My mother has never yelled at me as loud as she did that day. It was ten years ago. I was nine. We had just landed in the beach town of Goa, India, and things just weren’t going my way. I had hoped the airport would be relaxing, seamless; instead, it was decrepit, chaotic. I had hoped the waves would be blue, tropical, penetrable; instead, they were brown, muddy, too ferocious to engage. I was too young to put things into perspective, but certainly old enough to express my distaste through the vessel of periodic sniveling. It was supposed to be a weekend getaway for my mother and me, a chance for us to bond and spend quality time with one another. Instead, I wasted away most of the trip complaining about the chaos and the mud and the other things that hadn’t turned out as I’d hoped.
On the eve of our final day in Goa, my mother coincidentally bumped into a long lost friend in the hotel lobby. Naturally, she stopped to chat and catch up with him. Impatiently, I hurried back to our room and slammed the door behind me. Yet another interruption had separated reality from my preconceived fantasy of what the vacation was supposed to be. When she returned to the room, I chastised her for taking so long, projecting all of my frustration onto her. This final jab pushed her over the edge.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Do you know how ungrateful you’re being? Do you know how spoiled you are? Huh? Do you? Your cousin’s parents drove him to Arizona for the weekend and he was THRILLED! Thrilled! And here you are complaining about being all the way across the world? Huh? You’re so spoiled. I can’t believe it. So spoiled. So ungrateful. SO ungrateful. Look around you!
By the time the words escaped her mouth, my heart had already carved out a home in my gut, where it would stay indefinitely, for hours, days, and maybe weeks longer. I don’t remember much of that summer at all, but I will never forget the rage in her icy glare, the disappointment in the shaky timbre of her voice, the helplessness in the stress-induced curl of her spine. This is perhaps my most visceral memory of shame.
Ten years later, I am grateful that she yelled at me. I am grateful that she forced me to recognize that traveling, especially internationally, is an immense privilege. I am grateful that she emphasized to me the importance of flexibility when engaging in new experiences. I am grateful that she gave me a chance to take inventory of my values even at a young age. In some cases, tough love can be infinitely productive, and although I didn’t and she didn’t know it then, this was one of those cases.
The dedication to gratitude and flexibility that my mother drilled in me as a child defines who I am as a traveler now. I never know how a journey is going to play out in actuality, so I have to give myself enough legroom to be ready for anything. I never know when I am living in a moment that I will one day reminisce upon, so I might as well do my best to make each one worth the designation. I never know what wonders await in the spontaneous elements of travel I can’t foresee. And above all, I never know where I’ll be tomorrow. All we can rely on is that we exist—that we have today and that we have whatever space we’re inhabiting.
This past weekend, I explored Basel, Switzerland, a city which rests on the border of Switzerland, Germany, and France, with a small group of friends from Paris. Things didn’t exactly work out as we’d planned—the boat tour we intended to take was nowhere to be found, the chocolate museum we hoped to attend was closed, and it took us 45 minutes to find a train station from provincial Germany back into Switzerland after losing our path during a hike. But the stillness of the autumnal trees, the clarity in the Rhine, the multicultural essence embedded in the streets, the chance to breathe fresh air, the joy of partaking in a whole slew of new adventures—all of this made the setbacks worth it and then some. None of that was lost on me because I reminded myself of how grateful I should be to have such trivial problems. None of that was lost on me because I was equipped for anything, eager to maintain a positive outlook regardless of any problematic circumstances, as were my buoyant travel companions. Ultimately, I experienced one of the most special weekends of my entire life.
Ten years ago, I was naive and unaware of my veritable place in the world. Today, as a true global citizen, I am eternally grateful, and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been by virtue of that very gratitude.