Before my family and I embarked on a trip around the world, we set goals, made plans and had big dreams. But some of the things I learned and experienced along the way were unexpected, like souvenirs you can hold onto forever. Here are seven nuggets I picked up along our travels that will remind me of our journey for years to come.
1. People are inherently good.
As we've visited friends, volunteered and toured many cities and towns, we have been encouraged to see that people are still inherently good. Strangers are friendly and helpful to visitors in their country, often stopping to lend a hand or engage our son in friendly conversation (thank you, kind farmer in Southern Italy, who pulled our rental car out of a ditch!) As Americans, we are not afraid and do not feel in danger. Of course, we are careful and "street smart" as any tourists should be, but the world we are seeing is a safe and friendly place.
Strangers when we arrived in Jaipur, India, this family took us in as their own and enhanced our experience in a country we found challenging.
2. The world's beauty is magnificent.
It is no wonder that there are several "Wonders of the World" lists. Our planet is exquisite, and we have seen awe-inspiring things, both natural and man-made. Oftentimes I realize at home that I'm not looking up and beholding the world around me. Journeying to some of the most remarkable places on Earth has reminded me that we live in a place that should delight and inspire us every day.
The beauty you find underwater in the Great Barrier Reef is indescribable.
3. And humans are trashing it up.
I am a child of the '80s and was greatly impacted by Woodsy the Owl and his "Give a hoot, don't pollute" campaign. I have been dismayed and oftentimes angered at the lack of pride citizens of the world have in their own backyard. Rubbish piles up on city streets in Vietnam and India, residents oblivious and uncaring to the filth they are contributing to their own home and our world. Even beaches which should be pristine in Croatia and Italy are strewn with litter from locals and tourists alike. If there's an NGO out there looking for a global cause, they should translate America's old Public Service Announcement and teach the world's next generation that littering is for the birds.
This was an unwelcome but not uncommon scene around many parts of the world.
4. Home is wherever you lay your head, but I miss my own bed.
Throughout the past nine months, we have stayed in our fair share of hotels and Airbnb apartments. At the end of the day, when we are "going home," I remind my son that wherever we are together, that is home to us. Our family of three has become a tight-knit clan and no matter what country we are currently in, we will lay our heads down together and make that temporary abode our home. But, after countless beds that are either hard as stone or reminiscent of a trampoline, I am dreaming of the first night's slumber back in my own bed. There's nothing quite like your own pillow to give a weary traveler some serious rest.
An open-air bungalow in Vietnam sounded like a great idea, until the record-cold temperatures found us with no heat!
5. Stretching makes you stronger.
One of the goals of our journey around the world was to get outside our comfort zone and explore the globe. We have stretched ourselves in more ways than one, volunteering, staying in accommodations that weren't our normal standard and learning new languages to immerse ourselves with new friends and cultures. I've learned that stretching yourself on a daily basis is good for the soul as well as the brain. My son is more confident and independent now that he has walked into the classroom of the world. My husband and I have broken down long-held stereotypes and dusted off the cobwebs in our brains while traversing and communicating in multiple countries. This experience has been richer by making it uncomfortable, and we are all better people for it.
Our first time living and working on a farm was a challenge, but so much fun!
6. You can see the world on any budget.
You do not have to win the lottery to travel around the globe. It can be done on virtually any budget. We knew that the dollar would stretch further in places like Southeast Asia and India, but were pleasantly surprised at how little we had to spend for great accommodations and food even in European countries like Croatia and Turkey. In this sharing economy, websites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing offer much lower prices than traditional hotels, and it's possible to travel on virtually nothing when you volunteer through organizations like WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). If you are itching to see the world, don't let cash be your obstacle.
We discovered beauty and budget travel in Croatia, a rare find in most of Europe.
7. Time waits for no one. Travel now!
What I thought would be an epic nine-month journey has felt more like a quick trip that is the first of many. Seeing the world only opens your eyes to how much more is out there to explore. I've learned that we should never wait for an opportunity to find us. It may never come. Seeing your dreams through to fruition is one of life's most rewarding experiences, whatever those dreams may be. Don't wait. The world is your oyster.
Suzanne, husband Mitch and son Luke took nine months off from their regular lives in Athens, Georgia, to travel around the globe. They plan to travel slow and visit friends, volunteer, home school their second grader and soak up what life is like in new and different places. You can follow their adventures at www.ruttotheledge.com.