Today, traffic jams and flight delays frustrate us to no end. We never seem to get anywhere fast enough. But when you stop and put it into perspective, we really take for granted how good we have it today compared to our great-great grandparents. I found this map of Rates of Travel in 1800 and it just blew me away. That’s about 6 weeks from DC to Chicago. Can you imagine what life would be like without planes that allow us to go anywhere in the world? Think about what a plane is, (big heavy tubes that fly in the air. It’s incredible how it has revolutionized how we travel the world today. Modern travel truly amazes me. I am grateful for travel; it rejuvenates my soul and refocuses me. It makes me appreciate life.
Think about this chart next time your flight is delayed even an hour.
Today’s guest post is from the beautiful Megan Stanley of Well That’s Awkward. I wish she didn’t live so far away, it would be amazing to see her more often. Whether you need a vacation or not, this is bound to make you want to click over to Expedia and book your next getaway immediately. You can find her tweeting at @meganstanley.
Some travel experiences are filled with adventures in faraway places, stepping out of one’s comfort zone, trying new foods and exploring new cultures, learning something new at each and every turn.
My trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was NOT like that.
I KNOW. There are so many great things to do in Puerto Vallarta, so many zip-lines and gorgeous viewpoints, so much hiking and snorkeling to do, so much Mexican food to eat, and a whole city to explore. But when I went there in early 2011, after a really rough 2010 and a job search that deemed me either un- or over-qualified for every single opening I applied for, all I really wanted was to relax.
We spent four days at an all-inclusive resort on the southern end of the city, about an hour’s drive from the airport, and from the moment we pulled up to the front door, I was in heaven. We were greeted with champagne at the front desk, and when we arrived at our room we found a plate full of fresh fruit and three different kinds of tequila. From our balcony, we overlooked the pool, with its hot tubs, waterfalls and palm trees, and then beyond that to the Banderas Bay, where cliffs, lined with beautiful houses, dropped down into the water along the white sand beach.
Our vacation package included three meals at any one of the a la carte restaurants at the resort, and for all of our other meals, we had access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. We also had free room service. We did not go hungry.
On our first day there, we decided that we wanted to do nothing except lay around in the sun at the pool, drinking unlimited free mojitos, people-watching and enjoying our break from the rainy Portland winter and the difficult ten months or so we’d just finished, with nothing else on our agenda. We’d leave the resort another day, maybe go zip-lining or wander around the city, or hit up that taco joint right up the hill that the bellhop told us about and that would undoubtedly be fantastic.
The next day, we decided the same thing. We still had another day, after all. We still had so much more relaxing to do. There would be plenty of time for exploring Puerto Vallarta.
On our third and final day, we woke up and wanted nothing but our pool chairs, a good book, and the attention of the poolside servers who would bring us whatever food and drink we wanted. Anything that required more energy just seemed so… unnecessary.
On the day we left, we purchased souvenirs and reluctantly turned in our wristbands and keycards, took some photos around the resort, and settled into our taxi for the hour-long trip back to the airport. As we drove around the winding curves of the road along the bay, I caught my last few glimpses of the blue-green water, wishing we didn’t have to leave. And on our trip through the city, it occurred to me that we had wasted the opportunity to explore a completely new place, to find something we would never find in Portland, and to do something completely new. And while, even a year and a half later, I still somewhat regret not taking advantage of that opportunity, I also know that the vacation we had was exactly what we needed – no agenda, no obligation to do something we didn’t really feel like doing just to say we had done it, no one to answer to except ourselves and our own impulses.
There are many ways to travel. Sure, it can be very rewarding to fill a vacation with activities, to truly experience a new place, a new culture, or even just a new city. But sometimes, it’s enough to just get away.
Today’s guest post is none other than the very lovely and talented writer, Jenna Britton of Splendid Really. This fellow BiSCuit has such a sweet and charming demeanor that you can’t help but want to be her friend. I enjoyed this post because it was fascinating to see someone else’s perspective on travel and volunteering as one unit. She is such a simple and articulate writer and I am excited to share her post with you. Enjoy!
I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my short life. I have been to the UK, Hawaii, Italy, Tennesse, Cabo San Lucas, North and South Carolina, Australia, Oregon and New Zealand, amongst other lovely places, since I first traveled outside Southern California many years ago. I have also volunteered a great deal. I’ve built houses in Tijuana, spent my mornings teaching elementary school children how to read, spent weekends as a College Writing Coach for high school students from underprivileged communities, and spent two years serving as an advisor for the YMCA’s Youth & Government program. But travel and volunteering have never coincided for me, and it wasn’t until recently – when I spoke with Caryn about writing a guest post for her blog – that I even considered why.
