The summer of 2012 was a life-changer for our family. I came across a website called “The Points Guy”. Brian Kelly, who started and wrote the blog then, introduced me to the world of miles and points. And, I havent looked back since. Mr. JJ and I collected miles that we used to travel across the world with the kids. There was an excitement in using miles for trips but there was also a challenge. Where could those miles and points take us and how could we extract the best value out of every mile and point used?
Seven years later, the magic of travel hasn’t diminished. If anything, travel has had a positive feedback, pushing us to really explore our world, to learn more about ourselves. As Thanksgiving looms on the horizon and we get ready to fly again, I began to think about all the things travel has made me thankful for.
- Thankful to come back home. Although we enjoy travel, we aren’t at the point of being digital nomads like so many people these days. Sure we enjoy visiting new places and meeting new people but after a few days, we begin missing our home. We truly appreciate being home when we return, being able to sleep in our own beds and eat a homecooked meal. There’s no greater place than home!
- Thankful to get away. Travel has been a great stress buster for all of us but especially for me. As the children grew, we juggled school, extracurricular activities, family, friends and work, just like every other family out there. Having a trip to focus on and plan kept me sane and gave me hope, it became the light at the end of the tunnel. It made dealing with the stress of day-to-day life that much easier.
- Thankful for some big life lessons. Travel teaches equanimity. We have missed flights and returned home, we have missed flights and sat in airports awaiting the next flight. Travel has taught us to be patient and work with what we have to get to where we need to go. Travel has allowed us to see how people live in difficult climes and have learnt to be resilient. Travel has exposed us to islands with significant poverty where the people are happy despite having little to their name. Leading a happy life has little to do with material wealth. We have stayed in really cool resorts like the Conrad Rangali as well as small hostels like the one in Aguas Calientes. The kids have learnt to make the best of both worlds.
- Thankful for a chance to commune with nature. As happy as we are to explore cities, we are happier exploring the nature around us. Given a chance, Mr. JJ would choose a real jungle over a concrete one, every time. We have been fortunate to visit and enjoy places like Doubtful Sound in NZ , the lakes of the Banff area, the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the tranquility of the Sierra Gorda Bisophere in Mexico, the grandeur of the Iguazu falls or the beauty of Nara. What an amazing world we live in! And yet, we have seen only a small portion of it. Miles to go before we sleep.
- Thankful for a closer look at the human imagination and spirit. Greece was astounding, our first look at the human way of life from 2000 years ago. Iceland and its tree barren land, wind whipped and cold, which went from desolate to striking in a matter of a day. How did people survive such harsh conditions? What drove the Incas to build Macchu Picchu? Its perfection and complexity by a people that didn’t write anything down. The beautiful Viking ships that crossed oceans and struck terror in many a heart. The amazing Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet trains that are sleek and smooth. The engineering marvel behind the Panama Canal. The ruins of Teotihuacan that set fire to one’s imagination. The list goes on and on.
- Thankful for the tangible connections. We have brought back small tangible connections from our many trips. Coffee from many places, tea from Ooty, lip balm from New Zealand, an olivewood mortar and pestle from Athens, soaps and deodorants bought on one trip or another, wall hangings from the Bahamas, keychains from Iceland and beyond. Everywhere we look at home, there is a memory waiting to be evoked, of a place or a person or time far away.
- Thankful for the intangible connections. Travel creates many opportunities to interact with people of all kind. Lucky for us, it has mostly been people that were helpful and kind. Like our host in the Kyoto ryokan who went above and beyond to see us fed a proper vegetarian meal. Or Makis, our guide in Greece with whom we spent nearly a week. He bought us a Greek snack or two every morning, with his own money. And would not join us for lunch, politely excusing himself, despite our protests. The people from the little town who helped Sonny JJ when he fell and hurt himself. Or Uriel, our guide in Mexico, who always ensured we were safe and well fed and treated us like his own family. The elderly lady, our Airbnb host in Kumara Junction. She had a resale store on her property and the kids had a wonderful time chatting with her and exploring her store. Or the wonderful feeling of being acknowledged as an individual, as someone who mattered, everywhere we went in Japan.
- Thankful for bringing the family closer. Yes, the kids hated missing sleep-ins and hanging out with friends during our vacations. But our time away ensured we had the kids to ourselves without any interference from friends, phones, extracurriculars, practices or timetables. We have had debates, discussions, arguments, tears and laughter on these trips. We have also formed precious memories on these trips. On a gondola ride up the mountain in Whistler, I pointed to a flock of birds and said, ” Look, the birds are flying”. A few seconds later, the whole family burst into peals of laughter, the kids stating, “Mom, that’s what birds do, they fly”. To this day, a flock of birds evoke the memory of that happy and silly moment. I realised Sonny JJ loved burgers when he polished off a whole one in a few short minutes while in Hawai’i. And that Missy JJ was happy to try different foods while traveling. We have tried dumplings in Wellington and sushi in North Carolina because of her. The secret to keeping the kids happy: keep them fed on time and ensure their favorite music playlist is easily accessible.
- Thankful for the chance to eat well. Sure, being a vegetarian means having to search a bit harder or longer for a suitable restuarant and can be frustrating in certain countries. But it has made for some funny situations as we tried to explain our food limitations to waiters in Japan or in Lisbon. From mama’s cooking in Greece to skyr in Iceland to vegetarian poutine in Canada to elote and cafe de olla in Mexico, we have had many palatable adventures. From a sumptuous hot chocolate along the Rue de Cler in Paris to the plant based ceviche in Lima to doriyakis in Japan, we have been able to expand our taste buds a little more each trip. And unforgettable are the many local markets we have shopped in and found fresh local produce to cook with and savor.
- Thankful for the good, bad and the ugly photos. Yes, I wish I could say all our photos are Instagram worthy. Though far from it, they each possess a spirit and a joy that is irreplaceable. Many years from now, when the kids are grown and gone, and busy with their own lives, we shall have the photos, to leaf through and relive those moments when we traveled as a family. Our destinations may have been the same, but what each of us took from each trip is different. They might remember some moments or not, we might remember some moments or not, but either way, those moments have been captured for eternity, as a photo, good, bad or ugly.
- Thankful for a variety of experiences. As we slowly morph from tourists to travelers, our lives have been enriched by several new experiences. From learning to express ourselves in a foreign language, to buying tickets at a train station, to driving multiple times around the roundabout before figuring out how to enter and exit one smoothly, its all been an adventure. We have been on kayaks, on whitewater rapids and sailboats. I have overcome a deep fear of drowning to snorkel, we have climbed mountains and ziplined across valleys. We have gone on food tours, walking tours, biking tours and wine tours. We have viewed sunrises and sunsets over canyons, mountains and beaches. Its my sincere hope we remain open to all the new and exciting things to come in the future.
So, what inspires you to travel? What are you thankful for from your travel adventures?