Reflections on International Travel

Every time I finish something I always try to reflect on it — to take time to think (and write) about how it went, what the highs and lows were, what I learned, etc.

Since I returned from Asia I’ve been so consumed with my book project that I haven’t actually spent the time to reflect on all my international travel. My six weeks in Asia concluded the "international travel" segment of my gap year. In June I spent seven weeks in Europe.

Two years ago, I had never been out of America. Now, I’ve been to nearly 20 countries! Mostly solo. I have seen some of the most famous paintings in the history of art in Italy. I’ve eaten dumplings in Shanghai. I’ve wandered the back roads of Dublin and Delhi. I’ve taken a hot bath in Japan. I have walked the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong, and ridden the tube in London. I have climbed the Great Wall of China and inspected the Forbidden City. I’ve seen a bullfight in Madrid, a baseball game in Tokyo, and a Bollywood film in Bombay. I’ve drunken beer in Munich, lounged in a cafe in Paris, and thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain of Rome.

More important, though, I’ve met dozens of people in all these countries. I’ve stayed at the homes of friends and blog readers. From Dublin to Delhi, London to Lisbon, the generosity spanned the globe. From CEOs to students, sports agents to stay-at-home-moms, engineers to musicians.

To say I’ve been lucky to travel as much as I had would be an understatement. But it ain’t over. I have so many wonderful memories and I can’t wait to explore even more of the world.

Favorite Countries: Japan, Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong

Craziest Story: Probably the Delhi Train Station or the guy I met on a Lisbon train. Still, I had enormous good fortune. I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t sleep on a street for a night, etc.

Moments / Situations I’ll Never Forget:

  • Baseball game in Tokyo with my Mom
  • Being picked up by a blog reader at Dublin airport, the first overseas stop
  • Re-uniting with my Swiss friends in Zurich
  • Meeting my friend Austin at Barcelona youth hostel
  • Seeing Michelangelo’s "David" in Florence
  • Taking a cooking class in Florence
  • Japanese hot bath in Hakone
  • Almost dying on Hiroshima – Dalian flight because of malaria medicine
  • Hunting for water in Spain
  • The pollution of Beijing
  • "Hello BEN!" a blog reader in Shanghai screamed after I rang his doorbell
  • Riding in back of auto-rickshaw in Mumbai
  • Arriving in Hong Kong from Delhi – and going straight to the Western style toilet
  • Listening to "Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw on my iPod outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • Watching politically charged Brits go at it in debate in London
  • Wandering through a Tokyo park in the pouring rain
  • Reading the Financial Times on Massimo’s deck in Northern Italy, and then eating home cooked pasta and bread. Mmm….

What I Learned: Hard to boil down. In general, all the cliches about travel turned out to be true for me: it was mind-expanding, perspective-broadening, culturally interesting, uncomfortable at times, etc. After traveling I’m simply more interested in the current affairs of all these countries. When I see an article datelined from Beijing, I can visualize the city in my head. Knowing a little bit about all these places makes "going deep" easier. Plus, from a business perspective, there are opportunities abound in this globalized world.

If you’d like to read all about my travels you can visit my Gap Year Travel Blog archives. The next big chunk of travel I’ll be doing is a USA Road Trip April ’07, which, as a San Franciscan whose never seen many states in his own country, will probably be equally broadening. In fact, I wonder whether visiting certain states in the midwest or south will be more of a culture shock than, say, Zurich?

We’ll see. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about traveling, do it! We regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did do, said Mark Twain.

13 comments on “Reflections on International Travel
  • Wow, That is incredible, great experience I’m sure. You’ve been to the places where I envision myself visiting and learning about. You have one heck of a story!

    I’m just more atonished everyday and inspired. Keep up the incredible passion for everything you do.

    PS: Ben, have you ever seen this video, you’ll absolutely enjoy it and appreciate it like I did.

    Maybe you have seen it:

    PS: This is not my video, however, my mentor shared it with me. Let me know what you think, really.

  • I went to grad school in Iowa. During one brief intersession, I spent a week driving the corners–getting off the interstate and driving through small towns. I found it to be a fascinating experience. The sights of the small towns have stayed with me for a couple of decades–the Civil War memorials, tree-lined streets and perfect yards, the immaculately groomed cemeteries, white board churches, and dying downtowns. As a librarian, for me the most fun was visiting libraries in a lot of towns. I couldn’t believe how tiny some of the libraries were in Iowa. I rode Amtrak home to Colorado, and took photos of the bad condition of the Iowa train depot. I wonder if they’ve bothered fixing it up in the last twenty years?

  • Michaelangelo’s David was amazing. I never really appreciated how iconic he is. He’s so much a part of Western culture that I’d known what he looked like, but never really SAW him until I was in Florence. The other thing that REALLY amused me was the row of little old ladies seated behind Michaelangelo on that bench along the back wall staring up at essentially the perfect derriere. The “Prisoners” work near David also really struck me – there’s a little plaque by one of the “Prisoners” statues that talks about Michaelangelo’s understanding about the contrast between matter and idea, the finite and infinite, that the prisoners reflect outwardly interior human struggle.

    I’m really loving reading your travel stories – I like the reflections in “Building a Latticework of Experiences and Seeing the Connections” a great deal! I remember being in Pompeii, watching a pair of very bored children tagging along behind their parents and watching with bemusement, having seen those same mannerisms in a pair of children tagging behind their parents at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    I stuck some of my own highlights here –

    There will be more since I’m leaving for Copenhagen, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg next week! 🙂

Leave a Reply to Wes Mahler Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *