Depending on where in the world is home, for some winter is coming, for others summer is emerging. Perhaps instead of four seasons, there are two, wet and dry, and the lingering space in between.
Lately we have been thinking about the things we do to simplify our agenda and travel deeper wherever we land. After four years wandering, many of the things on our list are things we have always done, long before travel, and most likely will do long after.
1. Go to a public park on a weekend
One of the ways we quickly get in touch with the pace of a new culture and its customs is by spending Sunday at a park. From the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in Christchurch to watching Quidditch at Hyde Park in London, we enter, observe, and stroll until we understand just a little bit more. Particularly in cultures where we don’t speak the language, parks have been incredible at erasing cultural boundaries for our children through the universal language of play.
Parks provide something much needed in today’s fast paced world, unstructured playtime on common ground, outside, where everyone is welcome. It is something we can do five miles or 5,000 miles away from home. How far we go doesn’t have any impact on how connected we feel after “just another walk in the park.”
2. Two minute beach clean up
Growing up in Seattle, it is not uncommon to recycle, build, and contribute to environmentally conscious initiatives. Arriving in new cultures and judging the amount of “trash” laying around was something we had to work through. The defining moment came when we were living in Indonesia. We were incensed that the practice of burning garbage was still alive and well, and there was a neighborhood burn pile in a vacant lot right next door to our house.
One morning, when particularly toxic smoke was billowing over the wall, one of our kids said, “hey, that garbage looks familiar.” As it turns out, our family produced a lot more garbage than the Indonesian families on our street. The woman who cleaned our complex, had to keep the burn pile going 24/7 partly because of us. We learned that we all have a role because we are all connected.
Our “aha” moment in Indonesia reminded us that judgement is counter productive. When we see garbage anywhere, we now spend a couple of minutes picking it up, whether we are at the beach, the park, or a city square. We do it with an open heart because it helps us connect to a space more intimately and it is transformational. We can create something in two minutes that didn’t exist before we arrived. #2minutebeachclean
3. Buy local
From farmer’s markets to mom and pop shops, there is so much we can do each day to vote for systems we support by buying things that align with our values. Depending on where we live, it can be a challenge to support local businesses. Sometimes it can be a challenge to even find a local business. In our life before this journey, we often sacrificed value and quality for price and convenience.
We learned markets and owner-operated businesses are the fabric of any community and supporting them is directly connected to the well-being of the whole. One way to connect to local merchants in a deeper way is through social media. It only take a few moments to capture an image of something homemade, homegrown or handmade, and drive traffic to those who produced the product. It is a great way to do something big for the small fish.
4. Use local transportation
Over the past four years wandering, we have used various forms of transportation, from tuk-tuks to high-speed trains. What started as a necessity to get from A to B, became a wide open window into the heart of any culture. Tossed in all directions on a rickety old bus through the Mexican countryside or watching riders give up their seats to a tangerine clothed monk on the Bangkok Skytrain, are defining moments in our journey.
Public transportation is a great way to deepen connections home or abroad because it takes intention and awareness. We learned Singapore busses only need to carry 3-8 people to break even with CO2 emissions from a car. It is possible to start small and take kids on a train ride or take the bus to the office. It doesn’t take much to make a difference and a fresh perspective is guaranteed.
While it is often easier to ignore schedules and people when we drive our own vehicle, we also literally and figuratively, miss our connection.
5. Read relevant books
Reading fictional books set in specific places can be one of the best ways to deepen an experience. We read fiction set in areas we are going, places we dream of going, places we have been, and places we have always been.
The Neapolitan Novels narrated our months living near Naples in Southern Italy. It was our daughter’s idea to take the stairs up the Eiffel Tower to see Gustav Eiffel’s apartment after reading The Magic Treehouse Night of the New Magicians. Alex Rider traveled with us through London as he was alive in our boys’ imagination. In Barcelona, all of Daniel’s haunts from The Shadow of the Wind, framed our walks as talk turned to the cemetery of forgotten books. In Suite Franciase, Irene Nemirovsky transported us to France during World War II. The author died in a Nazi concentration camp and her transcript was discovered years later. Her story is even more amazing than her literary genius. The translation is flawless, gentle, human and haunting. It is a masterpiece.
Perhaps the most profound gift books have given us is in combatting homesickness. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, took us on a journey to Seattle, one street at a time, back home. The adventures spun by Sena Jeter Naslund in Ahab’s Wife took us to New England where my husband grew up, and where the sea is king.
That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet. – Jhumpa Lahiri (Pulitzer Prize winning author)
Traveling anywhere, even to the next town, is a bridge between who we are and who we are becoming. It is through our willingness to go that we say to the world, “we are ready and we want to understand you, one bus ride, one Sunday, one story, at a time.”