My Bucket List
Years ago I sat down to write a bucket list. When the ideas slowed, I hopped online to see what other people around the world had come up with.
Two things immediately caught my attention. First, I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought I was. Top items included getting degrees, getting married, having kids, living in other countries, and becoming fluent in a second language. Check, check, check, check, and checkity check.
The second thing I noticed was how many lists were loaded with multiple travel aspirations. What I found noteworthy about that… is that personally, I had none.
In fact, I hate travel. I don’t like airports, planes, or jet lag. I don’t mind seeing new places and getting out of my comfort zone, but I always feel like the travel portion of traveling ruins the entire experience.
Why I Hate Traveling
Weeks before you travel are spent on preparation and packing. There are nerves and logistics galore. The next step is sitting around mindlessly and endlessly in an airport, after undergoing an unnecessarily invasive investigation. Where else in life do you give someone an insane amount of money in exchange for being treated like a criminal?
If you make it through the airport shakedown, you get the lovely experience of hours of being cramped in an uncomfortable plane with nasty food and constant interruptions from a pilot who thinks the altitude is more important to you than watching Eddie Murphy’s latest film.
Hopefully you’re among the lucky few who isn’t dehydrated with stuffy ears and an achy back from the experience. Now you get to move on to the oddly long wait for your luggage, assuming that it actually arrives. And we’re off for several days of fighting off exhaustion and breaking through jet lag in order to be able to properly enjoy the vacation.
And when all the smoke clears and you’ve fully enjoyed your trip, you get to do all that crazy one more time.
Now, I’m aware that some people are far better at traveling than I am. Hell, I don’t even like to travel to other cities! Nevertheless, all this is why I can’t bring myself to be excited about travel.
Knowledge of Other Nations and Cultures
Yet, I noticed in recent months that I experience travel in a completely different way. Despite my aversion to actually going anywhere, I devote an uncanny amount of time to gaining an in depth and profound knowledge of other nations and cultures.
I read books and articles about history and regional differences. I study geography. I’ve hosted hundreds of people for lodging and meals from all around the world, and I seek to really understand where they’re coming from. I look for subtleties in behaviors and mannerisms, ask questions about languages, and I’m always learning fascinating things about cultures.
(Fun side notes: Did you know that in Spain, they use the word “tortilla” completely differently than in Mexico? In Spain, it’s something more comparable to an omelette! And in the very not superstitious Germany, they still have a couple of odd ones. Never wish “Happy Birthday” before the actual day. And ALWAYS make eye contact when saying “Prost/Cheers”, for not doing so is a bad omen for seven years of bad sex.)
I study languages. Lots of them. Sadly, I have not been blessed with any gifts at picking up foreign languages at all, and cursed with the desire to speak about a dozen of them. But I don’t get discouraged easily and I will continue to push forward every single day, always learning a little something, even if I know mastery is unlikely in my near or even distant future. Just because I love it.
And so here I am. A guy who over the next decade or so will be wildly familiar with world geography and history, familiar with multiple languages, with connections around the world and insights into culture and customs everywhere… with no obvious use for any of it.
So why do I do it? How did I end up this way?
To be honest, I’m still not sure. There’s plenty of room for exploration. I’m mulling around two potential theories at the moment.
Why am I Domestically International?
First, I like the idea of being safe and comfortable no matter where life takes me. If my job wants me to take a trip to Germany for a conference, I want to be able to order a coffee in German, understand the person sitting next to me making fun of my haircut, appreciate some local television, and not embarrass myself by doing something culturally inappropriate. Furthermore, one cannot truly appreciate a foreign nation without speaking its language. Growing up in America it’s easy to feel like you speak the only language anyone could ever need.
However, I have met countless people who can barely eke out a sentence in English. There are countries where few people speak English or where different generations do not speak English well. How miserable would it be to visit a country and only experience 10% of what they have to offer because of my own limitations?
The World Through the Languages and Cultures of Others
Second, experiencing the world through the languages and cultures of others is a quick way to their hearts. True, some cultures do not want to hear you breaking your teeth on and butchering their language (you know who you are, Frenchies!). But most of the world loves that you took the time and effort to appreciate that their world matters too.
Try it. Learn how to say “hello” in Russian. Say it to the next Russian person you meet. Watch their face light up. It’s worth it every single time! It’s fairly likely that the next moment will be a little embarrassing as they then sputter out a million sentences in Russian, and you stand there smiling and clueless. Still worth it.
When you take the time to interest yourself in the language, culture, and history of other people, you step into their realm. You become a part of their world. You become a stronger and more tolerant member of society, and you generate feelings of belonging for all those around you.
I might tour across Europe or other parts of the world one of these days. It would be nice. But even if I don’t see the world out there, I’ll be satisfied so long as the world out there still becomes a part of who I am.