Long-time readers know that my childhood was rather unusual. In my new Travel Series, I’m recounting the various trips I have taken along the way, and I started with my childhood trips. However, my love of travel wasn’t just about my own travel. I grew up with a Dad that traveled 4-6 months of the year for his job, and it completely changed my life and my perspective on the world. Today, we’re taking a little break from actual travel, and we’re going to talk about what it was like growing up like this.
One of my unique experiences was growing up in a household that was different from most people. My Dad has spent his life working at a major weather agency, and most of my childhood travels stemmed from that job and the times we went with him or went on vacation with him before his travels. Every time he would come back from another month-long international adventure, he would bring home tons of stuff, especially in an age before airlines were so strict on baggage weight. Those fans on the wall? They came from a beach artist in the Maldives. Those chopsticks? From Japan, like most of the kitchen equipment. Oh, and later we’re going to watch rugby. My Mom used to hate cricket, and now she watches it obsessively. Soccer never caught on much at our house. I remember that he came back from Japan and told us about this weird show called “Iron Chef” and this fabulous Japanese man who brought in these chefs to cool unique foods with set ingredients. Before it was Americanized, we watched it dubbed. My Dad had been in the navy and had already been around the world a few times by the time he started with the weather agency.
Having this exposure to the rest of the world gave me an international perspective that most Americans don’t have. Americans tend not to travel for a variety of reasons. America is a large enough country, and it’s expensive to get to most other places. People who travel have to be middle class or better to be able to afford something as simple as a cruise, much less spending any significant time abroad. This is primarily a geographic problem. For much of the rest of the world, it is a short flight to experience a completely different language and culture. Even getting to Canada from most parts of the US is a major undertaking. Europeans just don’t get it. Geography matters when it comes to travel. It is a privilege to be able to afford to travel. However, if you can swing it, travel opens you up to new possibilities and new ways of living that are an education all by itself.
Besides the stuff that Dad brought back, the pictures of how other people lived gave me a view of the world that most people don’t see. One of the pictures from the Maldives always stood out to me; it was a hallway of doors and inside each of those doors was a small room, and often a family of 4 or more people lived there. Space was about the size of a typical American bedroom, and the whole family lived there. It was all concrete (typhoons are a problem), and the conditions were squalid at best. The life of locals outside the glittering, tropical resorts are very different. Most countries where these resorts are built are quite poor, and it is a side of the place that people who never leave the resort never see. I think I inherit my love of local travel from my Dad, who was always exploring the area where he had been sent. I’m not a big tourist resort person. I’d rather like rent an apartment and grocery shop with the locals and hang out at the local watering hole.
I wish more people were able to have this experience. I wish that more people could see the rest of the world outside of the United States. Attitudes would quickly change, especially in foreign policy. It is easy not to think of people in other countries as people that are just like you with hopes, dreams, and plans. This is already true to some degree, thanks to the internet. Many young people have been exposed to the lives of other people their own age. They see how other countries have things like universal healthcare and free college. They noticed that other people don’t have to deal with the constant threat of mass shootings or school shootings. This has changed our country a great deal and will continue to drive policy moving forward.
I’m glad that I grew up in a house where travel and an international perspective were common. I would trade many things about my life, but that is one that I would keep. It wasn’t until I began this travel series that I realized how important that was to my development and the unique “non-American” style I write with when it comes to foreign policy. It also made it easier for me to travel independently and appreciate local culture wherever I might find myself.