I stole this from CityMama. It's a cool tool that lets you map out all the countries that you've visited in your lifetime. Here's my map:
Seeing all my travels mapped out like this, I even somewhat surprised myself. I knew that I'd been to a lot of places but I'd never really counted them up before. Totalling them up now, it's hard to believe that I've visited 38 countries! Not too bad. But the amazing thing is that there's still so much more of the world that I want to see. I feel like I've only scratched the surface.
As I've mentioned before, I've always had a pretty bad travel bug. It's something I inherited from my mother and it's certainly something that I want to pass down to the Peanut. There are few things that I enjoy more than travelling overseas. Now, don't get me wrong. I love America. I love everything this country stands for. I love our individualistic spirit and I love watching the tumultuous clash of democracy in action. And every time I leave the country on my travels, I come back loving America even more. My only gripe is that we're a very insular country. Though much of this has to do with our geographical isolation, I find that most Americans are reluctant to travel abroad. They're used to a life of 1st-world luxury and shun places that may not offer the creature comforts of home, thus depriving themselves of really seeing how the vast majority of our fellow citizens on the planet live.
My own father is a classic example. Like I've mentioned before, it's my mom who has the travel bug. Before she retired, she was a schoolteacher for many years and therefore always had her summers off. So, every summer, she'd take off on one incredible journey after another...hiking Mt. Fuji in Japan, sailing in the Ukraine, or going on safari in Mozambique. After one fantastic trip to Russia, she wanted to return and decided to take my father with her. They spent two weeks there. They visited Red Square, the Bolshoi, St. Petersburg, and the Volga. They saw everything. I was so excited for them that when they returned, I remember asking my father how the trip was. His answer? "The food was terrible and the toilet paper was like cardboard." (Sadly enough, it was neither the first nor the last time that I would question whether he truly was my biological father.)
Anyway, I've always been a firm believer that familiarity doesn't breed contempt. In my opinion, it more than likely breeds understanding. Do you know why you see fewer racial tensions in Queens than you do in West Texas? It's because in Queens, you have immigrants from 10 different countries all living in the same brownstone apartment building. You buy your groceries from the Dominican family down the street, wash your clothes at the Korean laundromat, get your car serviced at the Indian-owned garage, and eat lunch every day at the same Greek diner. Your local neighborhood cop is Irish. Your child's best friend is from the Sudan. And your best friend in the building is from Croatia. Sure, everyone's different. But you know what? For the most part, they share more similarities than differences. You just have to learn to respect everyone's differences. Trust me. It makes the world a much more interesting place.
This is the same attitude that I have about travel. I think it crystallized for me back in 1995 when I went to visit Pakistan for the first time. Back then, the only thing I knew about Pakistanis was that they were a bunch of fanatical Islamic Jihadists, intent on never resting until America had been brought to its knees. I was quickly proven wrong. Just like here in the U.S., the extremists who yell the loudest get the most attention. The moderates get drowned out by the din. Anyway, I made some great friends in Pakistan. Sure, they were Muslim. But the vast majority of Muslims are truly peaceful people. And you know what? They weren't defined by their allegiance to Islam. The similarities to me and everyone I knew were revealing. Their biggest concerns were the safety of their families, the education of their children, the price of food in the local market, and the incompetence of the federal government. They cared less about tensions in the Middle East than they did about Uncle Sohail's drinking. They hated the extreme fundamentalists who were giving their country a bad name. They loved Baywatch, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Diet Cokes. And more than anything else in the world? They wanted a reliable health care system. Hmm...not so different after all, eh?
I don't know what point I'm trying to get across here. I'm still at jury duty and I think the 2 Vente Iced Coffees are numbing my cerebral cortex. But I'm just saying that the next time you're thinking about packing up the family and spending a small fortune at Universal Studios or going down to Mexico to sit on a beach for two weeks? Instead, think about travelling overseas. A gondola ride in Venice will probably be a lot more memorable for your child than a ride at Magic Mountain. Take the kids to Ireland so they can see where Grandma Callahan grew up. Or maybe drive up to Old Montreal so the kids can see buildings that date all the way back to the early 1600's.
From what I've learned and been told by other parents, most of these trips are a lot cheaper than going to Disneyland or Busch Gardens. Sure, they might be a little more difficult. But hey...nobody said experiencing life to the fullest was easy.