Here Magazine’s Emma Glassman-Hughes reflects on what it means to be grateful to travel in 2018.
My dad didn’t yell at me much growing up. The few things that would really set him off were limited to crossing the street without diligently looking both ways, or making a mess while I ate. (I still get crumbs everywhere, though he’s started to make peace with it.) But there were times—particularly after hours of griping about not wanting to walk soooo much while on safari in Zimbabwe at age 8 or not getting that chintzy souvenir that I wanted in Spain at age 10—that he would raise his voice, and I would listen. He’d say, “Most kids your age, and most people for that matter, don’t get to travel like you do. Stop acting like a spoiled brat and take a minute to try and appreciate how fortunate you are.” Or something to that effect.
This year in particular, the lectures from childhood about my privilege occupied extra real estate in my brain. I had an almost criminally hectic travel year—mostly for work—landing me on several continents and in major cities, meeting brilliant creators and thinkers at every stop, trying new foods, dancing new dances.
In February, I took my first surfing lesson, surrounded by sea turtles in the gem-toned waters of Barbados. I stood alongside thousands of people in June at the Pride Parade in downtown Mexico City and, in August, I scoured tango clubs in Buenos Aires. In October, I hiked through mud for three hours to stand face to face with silverback gorillas in Uganda. I partied with Louisville’s top hip hop artists in July and a couple months later, I tilled the soil on an organic farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I two-stepped in Austin, Texas, and charged into freezing Portuguese waves with my family. A Peruvian chef taught me the art of making ceviche on a beach in Máncora and I even flew across the country to vote in the November midterms when my absentee ballot failed to be delivered in New York. Not for work, but a duty nonetheless.
I stared out at the natural wonder ahead of me and thought about all the people in the world for whom that exact moment still waited to be checked off a bucket-list.
But my most poignant moment of gratitude came to me in September, sitting in the grass at Machu Picchu, alone, under a warm and reassuring sun. My eyes flitted from grazing llamas to goofy tourists to the stone structures that had brought us all to the top of this mountain. Our guides had planned for us to arrive mid-morning, when crowds are at their thinnest, and the ensuing silence was music to me. It had been a long morning of climbing and wheezing my way up the sides of ancient ruins at lung-crushing altitudes, of stopping several times to ease my heart and mind, two body parts that felt as though they were in a cutthroat race to overextend first. I had been dizzy and out of breath, my lips felt irreparably chapped, my head was pounding. I was covered in blisters and dirt, sweat fusing my t-shirt to my skin, but, planted there on the lawn, I had zero complaints. I stared out at the natural wonder ahead of me and thought about all the people in the world for whom that exact moment still waited to be checked off a bucket-list. I breathed deeply and heard my dad’s voice in my head. “Take a minute to try and appreciate how fortunate you are.”
As a travel writer, I recognize that I get to see the world in a way that most other people don’t. Not only am I able to get out (of my city, my state, or my country) and go someplace new, but I’m able to experience those places deeply and intentionally; I’m forced to meet people everywhere I am, to ask questions, to say yes to the new and the scary.
With 2018 nearing its end, it’s difficult to ignore the ever-growing list of people whose mobility and freedom have been limited.
I recognize how extraordinary this all is. With 2018 nearing its end, it’s difficult to ignore the ever-growing list of people whose mobility and freedom have been limited, whether by violence, poverty, or border politics; the list of people who are punished for seeking new pastures; who don’t travel for their Instagram feeds but for survival. And of course there are less extreme circumstances that keep people from traveling the way they wish they could, too. Maybe the idea of trying to navigate a national park in a wheelchair is too daunting, or maybe the new baby requires allocating resources differently for a few months, maybe years. Maybe the student loan debt that continues to rack up takes priority right now. Holding a passport from a politically and economically salient country like the U.S. also goes a long way in getting people out the door.
Instead of allowing guilt to stop us in our tracks, those of us who can continue to travel this way can do it with patience and perspective. Perhaps “exercising gratitude” is a concept that has been obscured by a culture of wellness gurus and Instagram shamans whose coveted inner peace can feel performative and grating to certain audiences. But to be grateful doesn’t necessarily require a live-broadcasted ceremony. For me, it often just means listening to the voice in my head that reminds me to stop and appreciate all that lays in front of me.