Why You Should Take The Trip You Have Always Wanted

Why You Should Take The Trip You Have Always Wanted

Laying by the beach with a side of history.

I like to say my mom was born with a travel gene. That something in her DNA drives her need to see the world. It's the best gene I "inherited", always making for one hell of an experience every summer. We started small, staying within the country, venturing to the staples, like The Grand Canyon and Los Angeles. Then escalating to the Caribbean and South America, giving our passports a little ware and tear. Finally the big leagues: France ,Thailand, Israel, and more. Suitcases were always over flowing, neck pillows were common holiday gifts, and bum status look for the 24 hour plane ride ahead was always on point.

Every vacation was like a well balanced diet, a little bit of fun with a helping portion of touring and history. We relaxed pool side in Thailand, post six am tour of the Wat Rong Khun Temple. Toured Israel for 12 hours a day, to then snorkel the shores of Mediterranean Sea.

It went like this on every adventure, and as much as my legs hurt and my brain from information overload, I would never trade it for anything. There are some things history books, geography class, or your Instagram feed cant teach nor show you. Only experience can.

I thought I understood the world around me, but what my ignorance was shading me from was, how wrong I was. You never know how much you have until you see people with nothing. In Thailand, I met multi-generational families, people living with both their parents and their children under one roof in tiny, wood and metal homes, with dirt floors, with a shared bed and no running water. People with absolutely nothing were inviting us, total strangers, into their home. They were not embarrassed at how little they had, or how primitively they lived. They were gracious hosts, happy to welcome us in and share what they had.

In Ecuador I experienced cement houses with paint peeling and an overwhelming stench. Children in ripped, unwashed clothes desperate for attention. Loud and unruly children fighting for my hand and willing to break the rules to get a hug. The few toys available were filthy and broken. Children on small mattresses with thin, unwashed bodies undoubtedly trying to fill voids of love. This was the scene I encountered when I spent a week volunteering at an Ecuadorian orphanage.  

I could summarize what I learned from every country but I'd lose you and my fingers from typing so much. If you have an opportunity to travel, 100% take it. It is the most eye opening, fun, and exciting experiences of your life. Don't you ever wonder why everyone says studying abroad changes their life?

Cover Image Credit: Sophia Teicher

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Visiting Vietnam Made Me Realize I'm A Rich, Privileged Tourist

You don't think you're rich until you live like a king for $100.

I had zero expectations when I took off for Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. I knew life would be very different for a week. I knew that I knew nothing about life in Vietnam, aside from the handful of YouTube videos I watched in a small attempt to prepare. I think I did expect accomodations to have mainly fans instead of AC and open layouts to allow for airflow.

What I did not exactly think of beforehand was the overwhelming and obvious disparities in wealth, not only amongst the people and places we saw, but between us and most anyone that wasn’t a tourist. Our professor told us we only needed about $100 for lunches. Accommodations and dinners were paid for by tuition, which did already give us a head start.

But, a quick Google search shows that someone can find a decent looking hostel with good reviews for $6/night, so it might not have been much more without tuition anyways. The equivalent of about $4 can buy you a large meal and a coffee/drink. Every souvenir I bought felt like I was wasting money, not because it was souvenir, but because I knew others around me would be using this money for things I took for granted.

Our professor sometimes made comments like “How does it feel to easily drop 200,000 VND (about $8) and know that it could be feeding a whole family?” And to be honest, I appreciated those comments. They put things in perspective and reminded me of the reality around me.

We went to restaurants every night and ate well. After a couple of days, I found myself saying things like “200,000 VND? That’s kind of expensive… Do I actually need that? I should shop around for a better price,” meanwhile, at least four other bills that size sat in my wallet. I wasn’t willing to pay what I would expect to pay back home for the same thing. And then I’d hear someone put it in perspective again; “I mean, that’s really not all that expensive when you convert it.” Right, I forgot.

This is not to say that we didn’t also see wealth. Notably, we visited a university that showed the wealth we hadn’t otherwise seen--the more upper middle class of the area. And it felt like stepping into a different country. And it's not to say there wasn't a middle class in sight--it just looked a little different than the middle class I was raised in.

