When we grow up in one place, that becomes the norm for which we measure the world. When I was a child, that world was a place of four seasons; a place where people communicated in one language; a place I felt comfortable camping in the forests. Pennsylvania was a four-hour drive away from the beach and tall mountains, deserts, or palm trees were non-existent.
What about these other landscapes, I wondered, as I flipped through geography books? What existed in those blank spots on the map? What was it like to walk through a rain forest, travel across a desert, survive a monsoon? How did people communicate in other countries? How did they pray? What did their food taste like?
I’m sure a lot of you had these same thoughts as children. But when I saw these alternative environments and the people who lived in them, I promised myself: “You will see this for yourself one day.” And that’s what I’ve dedicated my life to. Instead of going to graduate school, starting a family, or pursuing a conventional career, I continued to travel.
My paternal Grandfather passed down his coin collection to me. Why he didn’t split it among my two older brothers and me, I don’t know. I remember staring at those coins so intently as a child. What were the places like where these coins came from? Whose fingers had they had passed through? What were the languages of the people who handled them? What goods were bought with their value?
The stories these coins possessed were innumerable. They passed countless hands until they came into those of Frank Bugno, a thirty-year-old GI, drafted into World War II. He served in northern Africa, Italy and France. The coins that found their way into his pockets were from those countries and more, including Nazi Germany.
I was fortunate that my parents recognized the value of traveling. They didn’t have a lot of money or vacation time, but what they had, they dedicated to taking their three children on whirlwind road trips throughout the United States and even introducing us to Europe as we got older. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for this gift. But it wasn’t just the bringing me along for the ride. They let me take an active role in planning the vacations. Even as young as nine years old, I remember sitting down at the map with my father, plotting the course for destinations in the American southwest. At the end of our planning session we’d hand the list to my mother and she’d be on the phone making reservations. This routine continued on a yearly basis.
“When I was a boy, we didn’t haveTintin movies.” This is a likely conversation between my future grandson and me some 35 years down the road. I’m talking about the original Tintin books by Herge. I was already interested in travel and geography by the time I discovered Tintin in middle school, but he and his faithful companion Snowy certainly got me dreaming more about adventure and just plain elevated the fun and excitement element of travel to a whole new level.
Why are we interested or attracted to anything? There’s something inside us, something inherent, that propels us toward one thing or another. Maybe it’s what’s written in our soul, what we did in a previous lifetime. I can’t explain, nor need to, my curiosity and desire to see what’s going on in this world outside of the place I grew up.
Surely I’m not alone here.