Tag: thoughts

The More Serious Side of Travel: Hiroshima Peace Memorial

When you look at Hiroshima today – bustling and beautiful – it’s hard to imagine the complete devastation of the atomic bomb drop just over 70 years ago. And I know that it’s not easy to visit places where you’re faced with the history of great tragedy, but if you’re traveling to Japan, think about stopping by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to better understand the effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its people (and their resilience and strength as they worked to rebuild their city).

Each exhibit about the culmination of World War II, the dropping of the bomb and its aftermath are informative, but it’s also a very emotional experience. Perhaps the most sobering exhibits (at least for me) are the personal items and stories on display of victims of the bombing. I held it together pretty well until a docent told a group of us about a photo of people waiting in line for medical attention not too long after the bomb fell – how the photographer knew he had to document this but he stood for nearly 20 minutes mesmerized by the pain and horror of it all.

Tiny cranes on display, folded by Sadako Sasaki, a young girl exposed to radiation when the bomb fell when she was only a toddler. Years later when she was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away soon after.

 

A watch that stopped at 8:15 a.m., the time the bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

After we left the museum, we visited the Children’s Peace Monument – a tribute to Sadako and the thousands of other children who were victims of the bombing.

The monument is surrounded by glass boxes where visitors can leave their own folded cranes in a hopeful promise for better days and in remembrance.

My travel companions and I hung up our own cranes – a small labor of love that we had folded on the train ride over.

Behind the colorful cranes, you can step out onto a walking path and see the Genbaku or Atomic Bomb Dome across the way. It’s called this because it was the only structure still standing so close to the bomb’s hypocenter (where the atomic bomb hit).

I sat down on a bench and marveled at the juxtaposition and the significance of this defiant building sitting in the sun, next to a lazily flowing river. People rode bikes and chatted with each other animatedly as they walked by – life, like the water, ebbed on.

I’m looking forward to coming back to Hiroshima – a city with so much to offer. This time around, I didn’t get to visit Hiroshima Castle, try their version of okonomiyaki or take the short ferry ride to the neighboring small island of Miyajima (amongst many other great sites to see). I can’t wait until my next trip.

I didn’t get to ride their electric railway either, which is a travesty, because I love streetcars.

Be Good to Each Other,
Katie

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,
Katie

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

Happy Blogiversary to Me: Celebrating a Year with Nightborn Travel

In case you couldn’t tell, you know, from the title, it’s my first blogiversary with Nightborn Travel!

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From our trip to Bisbee. Is it a mine cart? Is it a toilet? NO – IT’S TOILET CART!

Instead of receiving gifts on this most special of occasions, I thought I would give a gift to YOU, dear readers, by sharing some of my learnings over the past year.

1) Open yourself up to traveling more.

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GIVE THE GRAND CANYON A HUG. (Safely.)

But you may say, Katie, I’m afraid of flying (well, I kind of am, too) or Katie, traveling costs too much money and even Katie, I don’t have anyone to travel with (I’ll address this in point number two).

Well, what you need to do, my friend, is broaden your definition of “travel”, I know I have. Traveling doesn’t always mean jet-setting across the globe, it doesn’t always have to be big. If you check out some of my other posts, you’ll see that most of them are about exploring my home state of Arizona and how I love every minute of it.

In fact, some of my favorite trips have been just a couple hours outside of my city.

Which brings me to my next nugget of wisdom.

2) Don’t feel weird about solo travel.

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When you travel solo, you can wear whatever hat you wanna wear.

 

I think we’re finally starting to shake off the stigma that doing activities by yourself like going out for a meal, seeing a movie and more recently, traveling, doesn’t make you a loner or anti-social, etc., etc.

Which is great, because it DOESN’T. Every person has a different idea of what makes them happy, especially when it comes to travel. And I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy company, I also enjoy me-time.

There are definitely benefits to solo travel too, like choosing what you want to do, when you want to do it. Super beneficial for someone like me who’s going to be stopping every five seconds to take a photo of something. Plus, it pushes you out of your comfort zone – I know I stop and chat with people a lot more when I’m traveling alone, something that I do less of when I’m with a group.

And guess what, solo travelers? People are doing it more, particularly millennial women, inspiring not only more women to travel but for travel-related businesses to think of safer ways for women to travel. A total win!

I mean, there’s still a lot of things that are hard to do alone, like an escape room or a three-legged race so keep those friends around because…

3) A good travel buddy makes any trip worth taking.

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Friends that cave together, stay together.

I’m gonna get sappy(ish), but you’ve already come this far so you might as well see it the whole way through.

