A Traveler's Manifesto
There are many things I’m grateful to my parents for having taught me, but one thing stands out above everything: the notion that traveling is almost as essential as breathing. That to truly grow and begin to understand the world and your place in it, one must put themselves far outside of their comfort zone and constantly seek ways, in Proustian terms, to see things through “new eyes.”
Though I'm undecided as to whether I will eventually wander down the road of parenthood, I know that if I do, I will do my best to raise my children as travelers. And teach them that to travel is to embark on a never-ending lesson of appreciation, acceptance, and challenging your own inherent notions of what constitutes "normal."
After thinking about what advice I would give my (possible) future children – and my niece and two nephews who have already begun their lives as travelers – I came up with this:
What a great treat it is for you to see the world through someone else's eyes. The opportunity to travel world comes as both a pleasure and a great responsibility.
You'll learn so much. You'll see things that confuse you, that make you sob with profound sadness and laugh with your whole body. You'll wonder why the world can be so beautiful and so unjust at the same time. You'll ask yourself why you've been given the chance to live such a wonderful life, why you deserve to travel, while other people struggle to simply survive each day living in such terrible conditions.
But don't lose heart or begrudge the opportunity you have. Take this moment to interact with these people with great respect and esteem. Look them in the eye, no matter how heartbreaking or repulsive their situation might seem. Smile and say hello. Whether or not you give money to those who ask for it is your choice, but the one thing you cannot do is ignore them. Sometimes a simple acknowledgement of their presence can feel much more valuable to them than any amount of money.
When someone invites you to eat with them, say yes. Even if the fare on offer repels your stomach – they might be offering you an entire week's worth of food, and would rather go hungry than be inhospitable to you. Observe how everyone around you interacts at the table and remember they might be waiting for you, as their honored guest, to take the first bite. Tell them how delicious it is, and how much you appreciate the meal. Respect any form of prayer that comes before or after the meal, even if you do not share their beliefs.
And remember, just because something feels unfamiliar and challenging to your own notions, doesn't mean it's wrong. While it's good to share your opinions and cultural customs, don't force them onto people. Instead celebrate the differences, and this precious opportunity you have to see the world from an entirely different perspective.