How travel makes us thankful

November 24, 2010

When friends ask how traveling in Africa changed me, I offer a lot of different answers. It made me more patient. More frugal. Helped me think through what I want out of life.

But mostly, it made me thankful.

After spending time with people who can’t afford to go to school or visit the doctor or install electricity in their homes, I think about how lucky I am every single day. Every single day.

When I put my head on my pillow at night, I think about how lucky I am to have a comfy bed. When I run a road race, I think about how lucky I am to have sneakers on my feet. When I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I think about how lucky I am to have indoor plumbing, rather than having to stumble outside in the dark and the mud to pee into a hole in the ground.

A little friend I met while traveling in Madagascar.

These thankful thoughts even sneak into my mind when I’m angry or annoyed. When I feel frustrated over coordinating doctor’s visits with my work schedule, I remind myself how lucky I am to see a different doctor for each part of my body. When I groan over delays caused by road construction, I find myself remembering that I’m lucky to live in a place where the roads are actually fixed. When little things go wrong during my day, I can’t help but look at the bright side — that I’ll just move into my apartment one week later or take the next bus or reschedule the interview.

Learning to appreciate what we have is the most cliche lesson of travel — because it’s the most profound. It’s life-changing, this realization that so many people around the world are not eating dinner tonight or drinking clean water or sleeping in a bed. These are things we’re told since childhood — to be thankful for what we have — but it doesn’t hit us until we actually see, with our own eyes, the people who don’t have those same things. It’s not until we travel that we realize that, indeed, the people who live halfway around the globe are just like us, only not as lucky.

I’m a firm believer in making your own luck. In creating the life you want, finding a career you love, and making things happen the way you want them to. But the only reason this works is because we’re all lucky to begin with. No matter how bad of a childhood you had, no matter how negative your family or how stymying your job, every single person reading this blog is luckier than most of the people around the world.

So do something with your luck. Use it to create the life you want to live. And be thankful. Not just on Thanksgiving. Be thankful every day.

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    10 Replies to “How travel makes us thankful”

    • Andi says:

      This is my favorite you’ve ever written. Just gorgeous! And I couldn’t agree more.

    • Living in Africa a few years and traveling around the world has made me extremely grateful, especially for not being fearful that when a mosquito bites me that I might end up with malaria, which I had four times.

    • Absolutely beautiful post,Alexis It is a powerful message & a great reminder of all we have to be grateful for. Thanks for sharing. Love the picture too!

    • Heather Rae says:

      Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

    • Andrea James says:

      Great sentiments to share, Lexi.

      Also, I’m watching this series on the haves and have-nots of the world, and how the Earth ended up this way. A lot of it IS luck. It seems that the European nations fared better throughout time because of the lucky accident of sharing a content with animals that were more easily domesticated, which could then share in the work, which could then free up people from farming so that they could specialize in trades, such as making stone tools and then metal tools. Whereas, in other parts of the world, they only had access to animals that were stubborn and didn’t work well with humans. So, more of the population had to concentrate on growing food, which also wasn’t as nutritious or energy-infused as wheat, barley and rice, leading to further setbacks.

      I might blog on this fascination…but the end result is that luck played a major role in all of it.

      And I love that you urge us to travel to see this first hand.

      A toast to being thankful!


    • Cate Bres says:

      This is great Lex and was a needed reminder! Great seeing you and hope you are getting settled in your new home! XOXO

    • Megan says:

      You know the, I posted about this earlier on my blog. This article has really given me some food for thought, I feel that you have made some very important points. In fact, I really wish I’d seen it before posting my own article. – multiplumb

    • Nicole says:

      It’s silly, but the bathroom bit resonated heavily with me; I grew up spending summers at a cottage in the Czech Republic with no plumbing (hardly third-world, but hey!) and I remember bathing in plastic tubs resembling mixing bowls in the States. More recently, I went to Tibet, and that was eye-opening on many levels. I find myself with the same attitude you described, and friends who haven’t traveled as much have a tough time understanding it. It gets misinterpreted, and I only wish everyone could travel somewhere truly different to at least gain some insight, if not fully adopt this attitude themselves. Well-written piece! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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