This I believe…
I believe that travel is an opportunity to be grateful for what you have.
A few summers ago, my family went to Costa Rica for vacation. Recently, it has become a popular destination for many tourists; the country has multiple resorts and perfect beaches. After all, its motto is pura vida (which translates to pure life, or good life). Yet, if you were to look on the streets of San Jose, what you would see is far from good life. Here is a story of my own travels:
I was 10 years old at the time, which may seem young, but I wasn’t too little to notice my surroundings. One day, we took a walk to the bakery. On the way we passed other small stores. At the doorstep of almost each one of them lay a person sleeping, curled up in a ratty blanket. Some, the less fortunate ones, the ones without any torn blanket to sleep on, lay on the concrete. My parents did nothing to try to shield their poorness, or tell me lies to cover up how bad life was for these people, so I truly saw it how it was. As a ten-year-old, I thought about how it would be to live in their place on the cold cement.
I think that might have been the first time I realized how lucky I was, to not be living a life where my possessions were all contained in a grimy garbage bag, and my bed consisted of a patch of concrete. Noticing the people was just an observation, what may have been considered insignificant. But even thought it was small, it left a big impression on me. I continued thinking about them long after that day, and long after that trip. I started to be more aware of how easy my life is compared to the people I saw in Costa Rica.
I think that it’s impossible to be grateful if you don’t know what to be grateful for. In other words, if you don’t know how bad it could be, you don’t know how good it is. This doesn’t necessarily mean being thankful that you have a home and a bed, it could mean being grateful for small things, like a sunny day. Think about it. If it was sunny every day, you probably wouldn’t wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, a sunny day, how wonderful.” You may even complain about it being so sunny. When we take things for granted, we forget to appreciate them
Before I went to Costa Rica, I knew that there were homeless people in the world, even in Madison. But, I had never really seen any. I had never actually realized that it was beyond a TV commercial that tried to guilt trip you into supporting starving kids in third-world countries. It wasn’t a reality to me until I saw it myself.
One way to realize that you are lucky is to travel. By doing so, you will discover how many different ways people live, and how your lifestyle compares with the others. Of course, you are not better off than everybody. But, if you never go outside of your own city, or state, you won’t realize how fortunate you actually are.
So, when I hear people discussing the latest gadgets (and other material goods)–which they desperately need–I think about Costa Rica and the people slumbering on the doorsteps. It’s not that I am better than the talkers. Not at all. I just was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.