I’ll spare you the whole “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” cliche, but if you’re traveling somewhere with folks, isn’t half the fun the people you’re with? Like when I think back to some of my trips with my Nightborn Travel pal, Aireona, a lot of my favorite memories are the goofy things that happened or that we said or did.

And while we’re just going full speed down that sappy road, I’m going to have to thank Aireona for inviting me on this blogging adventure! Without her, I wouldn’t even HAVE  a blogiversary to celebrate. Plus, she is an endless supply of travel wisdom and inspiration and I am SO glad to to call her one of my travel buddies.

So thanks for sticking with me for a year, reader dears. I hope you stay stuck, because I have so much more to share!

Travelers gonna travel,
Katie

True Haiti: Truth and Lies about The Land of High Mountains

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Before I started my PhD, and started to learn more about the Caribbean and its many, colorful nations, I didn’t know much about Haiti. For the most part, American media focused on negative aspects of the country that shares the island of Hispanola with the Dominican Republic. I knew about the earthquake there, which shattered Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and brought the world, or so I thought, to their aid. Besides poverty and natural disasters, my time as an ecology student also taught me that Haiti had major problems with deforestation since they were said to only have 2% of their forests left (in reality this is likely to be closer to 20%). These weren’t fair depictions of the True Haiti, however.

A Fascinating History

Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

When I began my research, I started reading more about the history of Haiti. In 1803, the country’s people (many of whom were enslaved) freed themselves from France. Haiti was the first country in the Western Hemisphere to do so, and it has a proud heritage of freedom and resilience. The massive fortress of Le Citadelle is a testament to the perseverance of the Haitian people. And while most still associate the French language with Haiti, it is really Haitian Creole, a language unique to the country, that most people speak (although many Haitian’s speak two or more languages).

Religion in Haiti

Another special aspect of true Haiti is the religion of Vodou (or Voodoo). Although many American movies have painted Vodou as a form of witchcraft with curses, Voodoo dolls, and even zombies, doing some reading on the topic reveals that this is a gross misrepresentation of the religion. In fact, Vodou is a mix of European, African, and native beliefs. Practitioners believe in a single, creator god or the Good God, who is sometimes seen as sharing an identity with the Roman Catholic deity. Like many religions in Africa, particularly on the Guinea Coast where many of the people brought to Haiti as slaves came from, Vodou holds that there are many spirits, good and bad. These spirits are more involved in the lives of regular people than the Good God, and the primary ones among them are often associated with Catholic saints. Like any religion, it has good and bad, as a reflection of humans themselves, but it is not the boogie monster that movies make it out to be.

The coast (c) ABR 2016

The coast (c) ABR 2016

Learning On the Go

Of course, without visiting a place, it is hard to really get a sense for what it’s like. So, when I had the opportunity, I took a tour of the country to learn more. I picked up a few interesting things, although this merely scratches the surface of true Haiti.

To outsiders, Haitian people often seem straight-faced and serious until you smile at them. Being friendly,  genuine, and respectful is the way to see how kind the people of Haiti really are. They are also just as resilient as their ancestors, finding ways to survive and thrive even while the rest of the world seems to work against them. Many of them are artists, capturing beauty in unique ways that can’t be found anywhere else. Their food reflects their creativity, rich in flavor and hearty in nature (and their plantains are superior to the Dominican Republic recipe, I had to say it!).

true haitiFinally, I discovered that the misinformation about Haiti can haunt you if you decide to travel to this Caribbean nation. Before I left, I made my mother very nervous by discussing my trip there, and when I arrived, there were people that scoffed at me for my decision. Even now that I have returned home, people are incensed by the idea that I went there just to explore. But the key to seeing Haiti safely is going with a tour company or someone who knows how to drive, respect local customs, and stay safe in the country. Other than that, true Haiti is a place rich in history and culture, and well-deserving of the attentions of adventurous travelers.

Safety and Respectful Travel Tips

true haiti(1) Do not attempt to drive yourself in Haiti; hire a driver. Visitors will have no idea what the traffic rules are, and local drivers/guides are better equipped for the road conditions.

(2) Be aware of volatile areas (especially in Port-au-Prince) and stay away from them. Again, going with a guide will make this much easier and safer.

(3) Do NOT take pictures of people without their permission. This is a general rule of thumb, but often visitors seem to forget this when visiting Haiti. No one wants their picture taken without their knowledge. If you do ask, be prepared to offer a little money.

