When my daughter Libby turned 16, my mother and I took her on a five-day cruise from San Pedro to Ensenada, Mexico. We had a great time together (although Libby probably had her best time in the teen club on the ship, dancing and hanging out with some of the other kids on the cruise.) We make several stops along the way, including a day on Catalina Island where we took the glassbottom boat ride and oohed and aahed at the bright orange garabaldi that swam between the giant kelp stalks. It was just a fun and relaxing little cruise.
But my biggest memory of the trip was Libby's response to our walking tour of the town of Ensenada. I had enjoyed the day. It was a seaside town filled with tourist shops, a good lunch at a restaurant with an lovely outdoor patio and entertainment of mariachi musicians and folklorico dancers in bright embroidered dresses. When we returned to the ship, however, Libby was quite solemn and silent. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Mom, did you see all the little children who were begging?"
Libby experienced one of the most important reasons we travel...the internal journey. We don't travel just to check off countries on our "wish list." What is the point of going just to say we have been there? We go to learn about other ways of life, other cultures. Sometimes the things we learn cause a shift in our own world.
Rick Steves, another of my favorite travel gurus, is known for his travel guide books and tours of Europe. He lives in Europe at least four months of every year, doing research for his books, filming his PBS travel show, and visiting with the many friends he has made in Europe during his many years of working there. But when he travels on his own time, he goes to Central and South America to learn and write about the social conditions there, or he visits India, which is the place he feels most "rearranges his furniture." Conditions there are so terrible for so many people, and yet many of them find ways to live happy lives in spite of their poverty.
The internal journey does not always come from observing how good we have it relative to other less fortunate people. Rob and I have traveled mostly in Europe, and our perception was changed by observing so many things that we found to admire in the European way of life. The public transportation, the systems of health care, the new infrastructure, and the more balanced approach to work and leisure are often superior to what we see at home. Don't get me wrong. I love my country and am very happy living here. I think we do lots that is right, but from seeing life in other countries, Rob and I understand that the United States is not the "best" country in the world. It may be the best for us because it is home, but as Rick Steves says, "Many of the world's people may like Americans, but they don't want to change passports with you."
Have fun on your travels. Enjoy the new sights and sounds and smells and societies...but don't be afraid of "rearranging your furniture," of learning about your own world by observing someone else's.