met.

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey. – Pat Conroy

I've always said that travel is the greatest education. Travel is like a living history lesson with no point of origin or end. All in one day you could be getting a firsthand experience of what exactly it is that makes our world what it is today. At one moment experiencing for yourself the innovation of train travel in Asia, the next learning about the beer culture of Europe from within a brewery, and the next talking with people imprisoned during apartheid in South Africa. This is not just spectator-type experiences, like reading about them in a book or watching them in a movie, but actually experiencing them for yourself. What a time to be living in an age where travel is so accessible. The next thing you know we'll be taking leisure trips to outer space.

Last night I lay down on my bed in my new home of Seattle and considered 2012, which unequivocally has been the best year of my life. I lived in what I consider one of the best cities in the world (San Francisco), took a journey to Alaska, saw most of Western Europe by train, tackled one of my greatest fears by learning to surf in Spain, went on a respectable number of first and second dates, was given work opportunities that I would have never imagined, moved to another one of the world's best cities (Seattle), and had friends and colleagues take considerable risks for me. So what is it that all of these things have in common? They are all tied to my insatiable thirst for travel. I couldn't be any more thankful for my life and experiences both over the last year and over my lifetime. However, that perspective of gratitude wouldn't exist without the virtues of travel that were instilled in me at a young age.

This Friday when I get on a plane to travel hundreds of miles to visit with my family over the Thanksgiving weekend, I'm sure I'll again reflect on the past year of travel and the year of travel that lies ahead. We live in a period of history in which travel has never been so accessible. Travel now allows us to do everything from staying in an oceanfront luxury suite for hundreds of dollars a night to staying on a stranger's couch for free. As I go into this Thanksgiving holiday week in America, I want to consider the accessibility, uniqueness, and preciousness of this gift of travel so that I make sure that it doesn't go to waste. Because without it, I wouldn't be half the man I am. Happy Thanksgiving all! Here's to the great year of travel behind us and the great year of travel that lies ahead of us!

What is it that you've learned from travel during the past year?