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Friday, May 22, 2015

In Other Words: Seriously, Just Go

By Chuck Keller 

Chuck Keller. Provided

It’s coming up on summer vacation time. So maybe we should take a moment to examine what we can learn from our journeys because, you know, it really is a small world.

One of the complaints that I have heard about Fort Thomas is that we live in a bubble. That somehow we live an insular life.  Well, that is hard to believe with as much as residents travel around the state, country, and globe. Fort Thomas is certainly a well traveled population. And you can tell by the t-shirts that proclaim where we were. Writer and filmmaker, Susan Sontag wrote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”  And at least one resident would agree.

Rita Byrd has visited five continents and over thirty countries in her global journeys.  After she retired last year as the Assistant Superintendent of Fort Thomas Schools she took her dream trip of three and a half months trekking around Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. She and her traveling companions have shared years of wonderful adventures so she has lots of travel stories, advice, and lessons.

Rita caught the bug when she and her sister traveled to England. It was an easy trip because we speak the same language, but she was hooked. Then she was off to various European destinations, cruises, and even bigger trips.

She enjoys local cuisine and will try almost anything. While in Turkey she tried a local ancient “crock pot” meal, a type of stew that cooked all day in a large pot.  While in Australia she ate kangaroo. She said, “It was good. I won’t say that it tasted like chicken….It was like a steak dinner.”  Lesson? Just because it is different from what you are accustomed to doesn’t mean that it is bad.  Just try it. Think about that the next time that you go to a restaurant. Have a little adventure.

Language barrier? That’s not much of a problem since so many speak English but there are moments.There was a tense moment in a Spanish jewelry store but eventually they managed to conduct business “through gestures and pointing.”  You can get by, but knowing languages is always a plus. Rita says that, “People are welcoming around the world….The world is full of good people who want you to see their homeland in a positive light.” So it’s all good.

She tells a story about how they were on the southernmost part of New Zealand. It’s a rugged, undeveloped, area of great beaches, dramatic vistas, and rainforests. An ecologically diverse area. But understand that this is over 8,000 miles from Fort Thomas.  “We were on the south end of New Zealand in the middle of nowhere in an area that has only been developed in the last few years. They didn’t even have a paved road…until the last five, ten years….We’re out on this boardwalk in what looked like a wheat field and these people came and started talking to us. And they asked where we were from. We said, ‘Kentucky.’  and they replied, ‘Oh, our neighbor is from Kentucky. And his brother lives in a town with a strange name - Paducah.’… Well, it was like old home week at that point….They invited us to their house to meet the Kentucky neighbors.”   Who would have imagined that you travel over 8,000 miles to run into someone from down the road, so to speak? It really is a small world.

As a result of all of this travel, she has some valuable tips for fellow travelers. Here are Rita’s Top Tips:

1. People are nice and friendly if you are nice and polite to them.

2. Invest in technology for communication. Find a good carrier with an international service package. Google translator is getting better all of the time.

3. Do your homework about where you’re going and build support systems before you go like opening credit cards and bank accounts that do not charge for international use.

4. People are good. Enjoy the culture and customs. They want to share their culture, foods, arts, etc.

5. Make memories. See as much as possible - animals, beaches, mountains, historical sites, everything. Meet no strangers.

6. Buy travel insurance. It’s a great safety net.

7. Just go.

Rita added that, "There’s more good than bad in this world. It’s beautiful. People are nice and helpful. You are enlightened. It’s a great learning experience.” Even though a fellow traveler was pick pocketed in Rome and the airlines can insert inconveniences into your plans, the good experiences far outnumber the negative.

So what’s next on her itinerary? Africa is high on her must see list. Maybe Morocco, the Sahara Desert, or South Africa. She also plans to trek through South America and then bounce over to Antartica so she can claim visiting all seven continents.  Now that’s a bucket list.

Writer, Mary Anne Radmacher observed that, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” So I wondered if Rita sees her hometown differently after a trip? Without hesitation, she says,  “I see the world as much smaller….There are more good people out there than bad. And we are more alike than we are different.  It’s a shame that all of the negativity gets all of the press and that makes people afraid.” 

So maybe we need t-shirts with “Just go” printed on them.

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