(4) While tempting, try not to give money to people begging. It is far better to support Haitian businesses by buying food at local restaurants, buying arts and handicrafts from artisans, staying in hotels run by local people, and supporting local guides. Bring your business and a better image to Haiti. There are so many amazing, talented, innovative people there, looking for the resources to support their career and their country.

true haiti(5) Learn a few words in Haitian Creole. French may be the language of the cities, but everyone knows Haitian Creole and its the really heart and soul of true Haiti.

(6) Go with the right attitude. Haiti is not an easy place to go, and you will see hard things, but remember, everyone already knows about Haiti’s struggles. Look for the story few people are telling, and see the potential in this country. It’s time to shine a light on all the good things that Haitians are doing to build their country up.

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Call of the Unknown and the Roots of Adventure

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London

Most people who love to explore the outdoors are aware of some story about nature and tragedy. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer tells the well-known tale of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest, when a storm swept the mountain and killed twelve people, including experienced guides. The 2010 movie 127 Hours depicts the true story of Aron Ralston, a legendary Colorado climber, who became trapped in Blue John Canyon when a boulder crushed his arm. He narrowly escaped 6 days later, starved, and having had to cut his own arm off. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer follows the historical struggles of the men who fought to conquer Eiger in the Bernese Alps. Within this book is the account of Toni Kurtz, a young climber who died on the mountain in 1936 while hanging, trapped from a rope a mere 60 meters from his rescuers. The list goes on, and on. For every story of triumph in nature there is always a poignant, tragic reminder that human life is fragile, and nature can take that spark as unfeelingly as ever.

So, why is it, in a world of Western comforts, complete with a universe of fictional worlds to explore from the safety of our homes, that people still go out to face the forces of the natural world? Why risk death to summit a mountain, or see the depths of an otherworldly canyon in the middle of the wilderness? In the past, when exploration was tantamount to national pride, the sacrifice of George Mallory perhaps made more sense, but in the modern world, in which nearly every corner of the Earth seems to have been explored, even this motivation has lost its relevancy. Yet, we keep exploring, and putting our lives on the line. Why? Why, when the planet has been mapped and we all know what can happen when we fail?

I believe that exploration is part of us, a siren call that led us from the heart of Africa to the rest of the planet. There is no other multi-celled organism that is as common and widespread as humans, and we cannot say that our modern technology is behind our ability to spread and adapt. Long, long before Columbus ever set out on his fateful journey to the “Indies,” North and South America were fully colonized by humans. There were intricate civilizations and a myriad of different cultures there; most of these women and men were descended from the brave people that dared to face the freezing weather of the north in order to cross the land-bridge between modern-day Alaska and Russia. Likewise, before Europeans struggled against the wind and waves of the Pacific, the ancestors of the Polynesian people faced the true unknown and ventured out into the water. Wave after wave, generation after generation, we humans have explored. We have put our lives on the line for uncharted vistas.

So, while people that still live by this code can be confounding, I think it is good to know that the spirit of the original humans lives on in us. We have thrived because we spread, we innovated, we adapted, and we explored. Perhaps continuing to tout the flag of our ancestors will help us, improve our happiness, and keep our minds open. Yes, the world has been mapped and named, but for each of us, Earth is a massive expanse of new people and places. Exploration is just as important as ever. It binds us to the real world, connects us to new cultures and perspectives, and keeps us feeling alive.

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When Trips Aren’t What You Hope and More Thoughts on Tourism

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

I just got back from a trip to the Dominican Republic, and I can honestly say that it was the most difficult trip that I have ever been on (I think I have a small list of trips that fit this bill at one time or another). I traveled there for my PhD work, so while I was reading plenty about the beautiful places that I could have visited while I was there, I was stuck in one spot, either carrying out my research, or waiting for my research partners to arrive. There were also some fairly major set backs to the trip. My lack of Spanish ability being one, and the fact that some of the key people that I was supposed to work with ended up leaving me stranded.

In terms of research, it just wasn’t what I was hoping for, although my fellowship did connect me with some really great people, who allowed me to get the amount of work that I did in two weeks in Dominica done in a matter of days. I also had the chance to practice my Spanish more than I ever have previously, and I think I have gotten over my fear of trying to speak to people in it, finally. I still sound like a totally idiot, and can barely get a sentence out, but I have struggled to speak with people enough here that I am used to the feelings of embarrassment now, and I have found that for the most part, after I was done apologizing for my lack of ability, most people forgave me and did their best to understand me and be understood by me.

(c) ABR

(c) ABR 2016

I also learned some valuable things about myself. Most importantly, traveling just for work is not satisfying for me. I want to see things and explore, but when I am somewhere to get work done, especially on someone else’s dollar, I just don’t feel right doing that. This is fair, and anyone who has traveled for work, has, I’m sure, experienced similar feelings. I hope that I can use my weekends this summer to see more of the country, however, because the Dominican Republic has so much to offer nature lovers.

