A Year of Travel: What I Learned about the World

In my 2019 travels (A Year of Travel FAQ) I learned a lot about logistics. How to pack a suitcase, navigate an airport, find the best flights, accommodations and tours. The best apps for communicating, translating, managing photos and finances. But those things are ephemeral, made redundant by new tools, new software, new regulations. A year or two from now, a post about those details will seem outdated, maybe even quaint.

I learned so much more that will stay with me much longer: about the world, history, people and myself.

Machu Picchu

The world is a big place, varied, interesting, vast. Yes, I knew that already but not the way you know it when you are there, immersed, when you see that view or sunset that a picture can never really capture, let alone get across the other senses: the smell and sounds of the jungle; the harsh heat of the sun at high elevation; the sense assault of an Indian road or an Egyptian marketplace; the whole body sensation of the closeness of a giant manta ray, passing in total silence. As I see these amazing places, I hear from other travellers of even more places I now dream of visiting.

Giza, Egypt

The dimension of time, interleaved with location, became so much more real. The immensity of Egyptian temples set a new framework of age. I walked the same trail in Peru that Incan royalty did, 500 years before on their way to Machu Picchu, and visited Spanish churches built on Incan foundations in the cities, colouring the colonization of the New World vivid in my mind.

A cup of spiced tea and a cat to pet at Petra, Jordan

In Jordan, the ruins of Nabataean Petra and the Roman city of Jerash made concrete the trade routes and empires of that ancient region. The Romans conquered Petra not long after they destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in the first century. I walked the ramparts of Masada, the last Jewish holdout against the Romans. A few months after that visit, I saw Roman ruins in England, and then visited a synagogue in Kerala, India that was established by Jews fleeing those conquering Romans.

Flyers in the mail in Morden, England

The people who live in these places are shaped by their histories. A Russian tour guide in Saint Petersburg had a very different take on the Crimea than the Ukrainian woman working in the oil industry in Texas, and neither perspective matched the ones I’d heard before. Being told about Brexit in England, Palestine in Jerusalem, the Arab Spring in Jordan or Egypt, Argentina in Peru, and North American politics from any other place but North America made me realize that my viewpoint was much narrower than I had believed.

Walking with our guide in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India

Mostly, though, I was struck by commonalities. Politicians may debate, but the effects of climate change are a concern to people worldwide. Hearing from a native guide in Periyar how even they could not handle the increased heat, from Pacific Islanders worried about rising sea levels, from those around the world having to adapt to winters and summers that are too dry, too warm, too unpredictable made my general concern more focused.

Choosing a fortune at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

And people everywhere want the same things. They want their children to have a secure future, their homes to be safe, their work to be worthwhile. They work and pray for good fortune. They love their children, a good laugh, a warm or cold drink on a cold or hot day. They want to connect with others. No matter the language or politics, we are all children of the same Earth.

So many of these things I might have learned sitting at home: reading books, watching documentaries, thinking. Yet while travelling there are not the same distractions of normalcy, of routine, to interrupt my developing thoughts and viewpoints. The immediacy of being there, wherever there may be, does not allow complacency or avoidance.

I’m looking forward to what I will learn in my next year of brave travels.