Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Importance of Travel

A few weeks ago my wife and I booked a vacation to Hawaii. I have never been to Hawaii, except for a brief stop at the airport on my way to Japan, and I am really pumped for our trip. My wife and I have a rule that we take at least one vacation a year. We travel home for holidays and go to weddings and various other events so typically in a year we travel much more than that, but our one vacation rule really only applies to trips where the only purpose is to have no purpose. We never really discussed why we made this rule but I am assuming that we both place very similar importance on the value of travel and vacation.

I have played competitive hockey since I was 10 years old. I grew up in Portland Oregon. The nature of the sport (the limited number of people who play due to availability of ice, amount of commitment necessary, cost of equipment, etc.) coupled with where I grew up playing had me travelling more than most kids my age. Our closest competitor was in Seattle which was about 3 hours away. When I was young I always just thought travel was fun. We got to listen to metal for hours on end, eat junk food, spend and manage money without our parents, talk about girls, develop our locker room vocabulary, and sneak the occasional exclusive pay per view movie on the road. Typical teenage boy stuff. What I didn't realize was how the travel was developing a more cultured and educated view of the world.

Intuitively I think that I knew that I was being exposed to different adventures that most kids could not have dreamed of. By age 12 I had been to Japan, Disneyland (a dozen times), and parts of Canada most Americans couldn't prove exist without today's Google Earth technology. So am I saying that kids who travel are going to turn out to be better people than those who don't? No, but I am acknowledging that there is something to be said for experiencing different parts of the world. I think that my early travels really helped me to get along with various types of people. I learned quickly that not everyone lives like me, thinks like me, looks like me, likes death metal like me, thinks that my humor is cool, has the same dreams and aspirations as me, and experiences the world the same way I do. More importantly I think I learned that most people are inherently good. For all our differences, most people are very similar. It developed my romantic realism view of the world. I was idealistic enough to know to treat people right even if it was scrub at a truck stop. But I also developed enough street smarts to know that if someone in a San Fran train station is asking ten 13 year old kids for change for a dollar he is probably scoping out which pocket their wallets are in. I don't think I would be who I am today had I just played soccer once a week in Beaverton Oregon growing up.

This kind of travel carried me all the way through college. Playing hockey for a division I program out of Colorado also meant for a lot of travel. Throw in a service academy budget and a first class program and you have got some great travel and experiences. The lessons learn as a kid were honed as a young adult. Except, being older I appreciated all the experiences more and looked at them with a keener learning eye.

Today my travels are a little different. My wife and I typically try and get the most out of a vacation by paying the least amount possible, with the most amenities included, for the longest amount of time. This typically leads us to do all inclusive trips and cruises. Once might argue that these are just slices of American life plotted in a random country but I don't fully agree with that. Yes you can probably sit and drink beers on the beach anywhere with the resorts being quite similar. But I would argue that the culture permeates the walls of the resorts. Plus we like to do various excursions to get out of the resort and immersed in what the country has to offer. I think that this style of vacationing is synonymous with our place in life. We have some money to throw around. Not a large amount. So any trip is a year long saving event. With all the other trips for weddings, visits to see family, child births, and weekend trips, I think the allure of going somewhere with absolutely no agenda is really appealing. We talked about doing Europe this summer but doing Europe requires a lot of coordination, travel, and energy. To be honest I think we both found the concept of sipping a few cold ones on the beach, meeting random people, and seeing where the day/night takes us to be a better fit at this stage of our life.

Which brings me to the other great thing about travel, the Nintendo factor. Remember playing Nintendo for hours as a kid? Remember finally making it to Mr. Sandman on Mike Tyson's punch out only to have the screen turn into a bunch of random twitching blocks of color before you could get the code to jump straight to Mike Tyson? What did you do? Hit restart. Restart didn't always work. The game was still frozen up. So what did you do then? You pulled out the cartridge and blew the dust off/cooled the chip and put it back in. And then it worked! Well sometimes I feel like my life is like a struggle to get to Tyson. I work hard doing a fairly constant and consistent weekly routine. The weekends are nice, the little getaways are good, trips back to the motherland are well needed and enjoyable. But they aren't really a true vacation. They all are quite a bit of work. They are just a restart. Its the week long, do nothing get aways that are blowing on the cartridge of life for this guy. I am always amazed at how long my good mood carries over after I return from a trip like that. I think it recalibrates your perspective on your life as well. I am sure there are countless other benefits to vacation and travel but those are the main ones for me. If you still doubt the importance of travel and vacation try and remember your last four years of work and what of importance came out of those years, and then think back to your last four years vacations and see which resonates more as a chapter in the story of your life.


Shibahn said...

I'm so jealous that you are going to Hawaii! I've never been either! You'll have a blast. If you need someone to watch Otis, we can :) !!

Matt Bader said...

I know we are pumped! Otis is actually coming with us because we are stopping in Oregon before and after so he will be hanging with our families.

Matt Reed said...

I, too, am glad I traveled so much playing hockey. Your post reminds me of a number of essays I've written in the past regarding the value of travel, hockey, etc!

Good to see you're still alive and kicking. :)