Squawk Radio

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Liz Goes Around the World in Eighty Years

Last night was the annual fund-raising auction for my son’s school. On the block was the use of an apartment for one week that’s located in the heart of Paris. Paris, France, not Paris, Kentucky. Had I been better prepared, the other Squawkers and I could have bought it for $600 apiece. Of course, it only slept four, so we would have had to rotate sleeping on the floor a couple of nights each, but a week in the heart of Paris for $600 would have been worth every painful vertebra.

I’ve been to Paris twice in my life (along with a handful of other European cities), but it’s been more than two decades since my last visit. My husband, save being stationed in the Caribbean with the Coast Guard for two-years and a day-trip to Juarez when he was a child, has never been outside the borders of the United States. Yet he has a four-year-old in one of his preschool classes who’s already traveled throughout Europe and Asia. She moved to the States, in fact, from Shanghai, where her mother was last located for work. Only four years old, and this little girl is already a world traveler. Actually better than a world traveler. She’s already a world DWELLER.

I’ve always thought travel was the absolute best education a person could give herself. Not just because a person can learn a lot about the rest of the world while traveling, but because a person can learn a lot about herself while traveling. I’m not talking about booking tours through agencies that offer one the organized, air-conditioned opportunity to see ruins and relics, palaces and portraits, but the total immersion of the self into the culture and customs of the country one has chosen to visit. Yes, of course, you should see the museums and sights of any given locale. But even more important, you need to talk to the people who work in those places, shop in the stores that aren’t on the main thoroughfares, stroll through the green spaces no one bothered to include on the maps, eat in the restaurants that didn’t make the Michelin Guide.

You need to LIVE in the places you visit. My fondest memories of my trip to Europe when I was 19 include a soccer game in a London park between some of my traveling companions and members of the Dutch embassy. Or explaining the Fourth of July to a group of elderly Scotsmen in an Edinburgh pub, who, when we told them the reason we were lifting our pints was because that day was the day the American Colonists declared their independence from the English King, lifted their pints, too, and said, “Oh, aye. We’ll drink to tha’!” Or eating the first soft-boiled egg of my life at breakfast with a Dutch couple who housed us for a night. Or using my limited French to facilitate the flirting between my roommate and an Algerian bus driver.

And I remind myself now how very fortunate I was to have those experiences at a time in my life when I was still incredibly impressionable. I learned so much about the world and myself on those two trips I took in college. I learned that I can easily fit all of life’s necessities into a backpack. I learned that, even when I don’t speak the language, I can communicate with just about anyone. I learned that I’m a lot more self-reliant and responsible than I seem. I learned that, no matter where I go, people essentially want the same things. I learned that the good stuff in the world WAY outnumbers the bad stuff. I learned that EVERY place is beautiful in some way. And I learned that, everywhere I go, on any given day, there is something new to learn or observe or discover.

But I’ve also learned that it doesn’t take traveling to learn those things. All it takes is a sense of wonder and the desire to do something new and different. I can walk into the woods behind my house and discover something that will improve both my day and me. I can travel to a new Cuban restaurant--or Indian restaurant or Ethiopian restaurant--and experience some new international flavor. I can talk to the woman behind me in the grocery line and enrich my experience of the people of the world. And I can still fit all of life’s necessities into a backpack.

So what lessons have you all learned from traveling? Not just travels abroad, but travels around the block? And not just lessons about the world, but lessons about yourself? If you could go anywhere in the world you wanted, where would you go? What would you do? Most importantly, what would you bring back with you when you returned?
Elizabeth Bevarly, 11:58 AM