Travel and volunteerism are both very important aspects of my life. I feel lacking, self-seeking, and truly left in a funk without them both. But it seems that they each bring a different kind of joy to my life, they fulfill entirely different needs, and I think that’s why I’ve often kept them so separate.
Traveling is, of course, an escape for me, but it is also an opportunity to learn. I learn about new countries (or states), I learn about different cultures or languages or accents, I learn histories that often vary significantly from what I was taught growing up, and I learn my own threshold for patience and perseverance in the face of unexpected twists and spontaneous adventures. Travel is an opportunity for me to sit back and observe, while understanding that I am just one small, fairly insignificant part of a very big, beautiful world. When traveling, I am the one being filled by the knowledge and allure of a world entirely different from my own.
Volunteering, on the other hand, is my opportunity to teach and to give. It is my opportunity to take all that I have been given and, hopefully, share it well with those who haven’t been as fortunate as me. Volunteering gives me the perspective to realize that I have been blessed beyond measure and that, no matter how hard I’ve worked in my life, I have been given opportunities other people only dream of just because of where I was born and who I was born to. It allows me to be grateful for what I’ve been given – whether it’s come easily or not – and to give some of that back to people who deserve it just as much as I do, if not more.
But as I thought more about each of these very important parts of my life – as I began to write this blog post – I realized how deeply connected the benefits of travel and volunteerism actually are for me. Each experience opens my eyes to the lives of others, each experience gets me out of my own solipsistic bubble and offers me perspective and growth, and each experience highlights the importance of being connected with the wide world. And, no matter what I previously thought, each experience is actually a give and take – I learn and teach through both.
So why haven’t I yet combined the two? Well, it takes a lot of guts and a lot of self-sacrifice to do what Caryn is doing – to spend time in an exotic, faraway place helping others instead of simply enjoying it herself. But I can’t imagine she won’t benefit from this experience, as well. I can’t imagine she won’t come home from Kilimanjaro-Tanzania feeling enriched, fulfilled, and as if she learned more than she ever thought possible, even if it’s some of the hardest work she’s done in her life. And I suppose I haven’t yet tried to combine these two experiences, because I never fully realized that they were not mutually exclusive exercises for me; that I could both learn and teach, observe and present, give and take by simply integrating them together. It is possible to get so much from an experience where your main goal is to give back. Maybe that’s still selfish. Or maybe it’s the best motivation.
Maybe it’s time to take another trip.
Jenna Britton is a copywriter and public relations professional, living in Los Angeles. She is also an avid reader and writer, particularly of personal essays. Most recently, her work was published on Salon.com. You can follow Jenna on Twitter at @jennanicole or find her occasionally musing at SplendidReally.com.
Today’s guest post comes from another awesome BiSCuit, Jen Johnson. She blogs over at Connecting the Black Dots, so be sure to check her out! She likes languages, poker, dirty martinis, colorful pens, waterfalls and postcards. She shares with us a very unique and fascinating first-hand experience of volunteering in Russia.
When I was volunteering in the Republic of Georgia in 2011, I stayed with a host family in a tiny village three hours away from the big city. In fact, the closest next “town” was over an hour away and lays right smack on the Azerbaijan/Georgian border.
“This street Georgia, next street Azerbaijan!” my co-teacher proudly told me.
As my village used to be an Ossetian village, half of the houses were burnt down. You may remember in 2008 Russia invaded a little-known country called Georgia. I think my first reaction upon hearing that was “why are the Russians attacking the United States? And Georgia of all places?”
Well, turns out they were attacking Georgia – the Republic of – to gain control of a region called South Ossetia (and another region called Abkhazia). My village was just outside of this (still occupied) zone. The Georgians in the village were afraid that the Russians would invade their area too, if there were Ossetians living there so they literally burnt their Ossetian neighbors houses to the ground.
What a great, welcoming story to hear upon arrival!
Never mind the fact that no one in my village spoke English, even my co-teachers could hardly understand me. And they were the ones supposedly teaching the kids English! I knew it was going to be a difficult semester.
Have you ever tried to learn a new language? I speak French fluently, and Spanish fairly well but Georgian was nowhere even close to either of those languages. In fact, the root of Georgian is…Georgian (Kartvelian). The only known similar languages are the ones spoken in the Caucasus Mountains. If you spoke Russian, you could at least communicate with most people – after all, Russia has been a huge influence on this area of the world. As for me, my French and Spanish got me nowhere. Georgian lessons it was.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved learning Georgian – the letters fascinate me and my attempts at the guttural noises were a source of laughter for many a Georgian. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. Now I know how those poor kids I taught felt.
It also made for some sticky situations. For example, I didn’t realize the extent of limited hot water at my host-house. So of course, one morning I wanted to shower before school. I came downstairs with all my washing needs, flicked the electric heater on and hopped in the (freezing cold) shower. After about 10 minutes of waiting, teeth chattering, I got dressed and went to ask my host father what was up with the water situation.
