Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I took an old post of mine and have re-worked it into something new. Not just an old post, one of my very first posts way back in 2010 was Five Travel Lessons My Dog Taught Me. It was the first of many so-called philosophical posts, my attempts at finding even greater meaning from the travel experience while at the same time offering some practical and I hope actionable advice. I’m re-working it today because I think the main points are still good but that the content needed a little bit of help. So I hope you enjoy and can take something away from it, whether you’re a dog lover or not.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
As the proud parent of three Siberian Huskies, and as someone who works from home, I have spent a lot of time in the companionship of dogs, watching them and observing how they act on a day-to-day basis. One important lesson that my dog Cody taught me is how to react to little problems in life. From his calm demeanor when someone knocks unexpectedly at the door or, more recently, how he’s dealt with illness it has always been with the same, easy going attitude. The same can’t be said of our other dogs, it is instead a personality trait unique to him. He is absolutely implacable in the face of adversity, like a fighter pilot heading into enemy territory. This calm under pressure attitude was an important lesson to me, not just in life but in how I react to adversity while traveling as well.
The typical travel experience, no matter where you go or what you do, is fraught with minor problems. Cars break down, we miss trains, lose luggage, spend too much money and many more small concerns that are all part of traveling. Something that I’ve had to learn over time is how to deal with these truly minor concerns in a manner that is reflective of the issue. Missing a train is not the end of the world, another train will come and I will hop on it and be on my way. It is a waste of time and energy to get overly upset about something that is over and done with. No amount of yelling or sulking will bring that train back or, in a larger sense, change whatever situation you’re in. Instead you need to take a deep breath, step back and find a solution instead of harping on the problem itself.
2. Take it slow and have fun
My third fur-baby, Preston, enjoys nothing more than going into the back yard. It’s not because he loves to run and play around, no, it’s the time when he instead spends hours methodically walking around the yard, smelling every spot and summing up what it means to his senses. I have no idea what he’s doing, but there is nothing he enjoys more than this slow amble around the yard, his tail wagging vigorously every time I open the back door.
Taking it slow is another lesson that has been very hard for me to learn personally. As an active traveler, in the past I have tried to do and see as much as time would allow. As I grow older though I realize that this is self-defeating. I’m actually experiencing less by speeding through rather than slowly getting to know a place. Even if it means that you won’t technically see as many things, going slowly when you travel is the only way really to get to know a new place on a more intimate level. It’s also a lot more fun, and isn’t that what travel is ultimately supposed to be about? Rushing around a foreign city isn’t fun; it’s exhausting and stressful. What is fun is taking it down a notch, stopping to smell those (sometimes) proverbial roses and enjoying the trip for what it is – a vacation.
3. Be cautious but not fearful
All of my dogs were rescued, but it was our first one that came from a truly bad situation. I’m not sure what happened to her before we found her, but it wasn’t good. While she has definitely mellowed out over the years, she still has a certain edge that she will never loose. At any new situation, be it visiting someplace different or a stranger at the front door, she is very cautious and skittish, approaching things with a great deal of caution. Once she has scouted things out, she’s then fine; she doesn’t let fear define the experience for her.
The same can easily be applied to the travel experience. No matter where we go, whether it’s New York or New Delhi, we need to always approach new situations with healthy caution and skepticism, but not to let that turn into fear, controlling how we visit a new place. I often get asked if I’m ever scared visiting certain areas around the world. The answer is no, because I would never put myself knowingly into a dangerous situation and I always approach everything new with a “trust but verify” mentality. You have to be like this when you travel, it’s always good to keep a slight edge instead of being overly trusting, but never let that turn into outright fear. It’s fear that holds us back in life and it’s fear that prevents many from experiencing some amazing activities when they travel.
4. Try new things
This relates strongly to not being fearful, but is so important that it bears a little repeating. I love my dogs, I do, but I’m not a big fan of how they experiment with new things they find, which is usually by trying to eat them. As you can imagine, this has rarely ended well for anyone involved. But, it does point towards another great lesson, to try as many new things as you can.
At home I would say that I am someone who falls into ruts easily. I guess I like routine, I don’t know. When I travel though, everything changes. I do things I’d never do at home (highest bungee swing anyone?) and even try new foods that I’d never allow to grace my plate in my kitchen. That’s because over the years I have learned that travel is a great gift and it’s one that should never be squandered. We all have only a short time on this planet and we must not waste it. We need to push every opportunity we get to the max, and when we travel that means throwing yourself into a destination and do everything you can. Jump off that cliff, eat that weird looking thing and always talk to everyone you can. Get as much as you can from travel, because it’s an all too fleeting moment in time.
5. Kindness will always be returned
Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington, then get a dog. That’s true anywhere of course, these lovable canines give more love than we could ever return without even an inkling of an ulterior motive. It’s just their nature to give love, but they also certainly appreciate it when it’s returned back to them.
This amazing experience happens all the time, but is particularly special when we travel. It doesn’t cost us anything to be nice, to do simple gestures of kindness for others and most times that kindness is returned to us many times over. 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.
So there you go, a second look at what we can all learn about travel by watching our dogs. What else would you add to this list?