this is real life

Paris, France

Being that the majority of my travel these days is for business, I find myself filling the gaping hole left by my recent travel adventures with tales of other Adventurers. At LAX, a prime jumping off point for international adventures, my ears hone in on any conversation with certain keywords, i.e., hostel, road trip, insert foreign country here, making it impossible to concentrate on anything else. In flight, I listen to podcasts like The Dirtbag Diaries: This is adventure. Climbing. Skiing. Hiking. Biking. Travel. Whatever your passion, we are all dirtbags. Outdoor writer Fritz Cahall and his team presents stories about the dreamers, athletes and wanderers. (Thanks, Christina A) During layovers, I inevitably end up perusing the travel section at the magazine shops.

This past week, my eyes were drawn to the cover of a new-to-me magazine, AFAR. I don’t know if it was the huge picture of the Arches National Park or the tagline: The New Rule of Travel – Go Solo. After quickly paging through, I decided the mag was worth the $5.99 price tag (One penny shy of 24 gum balls! I price everything in terms of possible gum balls.) But its ultimate value ended up being so much more.

The money piece, entitled What Doesn’t Make the News, by CEO & Cofounder, Greg Sullivan, rung my core. The entire thing is too good not to share, as he said it as best as it can be said:

Istanbul, Turkey

And because I know you won’t click that link, and I REALLY think you should read this, here it is again, with those money sentences bolded:

Imagine seeing these headlines scroll across the bottom of the screen as you watch CNN: 

“Millions of Moroccans go to work, return home, eat dinner with their families.”

“Tourists visit Jordan’s ancient ruins, take photos.”

“Citizens of Dubai respond to pleasant weather by following their usual routines.”

At a time when the news is dominated by dramatic, scary events, it can be hard to remember that these incidents are still quite rare. For nearly everyone on the planet, ordinary life goes on. Yet we often let fear keep us from living life to the fullest.

In the last couple of months, I’ve been to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, and I will soon be going to Jordan. These countries have been relatively unscathed by terrorist attacks. Millions of people live there, millions more visit every year, and yet, when I tell some people my plans, they react with concern. We Americans live in a country that is far from immune to violence. But when tragedies occur close to home, they can be strangely less daunting, because we know they’re an anomaly. When they happen in a far-off land, we sometimes fall into the trap of assuming they’re part of daily life there. We write off entire countries on the basis of events in one small area.

When we travel, those illusions fall away with every step down a busy sidewalk, every chat with a taxi driver, every meal at a bustling restaurant. This, not the horrifying acts of violence that occasionally occur, is real life. And that’s why we all need to keep traveling. To remind ourselves and each other that this, the ordinary, is what we all share and should celebrate.

All of the Yes.

DSC_2135 (1)
Reykjavik, Iceland

I met New Christina this year on a recent snowboarding trip with Old Christina, up in Whistler, Vancouver, B.C. In between crushing the mountain and enjoying the finer things in life, we discovered we had even more things in common: I recently experienced a similar journey in which she was about to embark. She was weeks away from quitting her job, selling her things, and traveling around the world, Destination Unknown. We shared fears, concerns, logistics, tips, excitement. So much excitement! But as I was processing the weekend on my flight back to California, I noticed something more than excitement mixed in when I thought about her upcoming adventure. Something different. A twinge of jealousy? Yes, but that’s to be expected. No…this was something foreign, something uninvited…something…shit. No. No. Nonononono.

But no matter how much I tried to deny it, I knew what it was: a trickle of fear with a flood of relief at not being the one to travel “at a time like this.” You know, after Paris. After Brussels. After…

Waaaaaait a minute. Me?!? I thought those thoughts?? Involuntarily, I swear! They unexpectedly invaded my mind like the silverfish invaded my Santa Barbara apartment. Disgusted at discovering their presence, I wondered how they got there, and became determined to get rid of them immediately, even if my only method was squashing with my shoe upon sight. How could my head betray me like this?

Because I don’t believe that. I don’t feel that way. I don’t think that way. I know better. Don’t I??

Berlin, Germany

I mean, when I first told my dad I was quitting my job to wander across the globe with All of the Destinations, he sent me a link to an article about the photographer who went on her dream trip to Turkey and wound up dead.

In response I sent him an article of the hundreds of people shot in the streets of Chicago, where he lived and worked, every day. (Here’s an updated 2016 article.) Fear, neither mine, nor his, would not stop me from taking this journey.

**Side note, Papa K eventually came around. He was the one who drove me to Chicago and saw me off my one-way ride to Finland. He even paid the ridiculous baggage fee when my “backpack” exceeded regulatory weight by…a lot. Like a lot-a-lot. No matter how old you are, your parents are still your parents; the worrying doesn’t stop when you become an adult.**

Venice, Italy

But as I stopped to truly think about these foreign, unwanted thoughts running around in my head, turns out, it’s not terribly hard to see how this could happen. Even to me. Watch the evening news, the global news. Read the paper, the magazines. Listen to talk shows. When you stay in one place, you hear one message. You see the signs. Over and over. Just watch the 2016 presidential election; so much hate in the words exchanged, hate for each other, hate for countries and people they know nothing about. Dramatization, blanket statements, generalizations. Opinions with agendas.

