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Traveling has made me who I am. There is no way around it; no sugarcoating it. The greatest and hardest lessons I’ve learned are all from my time spent abroad. I have a wanderlust soul, and in this, I have been given a different view on life. Upon reflection, I have decided to narrow down everything I have learned into the top 10 rules of life only gained through traveling.
Rule #1: Life is hard. You’d better not give up if things seem rough.
Five hours on a plane, with little food, little water, and zero sleep. All I wanted was to see the country as the plane landed, but the grumpy passenger I sat by thought it was “too bright” to open the window. The plane landed, my group got our luggage, went through customs, and drove to Walmart. That is, the San Jose Walmart in Costa Rica. It was my first few moments spent outside of the US, and they were meant to be special; however, after being awake for twenty hours straight, the lack of sleep clouded my excitement. I could not enjoy the multicultural experience of a run down Walmart in the capital of a third-world country. I did not think things could get any worse, but then the bus ride began. I learned a very important thing about Costa Rican culture as the bus drove along. There is this thing called “Tico time,” which means a “short” bus ride is really a hot and dirty, four hour long ride to Abangaritos, my youth group’s final destination. I almost burst into tears right there. The bus ride began down bumpy dirt roads, and the temperature began to climb, and climb, and climb. When people ask what the temperature was like in Costa Rica, I always say, “I did not realize Hell was a sauna.” This fact was discovered extremely fast as I sat with no air conditioning on a bus, unloaded hundreds of pounds of luggage straight up a hill, and set up a living space within a run down church which captured all of the heat. Throughout this entire span of time, all I could think was, “What did I get myself into? This is going to be the worst week of my life.” Yet I’ve never been more wrong about anything. The experience of traveling to this foreign country taught me so much about the world, things I never would have discovered by remaining in the comforts of my home.
Rule #2: Try to experience different things, I promise, your world will never be the same.
Remember how I said Costa Rica felt like Hell? Well what I did not realize on day one of my missions trip is that people actually live in that environment their entire lives, with no air-conditioning or even ice to have a cool glass of water. I remember walking into the “neighborhood” of Abangaritos. Immediately a lump grew in my throat as I saw the “homes” large families lived in. The dwellings were literally corrugated metal structures held up by wood, and tied together by straw. Walking into the homes, I had to hold my breath due to the massive stench of BO locked in by the lack of air circulation and intense heat. Basically, people in Abangaritos live in ovens. This type of travel allowed me to experience poverty without actually having to live it.
Story time! The pastor of the church I was staying at in Abangaritos was a little better off than some of the community members. In fact, she had an ice maker in her home. One day she decided to surprise my missions group by bringing a large tub of ice up to the church. I have never seen so many teenagers race for something as quickly and fiercely as we all raced for that bucket, dipping our hands in it and putting large chunk of ice to our faces. Now, whenever I pull an ice cube out of my fridge, I am able to think of how blessed and privileged I am to have a cool glass of water as the image comes to mind of a bunch of sweaty high schoolers racing like animals to a single bucket of ice gathered. We were all completely desperate for the slightest cool off :)
Rule #3: History is a beautiful piece of life which we all forget, but NEED to start remembering. Period.
The time I spent with my family in Chalfont St. Peters near London is something I will never forget. Though the homes—which are older than in America—still have no air-conditioning, I was still able to live in the comforts of a home, unlike Costa Rica. It was more like a vacation, minus the tourist part because England grew to be my second home. Regardless of the living situation, I still gained so much perspective on life while in Europe. Imagine driving down a busy road and passing by a church that is nearly a thousand years old. Not only that, but a one-thousand year old church with Crusaders buried inside, right beneath an offering box. This is the norm for Europe. Yet it reveals how old things truly are. Many who never leave their towns are not able to gain the perspective of age; however by seeing things in person which are only heard about in books, history truly comes to life. I remember being in the British museum and seeing hundreds of necklaces from hundreds of different regions over hundreds of different eras. It was amazing to think of the lives which were lived surrounding those necklaces, all completely unique to their era and location. Whether it was Dover castle, a first-century Roman lighthouse, a one-thousand year old church, or a little necklace, traveling throughout England revealed how big of a deal life is, yet how small it is within the grand scheme. Every person leaves their little marks in time, yet their names will be forgotten. From this vantage point, a new perspective on the history of the world was formed in me. No matter what a person traveling may gain from seeing something like an old Cathedral, there is so much value in it, even if it is only to say, "I've seen a building that is older than America. The world is a lot bigger than I thought."
Rule #4: There is so much to learn about yourself from experiencing the values of other cultures.
Seeing what people put their values in has caused me to really reflect on what I place my values in. The first thing which comes to mind for me is my restaurant experience in France versus America. In France, food is everything. So much value is placed on the food industry that waiters are trained to remember every little detail of a customer’s order without writing anything down. This was my experience from all of the different restaurants I went into.
I specifically remember being in Amiens, eating at Le Quai. This is a food experience I will never forget. I was traveling with a family of eight, making our restaurant experience an order of nine different meals. Within a minute the waiter had memorized my group’s entire order, and within fifteen minutes the meal was brought out in perfection. Every little request had been fulfilled, and the waiter did not have a notepad to take our orders. For those of you who have little kids, and even those of you who don’t, we can all envision how complicated our orders were. I am gluten-free, so the waiter had to remember very specific instructions. Brianna was five. She was picky. Nathan and Levi were barely two. No €30 plate of food could please them. Yet Le Quai still remembered and put special care into each of our dishes. The value that the French place upon foodservice broadened my ideas about food and all the little details that can make a person feel welcome and taken care of.
