MY WIFE AND I are expecting our first child early next year. My daughter is about the size of a lemon at the moment; she looks like an alien; and she’s a restless little thing. During the ultrasound, we couldn’t get a good look at her because she was squirming all over the place.
She comes by it honestly. I can’t sit still. Coop me up for too long and I get what my wife and I call “the jimbly jamblies.” The jimbly jamblies make make your legs jittery all day; they make you burst into dance while you’re cooking; they make you tell terrible puns that are aimed at getting not laughs but groans; and they make you spend money you don’t have on travel you don’t need.
The affliction lasts for life, and its cures are worse than the disease: Drugs, booze, and the internet will quiet them down for a bit, but you can’t rely on those things or your life will get very dark very fast. So, I’m going to have to teach my daughter how to travel. I have been traveling and writing about travel for years now, and I have learned a few things. Here’s what I’ll tell her.
1. Traveling for fun is a privilege.
There’s a truism among travelers that “everyone should travel” because “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” In explaining hatred, intolerance, and ignorance in the United States, many travelers point to the myth that very few of us own passports, and as such, have not had our minds opened by the world.
There are a couple of problems with this mindset. First, travel is a privilege. Not everyone has the money to travel for fun, and many of those with the money still have responsibilities that they can’t easily step away from. Those that can travel are lucky, and should behave as such. Second, if you can’t be a decent human being without traveling, then you probably can’t be a decent human being full-stop. There are plenty of wonderful people who have never left their home state or country. You are not better than these people because you travel. You are lucky to travel. Treat it as a privilege, not as a right.
2. You are a guest. Act like one.
Luckily, my daughter is going to be raised on the Jersey Shore, where she will see tourism from the other side. Tourists on the Shore are often boorish, loud, drunk, and rude. They are seen by most as a mixed blessing, bringing much-needed cash into our towns, but clogging our roads, restaurants, bars, and beaches, and leaving their litter and puke all up and down our boardwalks. They treat us — the locals — like they treat their “help,” and are indignant when we don’t meekly rearrange our lives around their vacations.
The best tourists are the ones that view our towns not as getaways that they are purchasing, but as places that they are visiting as guests. They understand that we live here full-time, and that they should obey our rules, even if they aren’t the rules they follow at home. Guests are respectful of their hosts. A guest may still have a little too much fun now and then, but if they puke on our floor, they apologize and clean it up.
3. You will not see everything. Be judicious about where you go.
There’s too much of the world to try and see everything. Accept this early, and you will not waste your time by zipping through cities, seeing everything but enjoying nothing. Pick a place and linger, and you will get infinite more enjoyment from the world.
4. A place can be unsafe and still be worth visiting.
The summer of 2011, right before I moved to London for grad school, an aunt called me and asked if I still planned on going.
“Of course,” I said, “Why wouldn’t I?”
“All those riots,” she replied. “It’s not safe there.”
I pointed out that my aunt lived in Cincinnati, which in 2001, had burst into race riots. I said that she had not seen the riots, because they were in a neighborhood she did not live in. I, I told her, would not be living in those neighborhoods where the rioting was happening. London was safe.
This was mostly true. London is still to this day, a mostly safe place to visit. It has also had a spate of recent terror attacks. The chances of being caught in one of these attacks as a tourist are minimal, but there’s no such thing as risk-free travel. Many places are less safe than staying at home. But that does not mean they are not worth visiting. There are still wonderful people with lovely, fulfilling lives in nearly every corner of earth. There is still art, music, and culture in cities that are beleaguered by violence and crime. If you are smart and cautious, you can take in the good, and avoid most of the bad. It is worth it to take those chances.
5. You do not know how to fix the place you’re visiting.
Every country in the world has its history. Countries that seem to be in a mess are that way for a reason — there have been wars, there has been poverty, there has been trauma. Often, our country has not played a positive role in the country. Get to know a place before you start trying to fix it.
6. Learn to love coming home.
I already know I’m going to show my daughter Moana when she is a young child. She’ll know that wandering is great, but that the real joy in life comes from people and relationships, not from a large collection of selfies with nice backdrops. It does not matter where you choose for your home, and you get to pick your own community. But you do need these things. If you hate coming home, it’s because you need a better home to come back to.