And if all of those not so subliminal messages can quietly slither into my mind, question my thoughts, trick my beliefs and attempt to take over what I know to be true, I can only imagine what they might do to less traveled minds, both young and old.

So it’s up to you to see through that rubbish. You have to fight those seeds of fears people plant, seeds that if untended, can and will grow into weeds of terror. Because what happened in Paris, what happened in Brussels, what happened on 9/11, that isn’t normal. Not for Me. Not for You. Not for Us, not for Them.

It is Nobody’s normal.

Budapest, Hungary

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”
~ Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, quoted in Nature

Last week, my soon to be eight-year-old niece boarded a plane for the first time in her life to come visit me out in California. Naturally, she had butterflies about being in a metal tube torpedoing across the country, thousands of feet above the world she knew, to a place she had never been. But her fears did not include chances of a plane hijacking, airport explosions, or subway attacks.

And neither should yours.

Our weekend was filled with new adventures and experiences her young mind could barely contain. I saw the world through the eyes of a child again, and it was more beautiful than ever. It pains me to look at her and think she might grow up in a world where exploration and adventure and discovery is discouraged out of fear.

So get out there. Don’t let Life get in the way of Living. Explore. Adventure. Jump in. Take risks. Challenge yourself. Embrace the now. I board a plane every week and fly to a major international airport, and a second time to come home. Los Angeles could easily be Brussels. Chicago could be Paris. London is New York is Berlin is San Francisco. Cities are interchangeable to the voice of Hate. Everyone is the enemy.

Traveling is your chance to fight back.

Hiking with my niece in Santa Barbara.

One thought on “this is real life

  1. Hi Tosh

    Susan in Edinburgh here. Thank you more than I can possibly say for the wonderful Afar. The ‘migrant crisis’ has been the major news story over the last six months or so in Europe, and I’ve often had that fantasy about those very same non-news stories which would mean that people could live safely in their own homes, doing all the boring mundane things in life which most of us are lucky enough to be able to take for granted. Wouldn’t that be amazing, instead of hearing how many little children had drowned or what historic treasures, schools, places of worship, fields, homes, workplaces, markets and everything else has been destroyed. And which politicians forgot that they had shares in overseas accounts which they didn’t pay taxes on. And which other ones are trying to pull what wool over whose eyes. Mundane non-news would be the best news ever.

    As I did my end-of-the-year clear-out of my house, the weather all over Europe was unbelievably wet and cold and horrible. I started to feel nauseated by the fact that I owned several coats and jackets, two sleeping bags, camping equipment which I rarely use, piles of toothpaste and other supplies purchased Buy One Get One Free, more jeans than I ever wore, and on and on, and by the end of a frenzied couple of hours, I had bagged up more stuff to send to Calais than I could get into my Ford Ka, and I had two pairs of jeans, two pairs of trainers, a pair of boots, one sleeping bag, one coat, two jackets and two pairs of jeans in my cupboard. My friend with a van took my 15 massive black bags of stuff to the CalAid Centre, and I haven’t missed any of it, needless to say. I would like to say that I bought that stuff, knowing that someone would need it sometime, but that would be a lie. I’m just glad these things got redistributed to people who could use them.

    It’s a beautiful world, and there’s enough to go around if we put our minds to it. Why do we do such terrible things to one another?

    On the subject of travelling to ‘dangerous places’, I used to go hiking and camping in Northern Ireland during marching season in the late 1990s/early 2000s. And it’s a staggeringly beautiful country, full of amazing, funny, talented, literate, clever, hospitable, musical and delightful people. The first time I went, I wondered whether I was a bit crazy, but it was the backdrop of The Troubles which really brought home to me the beauty and the marvel of the people I met. Then I wanted, or maybe needed, to go back every year during the same week, to see how things played out. It’s not Syria, but you know what? I’ve met only 2 or 3 people in Edinburgh who have ever been to Northern Ireland. It’s a 42-minute flight from Edinburgh, the same time as it takes to get to Glasgow on the train (and it’s often cheaper to fly to Belfast, plus you get a free cup of tea and a biccy on the way out, which you most certainly do not get on the train). But Northern Ireland was thought to be ‘too dangerous’ since the 1970s, and that seems to have stuck. There are places I would stay away from on Apprentice Boys’ March Saturday, but Darry is NOT one of those places.

    Right: thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your fabulous photos, your reading material, and your putative gum balls. I love following you. Remember that if you ever need a place to stay in Edinburgh, do get in touch.

    very, very best,

    Susan Bittker



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