Above all else, the entire trip really helped me check my privilege.

Yes, I was suddenly among the wealthy here. I was on a trip abroad for my Master’s program. I had the ability to not need to think twice about buying souvenirs and was accustomed to AC and fast/reliable wifi. I mean, we sat in balcony seats in the Saigon Opera House. I have never felt more privileged than I did sitting above others like that. But, it wasn’t just the money.

English is also one of my native languages and I was born a citizen of the United States.

This is something that privileged me above other tourists. I sat next to a Peruvian woman on one of my flights there who told me she needed to apply for a Transit Visa just to take a connection in Tokyo, despite not even leaving the airport. I panicked, thinking I needed one too.

She responded with “You’re coming from the U.S., right? You shouldn’t need one. American passports give you a lot of privileges that others don’t have.” I was taken aback. I hadn’t thought that just my passport gave me that much privilege. My fluency in an essentially international language gave me the ability to communicate better than fellow tourists without English or Vietnamese skills.

If I learned anything, it’s that I’m not sure I would have been able to prepare for that. I’m still processing the fact that I was momentarily wealthy, and the guilty appreciation that comes along with that. I cannot have been more fortunate for things I didn’t even choose.

Yes, maybe in the U.S. I am considered a minority from a lower middle class family, and maybe in the U.S. that feels like I’m struggling a bit, but that still meant being temporarily rich in Saigon. I don’t want to take that for granted again.

Cover Image Credit: Christine Roy

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How To Travel As More Than Just A Tourist

My trip to India taught me how to truly experience a foreign country.

Traveling has always been my favorite thing to do with my family. I am lucky enough to have parents who love to take trips all over the world, exploring new places and cultures as often as we can. Traveling with them over the years has made me question what it really means to visit a foreign country. What do we mean when we say we have visited a country? How much of it are we really seeing?

This morning, I landed home after spending two and a half weeks in India with my family. Before I left for the trip, a few people asked me if I was ready for what I was about to experience, and if I was afraid of the culture shock. I even had a friend ask me why I would ever want to visit somewhere as intense as India and tell me that he would never want to go there.

As someone who loves to travel, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to explore somewhere so fascinating and different than their home country. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel nervous to witness a world so different from my own.

I have to say that my trip to India was definitely intense and a lot to experience. Among the stunning temples and palaces I got to visit, I was also met with images that shocked me, ones that made me want to avert my eyes, and ones that reminded me of how far I was from a culture I knew and understood.

While I could see why some people couldn’t see the appeal of experiencing a world so different, to me, it was the whole point of going to India in the first place.

Even after returning from such a powerful trip, I am still asking myself how much of it I really got to experience. I spent a big portion of my time in India sitting inside cars or rickshaws, watching the world outside like I was watching a movie. Through my window, I saw women fetching water draped in colorful saris, a Hindu monk smoking a cigarette, a group of men in turbans sitting around a fire on the side of the highway, and the most extravagant wedding procession pouring through the streets.

I saw cows, elephants, monkeys, and camels meandering through traffic in the middle of a crowded road.

Though I was in the country, visiting its sites, speaking to locals, and eating local dishes, there was still a sense that I was completely removed from my surroundings. As I looked at miles and miles of villages and towns fly by as we drove past, I realized that being a tourist may have only let me scratch the surface of India and its rich culture.

My travels through India were not about the hotels we slept in and were certainly not about how much rest and relaxation we had during the vacation. But they were not only about the historical sites and opulent monuments we visited as tourists, either. The moments that had the deepest effect on me were the ones when I felt completely out of place.

When I think of my time in India, I think of getting lost in the middle of a bustling crowd, feeling totally overwhelmed by my surroundings, receiving stares from locals and wondering if I was intruding when entering temples, markets or monuments. I think of the moments when I got a glimpse into a world that tourists do not often get to see.

The raw and real side of India, the one that people once warned me about, is what makes me long to return and continue experiencing all of it.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Schulman

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