Meet my new teacher! (Photo: Matt Long)
By Matt Long
I am the proud parent of three Siberian huskies: Moya, Cody, and Preston. Over the years, I have observed their behavior and how they interact with the rest of the world, and I’ve realized that they’re filled with wisdom — and not just dog wisdom. I’ve actually learned many human life lessons simply by watching them, lessons that have helped me as I travel the world. And so, here’s what my three dogs have taught me about wandering the globe.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
I have spent a lot of time hanging around with dogs, not least because I work from home. 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 to the chill way he has dealt with his recent illness — a ruptured disc — he always has the same easygoing attitude. And that’s not something I take for granted, because the same cannot be said of our other dogs. 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 … the list goes on.
I’ve learned to take a page out of Cody’s book and at least attempt to approach these situations with ease and grace. 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. No amount of yelling or sulking will bring that train back or, in a larger sense, change the situation entirely. Instead, it’s best to just take a deep breath, step back, and find a solution, rather than harping on the problem itself.
2. Take it slow and have fun
Another dog of mine, Preston, enjoys nothing more than going into the backyard. But it’s not because he loves to run and play around. Nope, it’s because he loves to methodically walk around the yard, smelling every spot and summing up what it means to his senses. I have no idea what he’s doing, but he spends hours back there, just sniffing around.
Taking it slow like Preston is another lesson that’s been very hard for me to learn. As an active traveler, I’ve often tried to see and do as much as time will possibly allow. As I grow older, though, I realize that this is a self-defeating approach. I’m actually experiencing less by speeding through everything 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 to really 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 and stopping to smell those (sometimes) proverbial roses.
Straight chilling. (Photo: Matt Long)
3. Be cautious but not fearful
All of my dogs were rescued from high-kill shelters, but Moya, my first, came from a truly bad situation. I’m not sure what happened to her before; I just know it wasn’t good. And while she’s definitely mellowed out over the years, she still has a certain edge that she will never lose. She is very cautious and skittish when faced with any new situation — like going somewhere for the first time — and approaches things with a great deal of caution. Once she’s scouted things out, though, she’s 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 approach new situations with healthy caution and skepticism — while at the same time not letting that caution turn into fear.
People often ask me if I’m scared when I set out to visit certain areas around the world. The answer is no, because I have never and will never knowingly put myself into a dangerous situation. I always approach everything new with a “trust but verify” mentality. You have to be like this when you travel. It’s good to keep a slight edge instead of being overly trusting, but also to never let that edge turn into outright fear. It’s fear that holds us back in life, and it’s fear that prevents many people from experiencing some amazing activities when they travel.
Be cautious — but not fearful. (Photo: Matt Long)
4. Try new things
This relates strongly to not being fearful, but it is so important that it bears repeating. I love my dogs, I really 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 toward another great lesson: Try as many new things as you can.
At home, I fall 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 foods that I’d never allow to grace my plate in my kitchen. That’s because, over the years, I’ve 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 doing 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.
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5. Kindness will always be returned
President Harry S. Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. That’s true anywhere, of course, because these lovable canines give more love than many would think possible — and all without even an inkling of ulterior motive. It’s just their nature to give love, but they certainly appreciate it when they get it back in return.
This amazing give-and-get experience happens all the time, but it is particularly special when we travel. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and to offer simple gestures of kindness for others. 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 we least expect it and creates a bond not only between people but between cultures as well. And the best part? That kindness is reciprocal, meaning you’ll receive help and kindness when you didn’t ask for it — but when you need it most.