Drop the travel sheets—and actually travel

I love to travel. Seeing the world is about as close as I come to a vice, maybe an obsession—almost any time to any place by any available means of transportation. I used to tell people, “Offer me a bus ticket to Bakersfield and I’m your guy.” It’s probably a result of my upbringing. I won’t bore you with details or look for sympathy, but for much of my childhood we didn’t have a car and if I wanted to go somewhere, I walked. Add to that the fact that I lived in western Kansas where there was really nowhere to go in the ’60s and I was like a one-winged moth—wanting to travel but not able to go.

A big trip for me was a high school football “away game” 50 miles from home where post-game meals consisted of a hamburger and a milk shake. I never even got to Bakersfield until years later when I moved to California. Now when I’m not traveling, I’m wishing I was or planning a trip. My wife and I have been to over 60 countries and have lived in Anguilla in the Caribbean for 20 years. As famed author and photographer Susan Sontag said, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

Now I know a lot of people who don’t enjoy travel who may have never left their state or even their hometown. I’m incredulous at this. It’s not a wrongway of living, but you miss so much. There are a lot of homebodies out there.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that outdoor and family activities are just as much a choice as going to Sri Lanka and Myanmar or walking the Great Wall of China, and lots of people love being at home as much as I love travel.

I lived in the San Francisco area for years. It’s one of the most fantastic cities in the world—museums, theaters and activities everywhere. It’s packed with ethnic neighborhoods and foods I still haven’t discovered, but I had friends and family in the area who had no interest in traveling more than 25 miles to anywhere. I couldn’t understand how the perimeters of their lives had retracted to just a few square miles with limited chances for adventure.

I once asked a friend, “You’re healthy and financially secure. You are still young. Why don’t you go places?” We lived near the mountains, the city, the sea and dozens of wineries … and they never visited any of that. They always went to the same restaurants, mostly Applebee’s or Olive Garden, because they were close and had good parking. I realized my friend had an extreme case of “I don’t like to travel.”

My travel affects my belongings too. I’m a collector, and our home reflects who we are with collectibles from our travels everywhere. Recently we had some folks we didn’t know very well over, and they were shocked. “Why do you travel so much?” they asked. We told them travel is our only vice and we enjoy the experiences. That evening I started asking myself that question as we researched our upcoming trip to Europe. Crowds. Bad airport food. Unpredictable hotels. Expensive, uncomfortable, frequently delayed planes. Yeah, why do we travel so much? It got me thinking.

Travel is a stretch. The very things that make travel a challenge are the things that push you out pf your comfort zone. It’s where “life begins,” according to writer Neale Donald Walsch. Adventure and risk are their own reward. Now I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but I do love an occasional dose of dopamine. I enjoy being lost in a new city, hearing new languages and seeing new places—from markets to tribal villages and sometimes all at the same time. Going to a completely different country, even a different part of the United States, gives me a fresh perspective on life back home. Whether it’s grand or grim, it makes me look at how I live and reassures me that I still like the life I live.

Travel is a teacher. Travel teaches us how different—and yet how surprisingly similar—people are across the world. Even if you go to an adjacent state, you Jimmy Buffett parrot-heads already know: “It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes … nothing remains quite the same.”

Think you know everything about yourself? Think again! Get into your true self. No cell phone, no English and no credit cards and suddenly, no gas. Travel gives you a better representation of who you are than sitting at work waiting for the weekend. How will you handle a crisis? Sooner or later you find out “What could possibly go wrong?” Sickness. Lost wallet. Missed flight. Now try that in a third-world counry. You’ll get through it, but for a few minutes you may not be sure you will.

Learn to survive without. Even packing for a trip will teach you the difference between essential and excess. How many pair of shoes? How many shirts? My wife always reminds me, “We’re traveling to see, not be seen.”

The important thing is not where you go or how you go—train, plane, car or boat.

Just go.

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

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