My confidence in tourism as a positive force was somewhat shaken by this experience, however. All-inclusive resorts are not good for local communities, because they typically cut them out of management, don’t stream as many economic benefits to the host location, and keep their visitors from experiencing the culture of an area. However, when the alternative is constantly being harassed in the streets by people wanting to send you on tours for prices that are too high, or trying to convince you to get on their motorcycle with them… well, it starts to make sense. That being said, the people doing the hassling are just trying to make a living, and really, it is tourism that has created this environment in which tourists are simply targets to be hunted for economic gain. There were so many nice people that I met while in Samaná, and I saw the way that locals interacted with eachother- they were so friendly and caring. I know that it is tourism itself that has taken this away from visitors. Not that I expect local people to treat tourists like old friends, but the face shown to tourists is not the real face of the people here. They are much nicer.

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

In the end, I don’t know what the solution is. When the disparities in wealth between visitors and visited are so high, can tourism be a friendly, relaxed exchange? I don’t know. Samaná needs tourism, but tourism is changing it, and the industry could shift its focus to another town at any time. I think tourists need to take more responsibility for caring for the places that they visit, but I also think that local people need to make their communities welcoming. In the end, if tourists don’t care for the places and people they visit, they will damage what they have travelled so far to see. And if local people make tourists uncomfortable and scared, they will encourage things like all-inclusive resorts.

As for myself, I now know that I can survive in these places alone and with the Spanish that I have. I think that I can manage without all-inclusives in the future, especially if I have a friend traveling with me. However, I think I would prefer to keep my future international journeys to leisure travel as much as possible once my PhD is completed. I have really enjoyed meeting the people here, but my personality is just far too introverted for the kind of work that I am trying to do, and I am just really so sad that I traveled all that way, and wasn’t able to see the great stuff that is out there.

The Art of Flying

The first time I went out of the country, I had to take two 10 hour flights to get from Phoenix to Johannesburg; they were more than three times as long as the longest flight I had been on up till that point. I think there is some art to flying on planes comfortably in economy (although the airlines certainly don’t help), and at the time, I knew nothing about that. So, I had two very long flights during which I was bored, unable to sleep, and I even got a little sick from being in the air for too long coupled with the low quality of the airplane food. I’ve learned to do a little better on long flights, after more experience, but I still consider flying to be one of the most uncomfortable aspects of traveling.

I’m sure everyone has their own methods for staying comfortable on long flights, but for me there are a few things that help. Surprisingly, one thing that helps me is trying to get work done. If I sit down on a 10 hour flight and plan on getting 8 hours of work done, it at least gives me the illusion that I won’t have too much extra time to not know what to do with. Often working makes me tired anyway, which is also helpful. So, as much as this sounds like a drag, I think if it’s possible to get work done on a long flight, do it. You are really killing two birds with one stone if you ask me.

Another thing that I find when traveling by plane for extended periods of time, is that it can get darn cold. This is partially just me. Anyone that knows me, knows that I get cold easily. But I’m sure there is also an element of I’ve-been-sitting-in-this-one-spot-for-too-long which can make the air conditioning feel more pronounced than otherwise. My point is, if you get cold relatively easy, do yourself a favor and pack some things to keep warm with. There are some airlines that still provide everyone with blankets, but some don’t anymore, and you certainly won’t begrudge yourself the extra comfort. Bringing snacks and extra water is never a bad idea either.

Finally, for anyone traveling with chronic conditions, of course carry with you what you need to generally stay comfortable (never check prescriptions), but also consider what flying might do to any conditions that you have. I am sure that you will be aware of the most serious considerations of flying, but try to do some background research on what some of the general side-effects of flying might do to your comfort. The more you know, the more you can do to avoid those problems (speaking from experience here).

In short, flying in economy for more than 3 hours at a time is rarely enjoyable, but there are things that you can do to take care of yourself and make it as enjoyable as possible. If you have any suggestions of your own about making economy plane travel more comfortable, let me know in the comments!

The Importance of Travel: Empathy and Understanding

Despite the fact that I live right next to Mexico, my first time out of the country was on a mission/volunteer trip to South Africa, where I helped out in a small school in Willowvale of the Eastern Cape. I was fairly young at the time; it was before I went to high school. So, not only was I completely ignorant of the world outside of my home country, but I was immature as well. Together, these things made my time in South Africa my most difficult trip. It also opened my eyes to what being an outsider felt like, what other cultures were like, and, to some extent, what living in another part of the world was. While I will not claim to have some deep understanding of other cultures, the people that I met in Willowvale opened my eyes to the fact that my understanding of the world was not singular or necessarily correct.

