How’s winter treating everyone? It’s been an intense one up here, along the northern half of the continental U.S., with Arctic Vortexes and Snowmaggedon! On a more personal note, I’ve been thoroughly introduced to the vagaries of our later years, as my Dad passed on December 1st (love you, Dad) and my amazing and inspirational sister has been facing a terminal cancer diagnosis since November (love you, Molly).

As the promise of spring tempts us from the finish line of this year’s winter endurance race, I hope that you are doing well, and I imagine you may be wistfully dreaming and planning your annual summer vacation!

Which is what I’d like to talk about. Your next travel opportunity. Might I offer a suggestion? Stay long enough.

To the left of my “Day Light” lamp, near the back of my very large, oval writing desk, sits a small, dark orange travel diary. Scribbled across its white lined pages (if there aren’t lines, I slope downward every time) are notes and impressions and thoughts that began to grow three weeks into my trip to Thailand.

Three weeks. By then, most of us are packing our bags to head home (if we’re lucky) or we’ve already been back at work for at least a week and the most attention our unpacked bags get is a curse or a glare as we trip over them in the morning, right? Why is this?

Narrative: a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
Synonyms: account, story, tale, chronicle, history, description, record, portrayal, sketch, portrait, statement, report, rehearsal, recital, rendering

By the time we enter our adulthood, and supposedly gain our freedom to live as we wish, our “narrative” of how life works is firmly ingrained. This narrative that we receive (and accept) about life, from our parents, politicians and the corporate elite, becomes the rule book by which we live our lives. We don’t need parents anymore because we have swallowed (hook, line and sinker) the rule book. Narrative IS the way it is.

When you think about going on vacation, the narrative goest something like this: “If you are successful, you’ll have money and vacation time, and you’ll spend them on an annual family vacation (7-10 days) and an annual holiday vacation to see the grandparents (3-5 days). Later, when you retire, you might be able to travel to Europe or Asia, perhaps on a 21-day road tour or a whirlwind cruise, during which you’ll spend a few hours or maybe a whole day in several different countries. Lucky you! Oh, and spending the rest of your life in that retirement home in Arizona, by the golf course, sounds good, too.

The end result of this narrative is that most Americans will form various firm opinions about how people live elsewhere, without ever actually having spent real time there. Our voting citizens will form positive opinions about life in the USA, without any real opportunity to compare our way of life to others around the globe. In America, you can call yourself a “world traveler” without ever having left the immediate vicinity of a Starbucks, lived with a local, or worked a minute of your life in another country.

As I wrote awhile back, “seeing the world” is – for most Americans – a pleasurable escape from “real life.” It’s all about visiting cool places, having memorable experiences, eating at fancy restaurants, buying a new sunhat and bikini, drinking exotic liquor, and laying in the sun. Tourism, unlike travel, is a way to “vacate” yourself temporarily from your real, day to day, hum-drum life, for a very brief period of time.

Which puts me in a predicament, because understanding one’s audience is everything! And, nothing that I want to write about, from my 10 weeks of travel, has anything to do with any of that. Indeed, everything I came to realize or absorb about Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, started to show up right around day twenty-one.

Does this mean that I spent my first three weeks on shallow, shopping-centric tourism, only to dive into “real travel experiences” three weeks in? Not at all.

[Although, as a side note, I was horrified to follow the advice of locals on day three in Bangkok & find myself wandering through an endless maze of shopping stalls at the popular tourist spot, Asiatique! Thankfully, after buying nothing, my son and I and our new friends from Germany managed to find the nearest bus stop and it was there, on a crowded, cracked vinyl seat, open windowed bus that I had the most enjoyable moment of the night. Read more about this in a later blog post.]

I believe day twenty-one was the magic number because there are insights that must be absorbed slowly. Awarenesses that are only recognizable through comparison. And ah-ha moments that sneak up on you slowly, like molasses oozing down the side of the bottle, on a cold, winter day. Some things simply cannot be sped up. You have to wait. You have to give it time.

After two decades of raising children, and vacationing for 7-10 days, I want to say, “I understand the narrative of society, the pressure of work expectations and the forces that squeeze most of us into stereotypic short vacations.” I get it.

And…it is still worthwhile to strive for longer travel opportunities. 

I hope you’ll keep this in mind, as you enjoy my future “Travel with Purpose” blog posts, where I will do my best to share those “ah-ha” moments, ruminate on lingering questions, and reflect upon how living in another culture has proven to me that, yes…we can live better on Earth.