Jet-lagged in Tokyo. I also think I am in the beginning stages of being sick. I suppose it’s inevitable. On Saturday we were in Rome. On Sunday Budapest. Tuesday found us in Amsterdam swinging toward Tokyo. Huh? It’s a long story, but the punchline is this: Our tickets cost under $300, and so here we are, quite literally jetting across the world in ten days.
I’m jet-lagged, I’m disoriented, and yet I am so thankful. On one hand because when I decided to finally throw in the towel, give jet-lag the win, and crawl out of bed at 4 am- this is the view I was greeted with. Repeat after me: Points and miles matter. That’s how Laura and I are perched on the 47th floor of one of the most prestigious hotels in the world (a room is usually upwards of $700 a night) for free.
If you’re a traveler, you have so much for which you can easily give thanks today on Thanksgiving. I think the beauty of travel is that, while the themes are the same, the experiences are so unique. So here are a few of the many reasons we have to give thanks as a traveler today, what else would you add?
That which the eyes can’t unsee
Our very first journeys abroad often times have great influence on the trips that follow. I’ve met many a traveler who speaks of an early experience going to Europe with their family which eventually was the impetus for their study abroad or gap year in Europe. I’m no different. My first trip abroad didn’t take me far from my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. My parents took me to Juarez, Mexico. I’ll never forget that introduction to life across the border. A little boy, probably 10 years old, like me at the time, was hawking chicle (gum). And for whatever reason, his tattered clothes, the startling eye contact, or the surrounding environment struck me. I bought a bouncy ball from his mom that day and carry it with me still. I learned about extreme poverty at an early age, and so it’s no mistake much of my travel has not only been to developing nations but specifically, in search of the stories, hopes, and nightmares of the poor in those countries.
The sights, sounds, and smells you never want to forget
There’s a distinct smell when fresh red chile is combined with fresh green chile over a simmering hot breakfast burrito. They say you only hate the road when you’re missing home, and I must say that from time to time my mind wanders back to one of the most important parts of my upbringing in culturally rich New Mexico: Food. And I’ll never forget everything from the day I heard Mathias play his piano on the waterfront in Queenstown on my honeymoon. The picturesque “office” he worked from. The smell of the water intermingling with seafood being cooked at the little pub right behind us. And the way music, for one brief moment, transcended into something bigger, as I felt as though God was whispering answers to prayers I had been to afraid to voice myself. We all have those moments, tastes, smells, and sights, we never want to unlearn. What are yours?
The stories, the beautiful stories
The other day, one of the students I work with did a great imitation of me. He had the hand gestures down, the way I use tone of voice, and so much more. But where he really nailed it was in spoofing my “passion for the stories behind the statistics” that I so often obsess about. And so, Caisen, here we are again, talking about stories.
For me, it’s Paola. A little girl in Chile who gave me incredible strength when I felt anything but strong. It’s the man in the Hawaiian shirt in the lobby of my hotel in Honolulu who spent an unplanned hour orienting me to his hometown. The world is full of stories, ours and theirs, begging to just come together and be stories, no us or them. I think travel has the power to break down prejudice. It has an insight into the grand sum of what it means to be alive that we lose track of in our small little worlds. It reminds us how small we truly are, and how big an impact even the smallest of our actions can have.
Travel is about stories. It’s about each individual knowing their worth, but it’s also the story of a people that we seek out. The story of a city like New Orleans after Katrina. The resilience of people in Hungary who for centuries have faced occupation after occupation. The strength of campesinos the world over, but particularly in Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
I rest my case. I’m from a desert environment and it’s almost exclusively all I know. So rain, in particular when mixed with cold wind, befuddles me. Last night, we braved the rain, the cold, and the wind (a true axis of evil) and ventured out in search of what we learned to love on our last visit to Tokyo: Ramen. The rich complexity of the broth, the texture of the noodles, the aroma of everything combined, I had a moment where my soaking wet feet shut up and allowed my nose and my mouth to take the lead. Thank you for this incredible meal. Tokyo’s ramen culture was an introduction to a food I had always overlooked. It took travel to Tokyo to give meaning to what is one of my favorite things to do in LA: Hunt for the very best ramen shops.
Finding a Trusted Travel Companion
I always wanted to just quit my job and travel. It is totally unreasonable, it frightens most, and it was a fantasy of mine. When I found a way to do it nearly for free, using points and miles, there was no doubt it would happen. Laura, until that time I had believed, was the opposite. She still sometimes jokes that it’s only when she travels that she gets sick. She’s got a loyalty to everything, husband, work, a book, deeper than you could ever imagine. So I never imagined she’d want to quit her job and just set sail. But how wrong I was.
Our time in Asia together in 2012 was the final affirmation that marriage was in our future.
And so blessed are those of you who have a trusted partner as a travel companion. But I think we fail when we limit ourselves to seeing our partner as our only travel companions. Some of my best friends are what they are in my life because of the time we’ve spent together on the road. I made the very deliberate choice to take a job that would provide me countless travel companions: 10-24 different companions every time I take a student group abroad on an immersion trip to be specific.
And more than anything else, travel, in the best moments of reflection, reveal what I so often forget: I’m here. We work in relationships with the outside world so often, but for whatever reason we forget to recognize our own existence with the complexity we award to other people. Travel reminds me how intriciate I am. It helps me to recall that I also am more than the sum of my parts and that I am worthy of love not for anything I can do for anyone, but just because I am a child of God. When we travel, I’m convinced the prejudice we start to eliminate starts first within, and then that goodness extends to the world around us.
Since I sat down to write this post, the sun (and more importantly my wife, have risen). It’s a new morning in Tokyo. The hotel very generously gave us a beautiful bottle of champagne on the house. Maybe it’s because they know we’re travel bloggers. Perhaps they just saw the joy in our faces when we arrived and thought “hey, we want to help that couple out.” Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because I proudly declared when booking the room that “we can’t wait to celebrate our honeymoon at the Park Hyatt.” Repeat after me: Every big trip within the first 1-2 years of your marriage is a continuation of your honeymoon. I joke about it, but imagine if we greeted every trip with the excitement we go into our honeymoons. Food, or in this case, champagne for thought. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers!