I am the proud parent of three dogs: Moya, Cody and Preston. Over the years I have observed their behavior and how they interact with the rest of the world. I soon realized that they have many lessons to share, especially for the traveling sort.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Our middle fur child, Cody, is a creampuff. He’s tough when he has to be (and he rarely has to be), but things don’t usually bother him. If his toy is taken away he really doesn’t seem to care. Instead of getting angry, he just wanders off and finds something else to do.
Traveling is fraught with little problems. At one point or another, most people will experience the inconvenience of missing a train or getting lost. Rather than shut down or stress over these hiccups, be like Cody and just move on. Believe me, there will be real issues that arise over which you are free to stress. In the meantime, don’t worry about the little things that ultimately do not matter.
2. Take it slow and have fun. As far as canine comfort is concerned, my dogs are in the top percentile. Their every need is seen to and they want for nothing. As a result, they sleep most of the time and when they are curious about something, they are methodical and deliberate about their explorations. This doesn’t mean they don’t have a good time. Preston, the baby of the family, in particular goes through life happy and enjoys his adventures.
This practice of approaching new places and people slowly and thoughtfully is important when seeing the world. Rather than rushing through a city marking off a checklist of museums and monuments, take some time to really explore a new place. Visit grocery stores, quiet neighborhoods, pubs and restaurants in order to really learn about the culture. You will be surprised how much more you learn about a locale from a supermarket than a cathedral. But like Preston, make sure to have a good time.
3. Be cautious but not fearful. Moya, our oldest pup, had a pretty hard life before we rescued her. As a result, she approaches new people and situations cautiously and deliberately. She is not violent or fearful, but she ensures that the new experience is safe before accepting it.
A certain amount of cautiousness and skepticism is important when traveling. I firmly believe that there are good people everywhere and have witnessed incredible acts of generosity on my trips abroad. However, I have also been approached by dubious people including drug dealers and scam artists, all wanting to take advantage of my apparent naiveté. Shady people are rare, but they do exist. Be smart and keep your wits about you. As Ronald Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”
4. Try new things. Dogs have an innate curiosity and express it in a number of ways. For my dogs it is usually a sniff, poke and a chomp. Sometimes it doesn’t go well—Cody’s attempt to eat a bee was not a good idea—but dogs seem to enjoy the process of trying to understand that which is foreign.
You should not be afraid to sample new foods, even ones that seem strange, or try new experiences. Traveling teaches us a lot, but perhaps most importantly it teaches us to reach out of our comfort zone and grasp for new experiences that may help us grow as individuals. Sometimes the rewards for this heroic fearlessness are great and sometimes, like Cody, you get stung. But without this karmic balance of traveling sensations, the trip would be as bland as a trip to your neighborhood store.
5. Kindness will always be returned. Dogs are the most popular pet in the United States for a reason (sorry to all of you cat lovers). They have the unique ability to give unconditional love in large doses that can be practically overwhelming. There have been many times in my life, such as the loss of a family member, injury or just a bad day when they have approached and carefully nuzzled against me. This simple act of kindness and empathy can melt even the coldest heart and it is impossible to fully reciprocate this most basic act of kindness.
Backpacker, wanderer or just an average person on vacation will all encounter times when they will face a unique opportunity. The chance to extend a hand in aid or provide a shoulder in comfort arises when least expected and creates a bond not only between people but cultures as well. This act of kindness though is certainly not one sided, as you too will find that hand or shoulder from a stranger when you least expect it, but most need it.