Rule #5: Different lifestyles are so refreshing. Try experiencing different ways of life.
When visiting Ireland, I noticed the value the Irish place upon agriculture and tradition. There are men who have grown up around horses, manning carriages their entire lives. These horses are the air they breath and are the center of every precious memory. I remember being in a horse-drawn buggy, riding through the Gap of Dunloe, and listening to the horseman who was driving talk about his memories of growing up with horses. It really made me think about how different lifestyles and cultures are. In America, our values are so much different than Ireland and France. The simplicity of that horseman’s life was refreshing. My life moves so fast and I try to apply myself to so much that I envy the simplistic lifestyle an Irish horseman lives. Yet unlike France, I do not focus on a particular value like that waiter I had. Food was a huge part of his life, and so much had been dedicated to the art of customer service all for the love of French cuisine. These are only glimpses into how variant lifestyles are around the world. To witness these different cultures is so valuable because it shows a person how life is so much bigger than we, as humans, are able to contemplate. This is an important concept to learn, teaching that there is so much more to life than oneself.
Rule #6: We are all human. Learn to adjust.
Through traveling, I have also discovered that it causes a person to “grow up,” in a sense. When one travels to a country in which the people do not speak the same language, the person has to learn to adapt in order to communicate. This makes me think of the many experiences in Costa Rica in which I had to communicate with children and their families even though I do not speak much Spanish. I had to adapt myself in order to communicate what needed to be said. My favorite struggle in the language barrier comes from none other than the English-speaking Ireland. I remember sitting in the back of the horse-drawn carriage, listening to the Irish horsemen talk with one another. I thought that it was beautiful to hear them speak in Gaelic to each other. I did not understand a word of what they were saying, but it was incredible. I drank in every word, thinking of how lucky I was to be in the mountains of Ireland, listening to an ancient language being spoken. Then the lady sitting next to me asked the driver what language he was speaking, and he answered, “English ma’am!” He and his friend were not speaking Gaelic after all, but were talking so fast and with such heavy accents that I could barely understand a syllable. This taught me that I do not speak English very well, and my eyes were opened once again to how variant the world truly is.
Rule #7: Don’t run from the terrifying unknown. Embrace it.
Amidst different language barriers, one learns to navigate with nothing but subtle clue words and unreliable hand motions from natives. It was like this in Paris, walking from vendor to vendor, asking for directions to the Eiffel Tower. I gained confidence I never expected to gain. After all, if I can navigate through Paris with little French knowledge, I can make it through any big city. Going into the city of London without an adult (I was 17 when I lived there!!) helped reaffirm this confidence in me. My cousins and I wandered throughout the entire unfamiliar city, and returned home in one piece. It was monumental for me, as I am a small town girl who two months before shook from head to toe walking through Seattle. I remember being convinced I was going to be murdered. Yet, I took on London with such confidence that my entire persona changed into a daring, adventurous, wanderlust soul. Traveling does this to people. There is so much value in taking on the responsibility of managing an unfamiliar place. A person learns to trust and believe in themselves. It shows one can do more than they ever believed possible.
Rule #8: Get off your butt, there is so much out there, even if you only drive a mile.
Life will not have the same value if always lived in the comforts of home. When staying in one place, a person cannot see how big the world really is. There is so much to discover, which a person cannot find by watching a travel special on TV. Life takes a dramatic shift when a person sees the hundreds of different ways people around the world do life. It is incredible to experience different cultures and values, and to realize all the precious things about their own life. A lot of growing up can happen on these trips as well, as a person is placed out of their comfort zone and into a brand new society.
Rule #9: Sometimes we feel dumb. That’s okay. It makes for a good story.
In traveling, I have really had to learn how to adapt in order to communicate. This makes me think of the many experiences in Costa Rica in which I had to communicate with children and their families even though I do not speak much Spanish. I can now say I am definitely a master of “Spanglais,” a lovely mix of French, English, and Spanish. My brain was so mixed up with all the words I knew that I could not put a fluent sentence together in any language!
Now, I have tale after tale of hilarious moments in my life. Like when I accidentally told a teenage boy in Costa Rica that I was “pregnant,” instead of “embarrassed” for thinking the CR on his hat stood for my favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies, and not Costa Rica. The worst part was that I had no idea how to take back what I said, so it ended up in a jumbled mess of Spanglais. The boy just laughed at me, and then got all of his friends to laugh with him. Yes, I may have felt like an idiot with all of my hand motions and jumbled words, but I made it out alive, and now have some pretty amazing conversation starters.
Rule #10: Life is simply beautiful. Nothing can take this fact away.
Even if a person gains nothing else from traveling, there is so much value to the memories one takes home. There are so many stories I am thinking upon right now which bring a smile to my face. Whether in Costa Rica, England, Wales, Ireland, France, or any other place I have been, there is a treasure stored in my mind of all the sweet memories I have. No matter how hard things get, memories cannot be taken away. Even if someone is traveling completely alone, just the sight of a castle upon a hill can be treasured forever. Through these memories, one can bring new perspective into their everyday life, enlightening those around them about all of the things that happen all around the planet. Even the simple memories gained, like laying out on the beach and soaking up the sun, can give life a little more light. Perhaps the greatest value that can be gained from traveling is a perspective that recognizes what is precious and valuable in one's own life, therefore implanting a desire to live in such a way as to incorporate the treasures discovered in other places into regular everyday life. This is the value of travel to me.