Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Defense of "Country Counters"

Do we travel for personal growth or bragging rights? This was the question posed by my esteemed friend @MalloryOnTravel who recently posted an interesting piece on his blog entitled, “Travel Egos & Bragging Rights”, which generated a bit of discussion in travel twitterville. 
The post is about travelers who are constantly bragging about how many passport stamps they have, how many countries they’ve visited, how knowledgeable they are about the world—you get the idea—how superior they are to other travelers. 
Perhaps the reason I found the article so compelling was because I spotted myself in there, figuratively...and was abashed! Well, I’d like to think that I was only in a small portion of it...but I was there! After all, on my Twitter profile, I do state the approximate number of countries visited. I respect people with humility, not braggarts. However, I also recognize the need to market oneself in our industry, and in our society. So, I suppose we must all undergo this delicate balancing act between modesty and braggadocio.
Well, I’m going to put myself out there, in an unpopular position, and play devil’s advocate. I’m going to defend those of us who ‘country count’. I have to admit that I do enjoy counting countries and looking at all the cool stamps in my passport! And, I bet you that most travelers do, but are unwilling to admit it because it has fallen out of fashion to say so. 
I also enjoy collecting currencies from different countries, going to geographically extreme places, collecting postage stamps from different parts of the world (not a popular hobby anymore for obvious reasons), collecting shells, bringing home interesting stones (yeah rocks), pendants, etc., from different parts of the world. Why? Because I enjoy it. Because that’s who I am. Because it’s fun for me! And, because it reminds me of the places I’ve been, especially now, that I’m temporarily grounded. When I look at my travel mementos and passport stamps, well, it makes me smile!

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s about the culture and the people”! Well, yes, but for me that’s just a—dare I say it—part of my travel pie. You see, I’m a science geek: I love geography, geology, and basically anything that ends with the suffix -ology! I’m also a nature lover, and an admirer of aesthetic beauty, which I love capturing with my photography. I love doing crazy things like going to Earth’s geographical landmarks (i.e. like the equator), purely for my own amusement!
In addition, since I never had a ‘proper job’ (see my FB profile) my travels are a natural part of my resume (CV). It’s a fact of my life that I traveled constantly for 20 years—it’s not bragging—that’s just what I did for my work and for pleasure. I quite literally did not have a home base for about 10 years. I lived on the boats on which I worked, between backpacking trips. So, it’s quite impossible for me to talk about my life without talking about my travels.
So, in defense of “country counters” like myself, I’d like to say that some of us have paid our dues and ‘earned’ our bragging rights. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we go around using them, but we are likely to mention our travels, and countries visited in conversation! Unlike the people to whom @MalloryOnTravel is referring in his post, I think there are a lot of us who feel that the more we travel, the more we find that there is to see, learn, and understand. Instead of feeling like we know-it-all, we discover there is so much more to learn.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Life Happens...

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." —John Lennon
Sometimes events happen in your life that leave you wondering what the Universe intended. And, it was definitely trying to tell me something in August, though I’m still not entirely sure what lesson I was supposed to learn. 
This is why I am embracing September and autumn. Buddhists will tell you that the only thing you can count on in life is change. This can be good or bad. As for me, it’s what I need to hang on to for the moment.
This is also the reason that you might have noticed that I went through a “quiet” period recently, on social media and blogging. I guess you can say I had the blues. But, I’m finally pulling out of it, in large part thanks, to the wonderful online travel community. Also, watching the incredibly inspirational stories from 9/11 this past weekend, has given me the motivational push that I needed to get me back on track. 
August started out promising. I attended the Book Passage Travel Writing, Food and Photography Conference for the fourth time. This was the 20th Anniversary of the conference and it was as amazing as anticipated. I learned tons, visited with old friends, met new friends, had a wonderful time, and was very happily surprised when my travel photography was acknowledged with an award. This buoyed my spirits and gave me the confidence needed to push towards my goal of selling my work.
So, I was discombobulated and distraught when the next series of events happened.
After visiting friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attending the Book Passage Conference, I headed back down to my aunt’s home in Clovis, California’s Central Valley. I was both exhilarated and exhausted from the conference and looking forward to a vacation with my husband, Ashton, in Colorado. I had brought my mom out with me to California, to visit her sister and family. As many of my friends already know, my mom is 86 years old, struggles with  Alzheimer’s Dementia, and lives with Ashton and me in Pennsylvania. However, she spent 35 years living in California, where I grew up; several of those with her sister and family. So, it was going to be a win/win situation. They were getting to visit and Ashton and I were going to finally get a vacation, a break from caregiving, and a chance to spend some alone quality time together. But, the Universe had different plans.
On the morning before I was meant to depart for my vacation, instead of re-packing as I had intended to do, I ended up having to make an emergency 911 call; my first ever 911 medically related call for a loved one. It’s something you never want to experience. My mom had collapsed, and we feared the worst. The paramedics came and I rode with her in the ambulance to the emergency room, where we spent the next several hours. She underwent multiple tests and was admitted to the hospital in the afternoon. She was okay. What I mean is that, it wasn’t a stroke, or heart attack. Thank God. 

Needless to say, we cancelled our vacation plans to Colorado. Instead, Ashton flew out to California, and helped take my mom back home to Pennsylvania to recuperate properly at home. She was very weak for the next couple of weeks, but is slowly gaining her strength.
The day after we arrived home from California, we experienced the now infamous east coast earthquake, the epicenter of which was located in Virginia. When the house started shaking my poor mom thought she was collapsing again. Later that week, practically the entire east coast was placed under a Hurricane Warning, and we made the appropriate preparations. That weekend, Hurricane Irene came through and, although weaker than originally thought, still caused a lot of destruction. Fortunately we were lucky and only lost power for a while. As if that wasn’t enough, last week the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee passed through causing even more havoc for the Northeast. Again, while areas around us suffered, we were fortunate.
While I’m obviously very grateful that my mother is okay, and that we made it through Irene and Lee without a scratch, it would be disingenuous to say that I’m not frustrated by my cancelled travel plans. Anyone who has been in the position of being a full time caregiver, or knows a caregiver, can understand how important it is to take time off from “duty” in order to re-energize. In addition, I was born with the travel gene. So, the fact that my one and only traveling opportunity for the year was ripped away in such an abrupt manner, is incredibly disappointing. 
So, I will continue my balancing act of being caregiver, ‘home manager’, and wannabe travel blogger/photographer. My ‘quiet’ periods will signal a need to disengage, focus on the home front, and...probably a need for moral support.
So, hello autumn and I’ll try hard to have a positive outlook and think of my vacation as having been ‘postponed’ rather than cancelled. I need that travel ‘carrot’ at the end of the ‘daily routine’ tunnel. 

Life really is what happens, when you’re making other plans. 
Please note: If there are any other travelers out there who are in my situation—taking care of a loved one—I would be interested in communicating with you. 
Also: Alzheimer’s Association link: