Travel usually challenges our typical manner of thinking and brings a freshness to our standard life approach. After six weeks on the road in the Bay Area, the LA area, New Zealand and Australia, I am trying to cement into my psyche some travel life learning. I learned more authentically about new places and tried to grasp some life lessons along the way.
Going to Australia and New Zealand is like going to England–they drive on the other side of the road, eat pub food, fish and chips is the national dish, towns and architecture are English feeling–except that the natural setting is completely different, more California or Switzerland than anything else. Culture is English influenced. Many towns have a croquet club, traffic circles are the norm, rugby, cricket and variations thereof are favored sports and the educational and family structure mimics England’s.
New Zealand has just four million people, exactly the same size as Costa Rica with a similar economic base—agriculture and tourism. Both countries, wisely, are almost completely energy independent, using a lot of hydroelectric power among other sustainable sources. New Zealand is very far away from its markets and suppliers and third world Costa Rica has a per capita income rate less than half of that of New Zealand’s. So how do these tiny countries compete and survive on the huge market stage?
Australia has only 18 million people but on an enormous continent loaded with minerals, metals and enviable quantities of natural resources. With its varied climates it can produce a lot of agriculture for internal consumption but has little infrastructure to manufacture much else. Mining is its key economic engine and coal is king. But is that sustainable over the very long haul? China and India want its metals and underground goodies but can the Aussies make that work for them economically? Both NZ and Australia have strong social networks but then the cost of living is very, very high. Sydney is the most expensive city in the world after Paris! It costs $8 for a basic beer and usually about $20 a six pack.
However, the public services are fabulous–maintained trails, clean public restrooms, solid roads, city services consistently abundant. And we did not see one single homeless person on the streets of either country during a month long trip with stops in six major metropolitan areas and many smaller towns along the way. Coming from Los Angeles and San Francisco living, I appreciate what a phenomenal accomplishment the lack of homelessness is. There are challenges down under, but also some things for us to look to and learn from.
I never quite got the rugby thing but realize each culture has its own passions and idiosyncrasies. I mean we have the NFL and who gets that unless you bleed red, white and blue! I have noticed that in response to Thank You, the Kiwi’s and Australians say “No Worries.” I find this fascinating and started to compare national and language responses and wonder if they give some insight into culture. While the Kiwis and Aussies are kind, their customer service is not great. Our first day exploring Akaroa, a Kiwi family leaned over from the next restaurant table and apologized for the poor Kiwi service. You’re all so nice though I said. Yeah, she said, but we have bad customer service. So maybe No Worries is like, “yeah, I did a nice thing but whatever, don’t get too excited,” a kind of laissez faire type response, reflecting their attitude about customer service.
In contrast, in Costa Rica, a very friendly culture, the response to thank you is “con much gusto” which means “with great pleasure.” Not just “with pleasure” but with great pleasure and they seem to really mean it. In Mexico, the response is “de nada” or “no hay de que” both of which mean, “it’s nothing.” Mexican culture strongly emphasizes politeness and so maybe it is a way of saying, “well, of course I did that for you, it is expected”.
In the US, we have several variations, which perhaps makes sense in such a large country, geographically, and population and cultural diversity wise. When some one says thank you to you, what do you say? Think about it. “No problem”, you’re welcome”, “you’re very welcome”, it’s nothing”, “don’t mention it”, “sure”, “of course” are all possible American responses. And they are all a “happy to help out” type of response. These type of cultural nuances are fascinating and yet another reason to explore beyond our regular shores.
So, in this situation of great privilege which allows us to travel extensively, for which we are thankful every single day, I have found it behooves me to ponder—why travel? What are the benefits of extended travel (since it does cost a lot of money and time and takes you out of your regular comfort zone)? For me, travel provides a wide variety of benefits which I am trying to appreciate and learn from.
Traveling to distant and different lands:
Allows me to explore and experience new things
Gives me a different perspective on daily life
Helps me understand that while others may do things very differently, there are lots of ways to live a life and most of them work out just fine
Combats ethnocentricism and the feeling of self-importance that too many people maintain
Facilitates awe and wonder
Reminds me to never stop learning (Michael Lewis in downtown LA speaking on his outstanding new book Flashboys)
Emphasizes the importance of nature in our daily lives and in the long term life of our planet home
Points out how small we are
Notes how important our family and friends are in such a complex, unpredictable world (D and M with our friend Noreen on a tour of SurveyMonkey’s new headquarters as construction finishes. Payne and Salvia family dinner at Mike and Sam’s new home. Sarah and me at Salt Creek Beach for an Easter picnic. D and San Diego friends John and Leeza goof around looking at surf photos.)
Reminds me of the importance of art to inspire and reaffirm these values
Encourages me to look for small treasures everywhere (last pic is of three kittens we found abandoned at our Costa Rica home when we arrived)
And, in the end, it is all pretty impermanent. Travel does indeed reaffirm and repeatedly demonstrate the impermanence of our lives.
Therefore, let’s appreciate what we have, treat each other with respect and caring and work to better the lives of those less fortunate. Because let’s face it…there are a heck of a lot of people who don’t have it nearly as good.
Stay strong, play fair, be kind to each other and thanks for watching.