Traveling Made My Life Better

Sonya Barnes June 20, 2019

With my family at the Yoda Fountain in San Francisco, June 2017

Traveling is something many people aspire to do when they are older and retire.  It is put off until there is more time in our lives or money in our bank accounts.  I have often wondered why it isn’t reversed and people don’t travel as their initiation into adulthood. I’ve been blessed to travel throughout my childhood, during my military career, and frugally through my early adulthood and I can’t even begin to imagine how different my life, and the life of my children, would be if I hadn’t.  I have learned to research, budget and compare prices, navigate, interact with people from all over the world, and plan ahead by multiple steps to make things happen the way I envision.

My oldest and I at a stop on a road trip several years ago

In our global modern society that is connected 24/7 with people all over the world for a variety of reasons, it is easier to do things now more than ever. I remember when my oldest was graduating high school and I relentlessly encouraged him to start college in the spring and travel for the summer and fall.  His gave me several reasons like money, not knowing people, not wanting a gap in his education on his applications later in life.  I told him I had contacts off the top of my head in majority of the U.S. and could get the other states covered with a few phone calls, plus we had connections in several European countries.  He still declined, almost appalled at the idea of couch surfing and working odd jobs to earn travel money or that travel experience could be something that could stand out on his resume.  I couldn’t believe he hadn’t inherited my love of a good road trip and was so focused on starting school and moving at breakneck speed towards a career and the rest of his life.  My wisdom was imparted in vain.  In retrospect now, a few years later, he does sometimes wish he had listened, especially as I have continued to travel with his younger brother in tow and managed to get him out on a couple of trips with us.  So, on these pages, I will share my love of travel and how I feel it just makes my life better in the hopes I can inspire you to get off the couch and into your car (or a bike, a train, a bus, an airplane…) for an adventure!

People exiting Mammoth Cave, 2019

The people. This is by far the best reason to travel.  My husband and I are naturally chatty with people, he more so than me, so engaging in conversations while waiting in queues or while sitting at a table is not unusual for us.  We have made business contacts, friends, and been inspired in so many ways by several of these encounters.  We live in central Florida which has incredible diversity from tourists to transplants, yet many keep to themselves or are so busy in tourist mode that the authenticity of interacting is often strained.  But when we travel, we meet those same people in everyday life mode that are more relaxed and friendly because they are in their own element and love sharing their knowledge and expertise about the place that they call home. Every place I have been, I have met someone that has taught me something and made me a better person just for having crossed their paths.  For my 7-year-old, if there was someone to play with, he was happy.  He doesn’t see age or color or race or nationality, he sees people for their human nature.  It is a constant reminder to me that we are all fundamentally the same in that we just want someone to interact with that we can respect and be respected by and that, in the grand scheme of things, what many focus on first is the least significant thing about them.

Learning about the Polynesian cultures at a luau in Honolulu, June 2016

The culture. Cultures are something I crave to learn about as a history lover. While the U.S.A. is a melting pot of cultures all blended together and no real definitive culture of its own as a nation, traveling allows you to see so much.  Pockets of culture exist all over the country and, while many areas won’t identify it because they see the diversity in their own area, those of us that are looking in from the outside see it.  There are so many areas filled with people that are proud to share about their culture and welcome strangers in like family to share and teach—and this has existed both in the U.S. as well as all the other countries I have traveled to.  I love that my youngest has learned about the fast-paced technology life of Silicon Valley and the traditional and slower paced life of Amish Country and can identify similarities to his own life and  look at how to adapt in them and everything in between.

My boys looking out into the ocean from the top of a volcano in Hawaii

The geography. My freshman year of high school flashes back when I think of geography.  The teacher that handed us a map of a region on Mondays that was filled with labels of bodies of water, land forms, capitals and state/country names that we had to replicate on a blank copy on Friday still haunts my memories.  But I also have memories about a book that traveled with me in the mid-80’s called The Fabulous Facts about the 50 States and flipping its pages while hanging out in the cab-covered truck bed of a silver Nissan pick-up when we drove from Florida to Washington State, bound for Alaska. I learned about populations, land size, agriculture and claims to fame from that book.  In fact, I still have it.  It’s currently on loan with some friends that are living the full time RV life as they compare how things have changed since the times of our childhood.

A wind farm we passed driving through Indiana

The economy. This one is an interesting byproduct of travel.  Aside from just spending money so that people have jobs, you get to see how different areas sustain their local economies—or don’t.  Road trips are a great way to see this.  The oil fields scattered along the prairies in the southeast. The wind farms of the northeast.  The animals, crops silos and barns scattered in all areas.  All of these show the behind the scenes elements that we depend on for our daily life, but some take for granted or don’t even know exist.  Or the big cities where business is done, where all these elements converging to provide their goods to a middleman that can make them reach farther than the creator of the goods may have time for.  I have traveled to popular tourist areas only to find that tourism is not their main industry and is a good reason why everything isn’t tourist friendly in those areas.  I have been amazed at how little I knew about how money works, changes, transfers around the world at breakneck speeds.

Iceland, 2016, clean and beautiful with recycling bins for everything

The environment. You need only walk out your door to hear that this is a hot topic now.  We have opted for convenience in our fast-paced lifestyles and the marketers have done a fantastic job of hiding the footprint associated with that convenience by making things fit our budget or squeeze more time in our day.  But traveling allows us a chance to see how a big city manages their trash and recycling with various bins, water conservation, cutting the access to disposable items, as well as creative transportation like rental scooters and bikes, or public transportation. With all the various options for maintaining their natural resources while catering to the lifestyle of their citizens, I am always finding ideas to implement in my classroom, household or to write to my local leaders about.

The Einstein Monument in D.C., a favorite stop every time I visit

I’ve been blessed in my life to have been infected with the travel bug early in life.  I was born in the great state of Texas and was only a few months old when we went to see family in Florida.  My family traveled from Florida to Alaska by car, spending my 7th birthday camping in Yellowstone National Forrest.  At 10, we trained to Pittsburgh and I got to spend a few hours in Washington, D.C., my first real chance to explore a major city. My life in the military took me to several places in Europe, and I’ve had the privilege of returning a few times since, as well as into the Caribbean.  Travel with my kids became a priority and was a key reason I chose to become a teacher even though my degree was in business.  Domestically, I have now road tripped with my youngest up and down the East Coast into several Canadian provinces, the Southeast and into the Midwest and we flew to Hawaii and California.  He has been to 28 states and, as I write this, I am visiting my 50th state.  I know it may not be something many want to accomplish, but it was a definite bucket list item for me, just like when we went to Hawaii and managed to touch both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans within 24 hours.  Next is to try and revisit the rest of the states with my family so that they will have the same accomplishment.  We are always planning our next adventure. 

I don’t know what your travel experiences or ambitions are, but I sure love the stories we have to tell, the memories and photos we cherish, and the connections I can share with my students as we read and learn from stories that take place in areas I have been to.  I can’t even begin to imagine life without traveling, and I am always ready for my next adventure, with hopes to someday take to living on the road full time.  I guess we will see where the journey takes me.

San Antonio, TX

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