"To travel is to awaken." - Lily Tsay

I was exposed to different parts of the world before I even knew what many things were named. I was always the kid who looked out the window, and now, I'm the "adult" who still does. I was 4 years old on my first plane trip. My mother and I took a trip to the Philippines together, and although I whined through most of the red-eye flight, it was an experience that would change my life forever.

I remember seeing things that I didn't understand, and instead of reacting in fear, I learned to react in understanding and observation. I saw children my age selling sampaguitas (jasmine leis) in the streets to make a living. I saw massive markets of produce that looked alien to me. And I saw people of different shapes and sizes, from backgrounds of plenty and backgrounds of almost nothing.

Traveling exposed me to scents, sights, and sensations that I absorbed before I was old enough to pass judgment. That's why age is a very significant factor in traveling. At 4 years old, I barely knew my own middle name. Yet, at the same age, I watched, tasted, listened, and more, which created the part of myself that was always hungry for knowledge. I was 8 years old when I went to a hair salon with my mother in Manila that was run mostly by transgender males. I treated everyone I met as normal people, which helped me later in life, when sheltered classmates and singular culture are usually the most jading.

I observed lots of people living in poverty, whether in the Philippines or traveling in the United States, and all that exposure helped me appreciate what I had. I learned over time that, as a child, material possessions cannot replace actual experiences. Additionally, whenever I hear the stigmatic word "weird" being used, describing something different, I get uncomfortable. Because "weird" is essentially just something that you didn't grow up with. Culture is everywhere, and it's different everywhere. Just because it's not something you've done or experienced doesn't mean it's "weird."

Travel helped me judge things on terms of what really mattered, and it helped me to always stay positive in tough situations. The faster someone is exposed to a broader horizon, the less someone fears what they don't know. As a kid, I might not have had the coolest bicycle on the block, but I was given a different way of seeing and thinking, and while that bicycle eventually rusts and breaks down, my "weird" mindset will stay with my for the rest of my existence. Travel is invaluable, and memories last forever. Childhood travel is the best gift that a kid could ever receive.