This formative experience also sparked my interest in traveling, and has shaped my opinions about the potential for tourism around the world and its importance to us as individuals. What I mean to say here, is that I think immersive, international travel can help us empathize with people from other countries. I don’t believe that you have to travel internationally in order to do this, nor do I think that traveling is guaranteed to do this. However, from my experience in South Africa and since, I think that living with people from another country/culture (rather than holing up in a resort or on a cruise) can change a person’s understanding of the world.

Looking at some of the struggles that I see us facing today as a global community, and in my own country, I think that this sort of experience has more potential now than ever before. Of course, I think sharing experiences with one another has always been a way to forge friendships and bridge cultures. But the world today is obviously more connected now than it ever has been. For English, Spanish, and French speakers (among others) there are also a variety of countries that share languages. Technological advancements are furthering this, allowing us to communicate without sharing a language through things like Google Translate. Traveling is the most accessible that it has ever been, and more and more distant locations are now linked to the rest of the world via planes.

For those of us in the United States (and probably Canada, China and Russia, although I don’t live there, so I can’t say for sure), I really think that the experience of international travel is even more important. Unlike much of the rest of the world, we live in countries that are large enough for us to live in cultural isolation for our entire lives, even if we participate in travel. However, living a life with only a good understanding of one culture is problematic. On a personal level, I think we are missing out on something fulfilling and beautiful if we isolate ourselves from other ways of seeing the world around us. As a global community, cultural understanding is essential to peace, negotiations, and growth. I can’t say for sure, because tourism is rife with problems, but I think there’s a chance that allowing ourselves to explore, and on the other side, showing travelers our homes and sharing our cultures with one another, can improve our relations with one another. We have to go into these things with the right mindset, open and willing to learn, to face things we don’t understand and may be entirely new to. It can be difficult, but I think it is worth it. Something to think about in the new year.

On Traveling and Contentment

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

I’ve been quiet on here for a while now, almost a month. I have sat down to write on multiple occasions, but I just couldn’t force anything out. A big part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to force something out, although I understand the reality of writing on a regular basis, but at the same time, this blog is a hobby, and I don’t want it to feel like homework. However, my silence and/or artist block is part of a larger trend in my life, and it is something that I feel inspired to discuss.

In August I took a second job, which was a questionable decision considering that I am currently a PhD student, and a TA, which is already a full time job, maybe more. But it was a major opportunity, and something that I was excited about, so I went for it, and luckily it has been a great experience. That being said, all the work has left me exhausted, and if I am being honest, burnt out. Burnt out to the point that I have almost no motivation to do a lot of the things that I love, including travel. I should probably mention that my wanderlust was also severely curtailed within the last year due to health complications that I am still struggling with now.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

In any case, all of these things have led me to spending my weekends at home, doing a lot of what I do during the week… working and wasting time on social media. Life has become comfortable in some ways. The process of traveling is so draining, but it has also become monotonous. For a good while, I was content with things, however, and I really felt too tired to put much effort into doing anything other than getting the minimum amount of required work done each day. Lately, I am realizing that my contentment was more due to exhaustion than actually being happy with the direction that my life was taking.

Until last weekend, I hadn’t explored anywhere new since my trip to Puerto Rico. Of course, I don’t expect to be jetting across the globe every month, but I live in Arizona, a state that is full of natural beauty and cultural sites that are worth experiencing. There is little excuse for me to not get out and see new things, if that is what I love to do. But I wasn’t. I had a million excuses, and sometimes I didn’t even bother to make an excuse, it just wasn’t something that I was going to put the energy into doing.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

All of these exhaustion and monotony has caught up with me lately though. I have been melancholy and increasingly sad for the past few weeks. There are a variety of things going on in my life that could cause this, but I think part of my current emotional state is due to this lack of exploration on my part. Seeing new places and learning new things certainly opens your mind and refreshes your thought processes. More so, as I so powerfully experienced in Japan, I think that there is an element of spirituality to it as well.

For almost as long as we have existed, humans have explored new landscapes, and set out into the unknown. I believe it is an integral part of what makes our species unique, and it can do so much to help us grow as individuals. Traveling, even if it is just to some new spot in your hometown, is a doorway to connecting with new people, and reconnecting with nature too. It can refresh us in so many ways, and I am learning through experience that life can feel stagnant for some of us if we don’t continue to go outside our bubble. So, let’s all keep getting out there and explore our little pockets of the planet, I think we will all be much happier for it.

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