Dear Open Letter:

Travel is many things to different people.

For some, it’s a fun adventure, or a chance to visit distant friends and relatives. For others, it’s goodbyes as they move to embark onto a new journey.

For all the joys of traveling, it’s not always roses and sunshine. Sometimes you wake up at the crack of dawn asking yourself for the umpteenth time why in the world you booked yourself into that god-early flight. During your travels, you get tired feet, sore back, or an upset stomach from eating the wrong food. Sometimes, you encounter people who try to scam you, or you end up arguing with the very same people you want to spend some quality time with. When you return with a lighter wallet and you’re up again in the dead silence of the night, you wondered, “Was the trip worth it?”

For me, the answer had always been an unequivocal “Yes”. I hope it always will be.

Many sage things have been said about travel, but I want to encapsulate why I love traveling. I may not be able capture the full essence, but I want to try anyway.

TO EXPERIENCE

To travel is to experience. Traveling forces you to see, interact, and experience new things. With a limited amount of time at each destination, you want to make the best use of your time and take in as much of the experience as possible.  On my recent adventure to Seoul, I tried on the beautiful traditional Korean attire called hanbok and walked around in it at one of the palaces. It didn’t matter to me that there was probably a giant T (for tourist) on my forehead or that I nearly tripped over myself a handful of times. It was a fun cultural experience and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.

TO GET PERSPECTIVE

Travel gives you a better perspective when you step away from the daily grind. When you think you’ve got it bad, someone could have it worse yet display inspiring resilience.  You think you are great at something, and you are humbled by those who are more accomplished.  You visit a place where you can’t speak the language, and you hope to meet hospitable folks who can help fill in some of the gaps while you do your best to communicate. You put yourself in their shoes, and you wonder if they are extended the same courtesy when they visit other countries, including ours.

TO BE IDLED

As the old adage goes, sometimes it’s nice to stop and smell the roses. See the sunrise. Feel the sunset. Ponder at the meaning of our lives and the direction in which it is heading. Figure out if it is time to change the sails of our ships.

TO SMILE AND LAUGH OFTEN

Travel often brings out a lightheartedness out of situations. For example, on our recent trip to Japan, we ended up on the subway at a most inopportune time — the evening rush hour.  When the crowds begin to swell, the awful realization of what’s about to happened dawned on me.  My first thought was, “Oh no, we are about to be sandwiched!”  This is thanks to the stories of white gloved staff pushing people onto trains during morning commutes. (I haven’t seen it myself in person, but it supposedly happens!)

The rush hour commute can’t be comfortable for anyone who has to deal with it on a nightly basis. Yet, experiencing this phenomenon for the first time, I probably had the most ridiculous expression the entire time. I had to stop myself from laughing at our atrocious timing, the sandwiched imagery in my head, and the actual sight of people throwing themselves onto the train.  It was all very bizarre and surreal to me.  All the while, I was trying not to get squished as injuries can happen.  I was relieved to get off the train after two stops. Needless to say, this is one experience I would rather not relive again.

TO BE REMINDED

In spite of all the negativity in the media, travel reminds me of how kind most people generally are, and how we are more alike than we are different.  In Seoul, a local tapped us on the shoulders and asked us if we needed any assistance when we had been staring at the giant food menu board for some time. What she didn’t know was that we simply hadn’t made up our minds with all the choices in front of us.  Still, it was a wonderful gesture.

TO APPRECIATE

Travel allows you to appreciate more: the things you miss while you are away, and the things that are right in front of you: A sweet smile. A hearty laughter. A kind gesture. A warm hug.  A thoughtful conversation.  Precious time with family and friends.  In Seoul, a staff at the hanbok rental place was excited to see my family dressed up in the traditional attire. It turns out that that she had recently lost her mother, so she was happy to see us traveling together as a family.  It’s one of those things you don’t put much thought into, but it means something more when seen through a different lens.

TO BE GRATEFUL

In Seoul, I was returning my tray at a food court when a kid accidentally dropped his tray in front of the trash bins.  His tray landed with a bang and his stuff scattered everywhere onto the floor.  After I returned my tray, I got on my knees to help him pick up his things. He thanked me as I was picking things up, and once again before I left.  I hadn’t done anything grand, but what surprised me most was the sincerity and the audible gratefulness in his voice.

The encounter reminded me of something that I had always promised myself to remember:  To have a grateful heart.  When we are grateful, we see the beauty illuminate more brightly all around us. We appreciate more of the simple joys and the wonders of discovery.  We see, or rather we choose to see, the best of everything and in everyone.

THE REASONS

These are some of the reasons why I love to travel. Travel often reminds me of the simple things in life.  To give me the perspective I need.  To re-energize me when I feel weighed down.  To see the world through refreshed lens.

I hope I never forget all the reasons why I love to travel, and should I forget, I hope this post reminds me.
Travel means different things to different people, but I know one thing it isn’t:  It isn’t ever boring.

To that end, bon voyage. The world is in your hands.

Appreciate it.
Embrace it.
Live it.

Warmly and Gratefully Yours,
HC
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