I love to travel. If it were free and time was of no concern, I would be gone most of the time exploring. People have asked me many times why I like to travel. I have a standard answer: I love to see the natural beautiful sites, meet the people, taste their food, and hear their music. If there is one thing I have learned through travel, it is that most people are very nice, loving, caring and helpful, no matter where you go. I have also learned that no matter where you are, people like to have fun and enjoy themselves, and as a traveler we are also around other happy travelers. It is the perfect recipe for fun!
Before you travel, you will hear old stereotypes like the people in a particular country are rude to Americans, or that the people are cold and don’t like tourists. I have found none of those stereotypes to be true. If I smile at people and I am polite, they are polite and smile at me. It does not matter what country I am in, if I try their food and compliment them and try my hardest to speak at least a few words of their language, they are appreciative and assist me with my terrible pronunciations, and it usually ends with smiles all around.
Recently when I was in New Zealand and Australia we were in contact with many locals, but also were visiting many of the tourists sites that were also being visited by Japanese and Chinese tourists. Many of them were young people, and particularly there were several groups of college age girls traveling together. Of course, like our kids of the same age, they were constantly taking selfies, so I started photo bombing their pictures.
I would jump right into the picture, right before they took it and would smile like I was with them on vacation. Well they loved it. They instantly erupted in laughter and insisted that I come in on another picture, so it was not blurry and they would reposition so I was in a better spot and would take more pictures. Sometimes others would ask me to be in their pictures too, feeling left out. I did this so often I started joining in and I would say to them, let’s take a family picture. At which point they would all smile wide as they could and would be so excited by my saying that we are all family. They would smile and laugh and we would take a nice picture together. I even got a hug from one of them.
I talked with some Chinese children at a sheep farm in Australia where we were able to pet the sheep dogs. The children were grade school age and the first question they asked me as we were petting the sheep dogs is whether I had a dog in the States. I told them I did and showed them a picture of Yogi with his Mohawk haircut, at which point they cracked up in giggles and they started pointing and showing their other friends, my crazy looking dog. I asked if they had any pets and they only had fish tanks among them, but would love to have a dog. It was a brief, but fun exchange.
In Australia we ate a lot of delicious seafood, and we had porridge for breakfast, which is one of the best cooked oatmeal’s I have ever tasted, but we also had to try vegemite. It is served in restaurants like jam in small containers, except it is made from left over brewers yeast and is loaded with vitamins. It is an acquired taste especially with its beer on the tongue aftertaste. Now beer can be delicious, but this is served at breakfast. Those Australians are a hearty bunch.
We have tasted foods and drinks all over the world. We had pastries with meat in New Zealand, drank Blue Lagoons in Iceland, ate alligator in Florida, pizza in Italy and we ate pork hocks with the locals at a small bar in Frankfurt Germany. We sat at a large table and attempted our best to speak enough German words to get by. They all laughed and luckily spoke English with us. We discussed our families and where our travels would take us next. They told us more about their town and about their plans to visit the States at some point and we laughed the night away.
When our kids were growing up, we went to Mexico a number of times and even though the kids were young at the time they were always willing to try the food. They loved the fresh fish and they ate salsas every day. We also danced to the music that played every night after dinner, and we went to bed tired and happy. The kids learned to talk with the people and respect and appreciate other cultures. We also had a family vacation to Nova Scotia where the residents had a heavy Scottish accent and ate pizza with hamburger and shrimp on it, but no cheese. Interesting and the kids ate it and seemed to like it. They still talk about the cheese-less pizza with shrimp.
I travel to experience other possibilities and to learn about the world. James Michener is known for saying: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people you might better stay home.” He was so right. The people I know who have and do travel a lot, love the diversity of people and their customs and tend to respect others, no matter how different from ourselves. When you talk with people around the world and eat their food and dance to their music, you not only have a wonderful travel experience, but you create family wherever you go. You touch others lives and they touch yours in a way that changes you forever. Laugh, eat and dance your way around the world and you create a world where we can all be family and have connections that survive long after the vacation is over, and hopefully, play a part in creating a better world.