Published: September 21, 2014 01:00 AM
I’m knackered (a great British word, meaning “tired,”) after hours of travel back from Europe. To celebrate my father-in-law’s 75th birthday, our family traveled to England for a canal boat trip through Oxfordshire. The slow, leisurely sojourn through the English countryside had its challenges, as eight of us were packed away on 6-foot-6-inch-wide, 70-foot-long boat that fit snugly in the 58 locks we traversed.
The second boat, our twin, had eight passengers as well, so 16 family members in tight, cramped quarters for the better part of a week. Anyone who has traveled with eight children and seven other family members questions not why I am in need of another vacation.
But, as I put away the trifles, trinkets, and insouciance of summer and unpack the toil, busyness, and routines of autumn, I reflect on a summer that will warm me and brighten me during the coldest and darkest days of winter.
It is a blessing to have the means to travel, for traveling allows us not only to see the world with new eyes, but also to experience a sense of unbalance that sharpens the mind and deepens our appreciation for each moment.
Technology has shortened distances and seemingly connected all of us to places heretofore only imagined. In seconds, words reach worlds thousands of miles away, and conversations in multiple languages occur at all hours of the night. If I like, I can read newspapers from the Australian Outback with my breakfast, listen to music from a South African radio station for lunch, and watch, with subtitles, Japanese television with dinner without ever leaving my computer.
It’s wondrous and specious, all at once: as much as I may think that I am experiencing Australia, South Africa, or Japan, I am not, because I am not there rubbing elbows with the people. Travel involves seeing the sites, hearing the languages (learning new slang words, like “knackered,”) tasting the foods, breathing the air, and feeling the dirt on your feet and the wind on your face.
No matter how many times I travel to a foreign country, I experience it anew. My senses are more alert, not only because of the dialects and languages, but also the odd currency, the strange sirens slicing the air, and the general awareness that travel, of any sort, demands. As an educator, I know that we best learn when our senses are most alert, and travel, like nothing else, enlivens us. It also forces us to communicate with humility, as we seek support, while fumbling with the language, the currency, and the roadmaps.
In addition, travel allows us to feel good about simple accomplishments, such as navigating the Tube like a local, or ordering a pint as a native might. We return home with clearer eyes, a new perspective and a deeper appreciation for what we have, what we’ve done, and what we can accomplish.
More important than these small achievements, however, is the substantial sense that travel improves who we are: as Mark Twain opined in “Innocents Abroad,” “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” In sum, travel makes us more sympathetic, more compassionate, more understanding, and in a world filled with fearful, dispiriting, confusing news from the Ukraine, from Ferguson, and from Syria, among other places, it’s good to know that travel kills prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, while encouraging understanding and empathy.
“Frederick,” a children’s story by Leo Lionni, tells the tale of a seemingly lazy mouse who spends the summer months storing memories of the summer, while his compatriots gather the necessities. His companions curse his laziness, until the dead of winter, when Frederick steps forth and shares warm memories of their summer sun. Like Frederick, this winter, as I trudge around the slosh-filled roads of Rhode Island, wondering when spring will come, I will unpack my memories of a summer of travel, forgetting how knackered I was plodding through customs at Heathrow and feeling utterly chuffed (British for “completely satisfied”).
Michael C. Obel-Omia is a father and husband, educator and student, cycling enthusiast and baseball fan. He lives in Barrington.