My husband, Russell and I love traveling the world to see places we have not seen. We are not necessarily “the road less traveled” kind of folks because we do love big cities and sightseeing some of the world’s most famous places, but we also do not like visiting every possible sight outlined in Fodor’s. We love to spend time walking the streets near the city center or along narrow streets in small towns, stopping in to shop or have coffee or wine, getting lost in the vibe of country we are visiting.
On so many of our vacations to far off places, we have discovered so much about the world in which we live and the people in it. Traveling has made a profound impact on how we view life as people and as Americans. Our recent trip to Spain, Portugal and our brief dip into Morocco is no different. After last year’s trip to Israel and Jordan I had not expected to come away as affected as I have. For me Europe has become like a warm, well-worn pair of gloves, easy and comfortable, but perhaps time to trade them for something new. Europeans, while somewhat culturally different from Americans are still Westerners after all. Yes, they like their coffee stronger, served in a real cup with an actual saucer, use 220v electricity, eat dinner a lot later and call soccer, football, but Europeans have all the creature comforts Americans are used to having. I thought I was ready for more adventure. 🙂
Of course when you least expect it, travel teaches new lessons about yourself and those around you. Besides being reminded that I always need to pack for warm climates and bring layers for warmth, and that less really is more at least in packing, here are the top ten things I learned from traveling this year.
10. Buy the camera insurance. I dropped my fairly new camera while standing in line to buy tickets to Alhambra, and broke the lens two days before our trip ended. All of our photos from Granada were taken with our iPhones and GoPro (Ugh) and now I need a new lens. For $60 I could have taken insurance that would have replaced the lens for free. DAMN. I did find a replacement online from Amazon already though!
9. Slow down. We tried to hit too many places too many days in a row and wore ourselves
out. While some of you may love that kind of trip we really don’t. Even though we know this we somehow got caught up in the moment and missed smelling the roses. We were gone for a total of 18 days, but we were worn out by the time we got to Spain (9 days in). We are sorry we did not spend more days early on sitting in cafes and talking to the folks next to us. On many trips we have met some of the most interesting people by doing that. Those are usually the memories we share over and over – not the act of seeing a major sight.
8. Rent a car and drive. Driving through Spain will be one of my favorite memories of our trip. What a great way to get to see this beautiful country. From the mountains to the valleys to the Mediterranean Sea and all the farmland in between, Spain is a vastly, varied, topographical wonderland.
7. I really am a photographer, I really am. (Nod to Sally Field 😜). I discovered this trip I have a good photographer’s eye, and I understand how to tell a story through a lens. I had a learning curve understanding my camera’s speed, aperture and ISO, but after I figured that out, the camera made my vacation! Those of you reading this who use your smart phone to take pictures (even with the upgrade of iPhone 7’s new camera) may not understand what a difference a good camera makes. Learning to take shots, understanding light and how to use it has really taught me a different way to look at the world. Everyone has a story and a good camera helps share that story with the world. I was excited to have my video of our tour of the Douro Valley shared by CoolTours Oporto.
6. I married up. I already knew this, but traveling with Russell always reminds me how
lucky I was to find him at such an early age, and how lucky I am he still puts up with me. We have such a good time most of the time, and when we don’t we are able to “fight” it out. The remarkable thing is the longer we are married the more likely it is we will exercise patience and empathy with each other.
5. Portuguese bread, but Spanish food. I can live without ever having another codfish fritter
(the specialty in Portugal), but their bread and their national pastry, the Nata (a small custard tart) I will think about fondly and often. On the other hand, I was not enamored with Spain’s (in Seville and Granada) bread or pastries, but I could give up all other food for tapas. Our favorite was fried eggplant “fries” with some drizzled cane syrup (yep, Caro dark syrup for you Americans).
4. I am unapologetically American. Europeans get a lot of things right including great food even at truck stops in small towns, but we Americans get a lot right too including our love affair with takeaway coffee. (Thank you Starbucks!) We were telling Margarita, our precious guide in Spain how much we loved her country and how lucky she was to live somewhere where the lifestyle was so laid back and the food so delicious. She smiled and said, “You are on vacation. It is not always easy here. We have no democracy.” Spain has been without a government for a year because no party received a majority and the Parliament can not agree on leadership. Erlicia, our guide in Portugal also talked a great deal about freedom and democracy. She was a girl when Portugal’s 46-year dictatorship gave way to a parliamentary democracy. Her country is still trying to figure out the balance of freedom versus censorship. Even in this election season when everyone is loudly sharing his or her opinions about the presidential election either in-person or on social media, I know I am lucky to live in a place where we can do so freely.
3. I love working.
As much as I love vacation, I love working more. I like getting up and going to work. I like adding value to my community and to the projects I work on with my colleagues. I like having a purpose in this life that requires me to be somewhere daily. Traveling is a lovely way to expand my thinking, but working brings great satisfaction and purpose to my life.
2. My faith keeps me grounded.
Spain and Portugal, like Israel, have been profoundly shaped by the influences of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions and the struggles that have existed between their followers for centuries. This trip I went on the hunt for a small synagogue in Tomar, Portugal with my good friend, Stephane, but we arrived after it had closed. Amazingly, two couples on our tour were able to locate the woman whose family has kept the synagogue since the middle ages when the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave.She came back and opened the small synagogue for us well past closing time. I was lucky enough to capture the passion of these people on video.
I am a Christian, and I cherish the opportunity to visit places with vast religious history and massive Christian cathedrals and diversities of faith. It always strengthens my belief in the simple message of the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth whom I follow. Grace, hope, love and salvation.
1. There is no place like home. No matter where I go, no matter what I see, I am always ready to get home to Houston. I love living in the city I share with my husband, my children and all my friends. Houston is a world-class city that offers her residents lots of opportunity, plenty of diversity and amazing cuisine from around the world. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to travel and more fortunate to be able to come home to Houston.