His English was limited to three things: “baby”, “sit down”, and “hello”.
I managed to get it across to him that the shower was freezing (repeating “me gaq’inva c’q’ali” while using spider fingers above my head to indicate shower – this roughly translates to “I freeze water” What? That’s the limited vocabulary I had to work with!) He finally managed to explain that it takes two hours to heat the water. TWO HOURS!
Needless to say, I did not get my shower that day. In fact, I wore more head scarves, headbands and ponytails in those few months than I have in my entire life. Showering was not a priority in the small villages. In fact, my house was one of the only ones that actually even had hot water.
There was also the problem of traffic jams. No, not of the vehicular kind. I’m talking cows, ox, goats, pigs, chickens – even a horse or two. Most of the animals just ran around doing as they pleased. It was not unusual, on my way to school, for me to pass a few pigs grazing in the street, while a horse trotted by, narrowly missing the flock of chickens stationed by a spewing water spout, while a man on a goat-driven cart shouted Georgian obscenities at the herd of cows blocking his route. And the problems that arose when more than one cart was on the dirt roads – vy may!
I learned a lot in those months; about Eastern Europe, about the Caucasus region, about culture shock, about learning, about friendship, about gutting rabbits and eating them for dinner (seriously), about traveling, about adapting, and most importantly, about myself.
I mean, I was a vegetarian for like 10 years and I managed to eat an animal that I had seen alive earlier that day. If that’s not learning, I don’t know what is.
BIO: Jen grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, among polar bears and dog sleds (although she has yet to see either in the wild). In late 2009 she quit her job in the petroleum industry to pursue her dreams of travel and adventure. Obtaining the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) came in handy as she travelled through Central America – volunteering at several small elementary schools along the way, before settling in Costa Rica. After that stint was up, she travelled across the globe to teach in Georgia – yes, it was random. Jen has an unnatural affinity for semi-colons, postcards, waterfalls and colourful pens. She is fluent in English and French, speaks Spanish, some American Sign Language and dubious amount of Georgian. Returning to school in the fall scares her more than a walk in Tegucigalpa at night. Okay, maybe not that much, but close. She blogs at Connecting the Black Dots.
Today’s guest post is from the very compelling writer and brilliant photographer that is Terra.Don’t let the goofy warrior viking hat fool you – she is one of the most bad ass ladies I know. I wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight against her but she also has a heart of gold for any and all animals and friends. I always love what she posts and this is no different. I completely agree with her that traveling makes you a better, more cultured person. Be sure to check her out at Terra-Bear.com
There’s something special that happens when you’re catapulted into the culture of others, when the rug you’ve nestled upon your whole life is suddenly swept up and out from under you and you find yourself far away from home and all the privileges of the Westernized world. There’s a certain type of magic that arises when you step outside of your comfort zone and into the reality of others, others who don’t share a language, culture, religion or reality with anyone you’ve ever known before.
For me, that moment happened on a mountainside in Kosovo when I was deployed there in 2007. Someone had a found a family, a mother and a father and countless hoard of small children, way up in the mountains living in this tiny little house without plumbing or electricity or shoes. Kosovo, a country whose history for more than the past millennium has been filled with bloodshed and war, is a cold place in the winter and here were these beautiful and small little children running around barefoot and coatless in the middle of winter.
It was there in that moment that I felt simultaneously farther from home than I’ve ever felt before, but also incredibly thankful for all that I’ve been blessed with. I grew up poor by American standards, even lived in a house without plumbing for a few years, but nothing I’d ever been without even remotely compared to what that family was living, had been living and probably still is living without.
While we were in Kosovo, a few people made it one of their personal missions to made life a little bit better for that family. We took shoes, coats and occasional grocery items up there and gave the family lessons on how to effectively and properly brush their teeth. Those experiences, the simple offering of a donated pair of shoes or a banana from the grocery store, changed my life in so many very real ways that, five years later, I still think about.
It’s one thing to go to Europe, to travel to Paris and London and Amsterdam and all those beautiful and fabulous places. It’s one thing to go there and marvel at how old everything is, how different and alike things are compared to the way we live here in the States, but it’s a whole different box of potatoes to travel to a place without five star hotels and where literacy rates are barely scraping 25% and where the things we take for granted – our hair dryers and easy access to clean drinking water, our warm beds and dishwashers, our cable TV, gym memberships and yoga classes – aren’t even in the domain of reality for most of the population.
All this to say, travel makes us better people. It makes us more aware, not just of the world around us, but of the luxuries our lives contain and of the variances of human life.
One of the kids of Kosovo.
Bio: Terra lives in Richmond with a herd of vaguely wild cats and dogs, lives off popcorn and tacos, blogs at terra-bear.com and tweets as @terrabear.