When I was a kid, my dad was what today we might call my lead parent. My mom was involved in my life too, but she often worked 60 hours a week and sometimes had to travel for work. My dad’s work day ended at 3:00, and he had a little more flexibility in terms of taking time off, so he was the one who picked me up from day care, took me to my first day of kindergarten, and attended school events. I spent a good bit of time with him when I was young, and he taught me many of life’s essential early lessons.
I sometimes took my dad for granted in my adolescent years, as teens often do. He went through some hard times and battled some demons, and I didn’t always understand or appreciate him. When I was in 11th grade, and again during my first year of college, he was hospitalized with serious health issues. These brushes with death transformed my dad and my relationship with him, and I’m especially grateful for the person he became and the times we spent together over the past 15 years.
My father passed away on Friday, July 7. He had been in the hospital during the preceding week, which is why I have not published any new posts recently. There is so much I want to write about my dad, but I need some time to process everything. And I can’t imagine writing about anything else right now. I will be writing new posts soon, I hope, but I’m not sure exactly when. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site on Santorini island in Greece, along with a couple of museums housing works of art discovered at the site. Observing items that were created thousands of years before the common era led me to think about humans’ desire to make art. The pieces on display were not limited to pottery designed to hold water and foodstuffs, nor to religious symbols. There were elaborate wall paintings and meticulously crafted sculptures of animals and human figures. Like other artists throughout history, these people of the distant past devoted time and scarce resources to producing beautiful objects that served no obvious utilitarian purpose. Our drive to make things that we don’t really need is unique to humans and appears to be deeply ingrained. Why do we do it?
In response to my last post, several people expressed surprise at my ability to pack for an international vacation with only a carry-on suitcase. As a follow-up, I thought I’d share some details about how I pack. Most of my longer trips have been in the summer, and some of these tips apply best to warm-weather travel, but others are useful year-round.
I’ve been lucky to have had a number of opportunities to travel abroad, starting with a school trip to Europe when I was 15. So far, I’ve traveled to locations in North, Central, and South America; Western Europe; and Australia. There are many, many more places I hope to go. Travel is expensive, but to me, the experiences are well worth making sacrifices in other areas. The world is a big place, full of beauty and adventures waiting to be had. In addition to the obvious, here are a few less expected benefits of traveling.
You learn how little you actually need. Packing light is a great way to figure out what you really need to live, and the more big trips you pack for, the more you can do without. Sure, you could check two huge suitcases, but do you really want to lug those around with you? Bringing too much stuff can limit your mobility and get in the way (especially if you’re, say, backpacking across Europe). I try to stick to a carry-on and avoid checking bags, both because I don’t want to pay the bag-check fee and because I don’t want my bag to get lost. The side effect is that I’ve come to see that a small selection of possessions can meet all of my needs. This realization has affected my mindset when I’m at home. Do I really need to buy more stuff? Probably not. In general, life is simpler (and less expensive) when you own fewer things.
You get to be an outsider. This can be uncomfortable for some people, but it’s a good kind of discomfort that makes you a more empathetic and adaptable person. Placing yourself in a different culture where you don’t understand everything and have to ask for help allows you to connect to others in ways you likely wouldn’t if you had stayed at home. Having the experience of being an outsider can make you more sensitive to people who are outsiders in your own culture. It can also make you a lot more humble.
It’s a great excuse to learn a new language, assuming you’re visiting a place whose primary language is not your own. Read my recent post about language-learning.
It can force you to disconnect. The advantages of disconnecting from electronics are well-documented, but unplugging can be difficult. When I travel outside the U.S., I usually don’t buy an international data plan for my phone because they’re expensive and I don’t really need one. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to stay at a hotel with reliable, unlimited wi-fi, but that’s often not the case. In some places, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find free wi-fi anywhere. In others, my internet time has been limited to the brief periods of time that I happen to be at a coffee shop with public wi-fi. I try to let people know before I leave that my connectivity will be limited so that they aren’t expecting quick responses from me and won’t get concerned if they don’t hear back right away. Although breaking the phone-checking habit is tough, it can be so freeing to know that I couldn’t check my email or Facebook even if I wanted to. It’s like a forced detox — rehab for technology addiction.
What unexpected benefits have you noticed while traveling?
I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?
Thanks for the question, Caroline! First, let me say this: You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else. You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more. We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life. Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.