I have so much more respect for people who do our grunt work
The people who produce our food. Who make sure our trains and ferries run smoothly. Getting out of the office and experiencing so many facets of the tourism industry and beyond has given me way more appreciation for their contributions. It may not be the most enthralling work in the world but it’s work that needs to be done. Even as we move toward a weightless economy, some of the most seemingly simple work remains the most crucial.
I’m way more environmentally conscious
It started back in Asia, with all the water bottles T and I must have added to landfill. And it only got worse from there. All the little individually wrapped items on planes, in hotels, and so on… When you live out of your backpack, you become hyper aware of everything that passes through your hands. Paper – maps, tickets, receipts. Packaging. Plastic bags (terrible for the environment as they are, they’re still very handy and in some cases, necessary). Plus, having been through the likes of the Netherlands and Germany, we’ve seen how recycling really gets done. Come on New Zealand, we’ve got a lot to catch up on.
I’m more globally-minded
Back home, world events just seem so far away. Protests, riots, bombings all take place on the other side of the globe. Buffered by oceans on all sides, it’s easy to get complacent in our isolation. But being in the thick of it all for a change is a reminder of how closely we’re all connected. When the US was first considering strikes on Syria, we were in Italy. And that’s when I realised: Whoa. We’re not at home anymore. That’s only a couple of countries over. That’s REALLY FREAKING CLOSE TO US RIGHT NOW. (You may find this beginner’s guide to Syria helpful, if you’re interested.)
There are some benefits to living in a young country
As one of the most recently settled countries around, New Zealand has a short and relatively dull history. We don’t have much in the way of culture to speak of. It’s not surprising that a lot of travellers find it boring here.
The upside of that, though, is that we don’t have the integration problems that many other countries have, or at least not to the same extent. Every country has its own racists (usually of the type who conveniently ignore the fact that their ancestors were immigrant settlers not so long ago), but compared to many other countries, I honestly believe that our race relations are positively rosy. We’re also largely spared the strange dilemma that old cities face: how to preserve their heritage while incorporating new influences; modernising without diluting their traditions and culture.
It’s human nature to play the comparison game
I find myself trying to draw parallels constantly. Oh, this must be about as far as Hamilton is from Auckland. Oh, this looks just like our mountains! We draw on our knowledge of the familiar to make sense of what’s new around us. I find this annoying when other people do this too much, but I’m guilty of it myself.
On a similar note, I’ve also come to realise the true power of a strong brand. They can be a lifesaver in a foreign country – Coke, Twix, Subway, or of course, that familiar beacon the world over, McDonald’s. And after flying with a bunch of different airlines, I’ve got a lot of love for our national carrier, Air New Zealand. I genuinely think it’s up there with the best, and let’s face it, their flight videos kick ass.
Human beings are godawful
We suckity suckity suck. Our compulsion to meddle in other countries’ affairs, to invade and conquer and kill one another, is beyond belief. The more we travel, the more I realise just how dark and bloodsoaked our history truly is. And religion is to blame for a lot of it. I hate that there were – and still are – people willing to murder over religious differences. I suppose it’s admirable that there are people who are ready to die for their beliefs, but it’s all so heartbreakingly futile, particularly in cases where the two sides believe in basically the same god.
But it’s the people who make the place
People are people are people. I knew this already, of course. We’re all human beings, and essentially, we tick the same. We respond in kind, we take pride in where we come from, and we’re eager to help others if we can. Sure, sometimes there are significant cultural differences, and yes, stereotypes exist for a reason – but they’re often less prevalent than you might think.
And ultimately, people – the connections you make – are what make travel memorable. Amsterdam and Prague and Edinburgh were lovely, but Berlin, Munich, New York, Vermont, Toronto, Chicago… they will all stand out in my memories for the generous, welcoming and friendly people who welcomed us into their homes, who showed us around, who let us be a part of their lives.