Two months, 14 plane rides, and one new duffle bag full of souvenirs after our journey began, Courtney De Graff and I found ourselves back home in Northern California. Having run out of deodorant, razor blades, and clean underwear countries ago, we were ready to end our backpacking adventures.

Reflections on an ever-shrinking planet

Reflections on an ever-shrinking planet

 

It seems strange now, though, that despite my pleasure at being home, I sometimes get a pang of longing for a place elsewhere. The small things build up, like still suffering jetlag, or sighing over an unauthentic Greek salad at my previously favorite Greek restaurant, or passing over the travel books because they feature places I just visited. I suppose I am left with a restlessness for a time or a place that I cannot quite put my finger on. I told my mother that everything at home seemed different now, but she just said that maybe it is I who am different.

It is true — my heart feels heavy with the weight of what we saw. Beautiful sights often came with sad histories, and then, of course, the sad sights came with even worse histories. That is the price you pay, I suppose, for seeing the world, a taste from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, though, unlike Eve, I certainly do not regret my bite.

 

This trip taught me many lessons. One in particular: to acknowledge what you see, and to remember it. It is important to remember, for example, that along the way to view the immaculate Taj Mahal, we saw countless starving women press their underweight babies against our car windows. A place is so much more than just a pretty picture in your photo album.

Memories of the sad sights, though, make me proud of America, because I know it does not need to be that way here. We have the resources to help our fellow citizens, and that is something so noble and precious, I could not imagine living anywhere else. The restlessness I feel, then, I think is just wanting to see more. I want to continue to discover the treasures and histories of humanity, for better or for worse.

Meeting new people in transit is also part of learning about humanity. The majority of our new friends were Australian, seeing as there are no actual people in Australia because they are all traveling. As Americans, though, we sometimes had to prove ourselves to be open-minded and intelligent people. It was an unexpected hurdle, but easily surmounted.

 

Being a tourist definitely was trying at times, especially for two young women traveling alone. You hear the umpteenth Egyptian man make a disgusting comment, or silently take it as a cab driver starts yelling at you in Russian because he cannot find the hotel. A thousand tiny injustices you cannot fight just pinprick at your heart. The helpful people, however, the ones who freely offer directions, advice, and translation abilities, are so wonderful that they make up for anyone else.

The most important lesson from the whole trip, it seems, is to be thoughtful to travelers visiting America. We should be gracious to people who want to learn more about us and see our beautiful sights because you never know how we might change them.

This trip has been such a blessing. The whole summer has, actually, and it makes me hopeful for what will come with the changing of the leaves.