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The Heart of a Traveler

Posted by on November 30, 2010

I’m not really sure when it began, my love for traveling and for new places. But I’m sure the fact that my first trip overseas was before I was using big boy pants had something to do with it.

My first trip to Italy to visit my extended family started when I was 2 years old and every few years those trips continued into my early twenties.  But since each trip to the “old country” was kept to a specific part of Italy I didn’t really get a consciousness of how far I was from home until later in life.    As a kid, the plane ride was like a really long car ride, to a place where more people spoke the same language I’d hear at family gatherings in Canada.

I could only partially understand my relatives at home, and I could only partially understand them in Italy, the place wasn’t so different to me.  Come to think of it, maybe it began in Mexico…

Every year my father, without fail, would take the entire family on a vacation into the sun, and Mexico was the destination of choice in my preteen years.  My parents and I would spend a week or two discovering all that the Mexicans and the  Mayan people had to offer.  If there were temples or ruins nearby our hotel, my father would find it, and within 48 hours into our vacation he would have me climbing some ancient temple and driving into towns not recommended by our travel agent.

During one unforgettable trip, my father heard of a small town within a reasonable driving distance from our resort, so instead of sitting by the beach and letting my 8 year old self check out the talent at the pool, we were off exploring.   I remember getting to this town and we quickly realized it was siesta.  The entire town was asleep.   Not one store was open, nobody was in the streets, and besides a cat or dog, its like we had just wandered into a ghost town.

I can still remember us walking through the town square with amazement at how quiet this entire city was in the middle of the day.  Without much to see we started to walk out the gates of city wall, and lying there, like a bloated balloon lying on its back was the deadest, grossest, most giant rat I had ever seen in my life.

My mother and I jumped and screamed bloody murder for the first couple seconds as my father picked up the nearest stick and started poking the animal like he was sad it wasn’t alive to play with him and provide more excitement for the afternoon.

Its surprising we all weren’t kidnapped during the Mexican years.

In my teen years it was time to conquer the caribbean; Cuba, Aruba, and St. Maarten.  And with each trip came at least a few days of touring our location.  In Aruba we “had” to drive around the entire island, searching for lesser known areas and attractions.  In St. Maarten we toured both the Dutch and French sides endlessly, moving from beach to beach, and town to town to make the most with the time we had.

I remember my father always wanting to travel as a family.  At 18 years old, when my parents wished to travel to Cuba for two weeks and my school work only allowed for one; where I saw conflict my father saw simple solutions.  I would simply fly back on my own at the end of the first week and take an airport cab back home where I’d take care of myself for a week.   He believed this wouldn’t be a problem, so therefore I believed it wouldn’t be a problem.    Looking back, I think this was the start of believing I could travel on my own, and that anything was possible.

So its no surprise with this love of other countries, when I was offered a job as a trainee travel agent at age 22 I jumped at the opportunity.  What better way to learn about the rest of the world without taking out a loan.

I managed to live vicariously through my clients for about 18 months and then the itch to get going myself finally struck. After I decided to backpack through Europe, it was two months before I had recruited a traveling partner, quit my job, and was on a British Airways flight through London into Amsterdam.

I can still remember the feeling of picking up my backpack from the baggage claim. As I walked through into the terminal of a city I’d never seen, speaking a language I couldn’t understand, it hit me, “holy shit I’m actually doing this.”

Then for the next 7 weeks I traveled to over 15 cities, 6 countries, and my most favourite recurring moment was the arrival into a new destination.

Everything about that moment was sacred to me.  The new train station welcoming us into its heart, and possibly an entirely new culture to observe and interact with.  Do people smile more here? Are they assholes? Whats on the menu? oohh, the girls wear thigh high boots here. Score! How much is beer?  Endless opportunity for adventure.

As I write this I’m starting to think that everything about the sensory overload of a new destination is what drives my love of travel. And drives my desire to visit so many more countries while I am still young and healthy enough to do so.

Not to mention that it beings to explain my absense of desire to visit places like Australia or Arizona.  I see these destinations as merely extentions of my home in Canada and therefore not a priority over cultures like Japan, China, or Egypt that I have yet to visit. Filled with new cultures I could begin striving to understand from inside the looking glass.

Regardless of where I’ve been and where I have not, I realize how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to expand my experiences with travel.  I suppose its only fitting that the paintings first hung in my new home were 5 foreign landscapes; London, Paris, Florence, and Venice.

I guess within the heart and mind of a traveler, its the reminder of other places, and the possibilities that await, that makes us feel at home.

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