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Inspired By A Life Of Travel
By Debbie McKeown

My passion for travel and outdoor adventure began at an early age. Growing up on my family’s farm in Ontario, Canada, I spent my days exploring the great outdoors and my evenings reading Nancy Drew mysteries and action books that featured lots of horses. Big adventures beckoned. I loved my surroundings but always felt a sense of restlessness and a desire to experience places and meet people beyond our small farming community.

Fast forward many years … with my husband Jack, I have currently visited 43 countries (and counting) and all of the continents. Each destination has left me with a lasting impression of the beauty of the world, whether it be through the landscapes, people or animals. As I consider my evolving travel portfolio, I realize that travel has really shaped who I am today. It has instilled within me the values that I consider most important.

One of these values that I cherish most is an ability to embrace the differences while understanding the commonality of humans throughout the world. I have encountered kind and compassionate people in every single one of the countries I have visited. I’ll never forget the week we spent with the Huaorani people, an indigenous group that lives deep in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, desperately trying to maintain their traditional lifestyle in a rapidly modernizing world.

At the outset, it seemed we wouldn’t have much in common. The Huaorani perceive Canada simply as “a very cold place that takes more than 60 days to walk to.” Yet despite often needing two translators, we connected with the Huaorani on a level that still seems magical to me. We told them about snow and they told us about the forest and the pressures impacting their lifestyle. We laughed, gestured, sang and danced together. The Huaorani taught me that our outward differences can actually be a vehicle for connecting and understanding one another. They welcomed us to their homes with gifts and by painting our faces with red plant dye. We found them fascinating. They found us fascinating.

One of the values I hold in highest regard is respect for people who are different than we are, whether through culture, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. I feel grateful to the Huaorani and others we have met through our travels for cementing this so strongly in my psyche.

Like many people, Jack and I have spent our lives working hard. We have always appreciated our jobs and adhered to a strong work ethic. This is all good, but it is only within the past several years that we have both committed to also volunteering our time in our community. We no longer consider volunteering something that may or may not fit into our leisure time. It has gained increased importance in our lives and has become essential. While on a three-week trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, we continually encountered the humanitarian work of Sir Edmund Hillary, the region’s most famous visitor. Hillary is well known for being the first human to stand on Mt. Everest, the highest spot on the planet, but perhaps his greatest legacy is the generous gift of his time and commitment to the people of Nepal.

Khumjung is a neat and orderly town that sits high in the Khumbu Valley. Its stone fences and potato fields are flanked by homes and a prominent grouping of buildings that is the school built by Edmund Hillary. It is the most important school in the entire Khumbu Region and several of our guides attended it, walking many hilly miles from other villages in the area. The Sherpa people speak of Edmund Hillary as a friend who listened to them and worked hard to help them achieve the goal of educating their children and breaking the chains of illiteracy. The school at Khumjung is just one of Hillary’s many projects in Nepal.

Edmund Hillary volunteered his time and resources to make a difference, and in doing so inspired us to think about what we can do as volunteers, globally or right in our own communities. Our observations of Hillary’s work in Nepal had a lasting impact on me. I am proud that I have volunteered for literacy, the arts and most recently with Special Olympics, an organization that provides sports opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities. Each and every hour I volunteer is an hour well spent. It’s a well-worn cliché that you get as much or more back from volunteering than you actually give. I believe it’s true, and I’m willing to bet Edmund Hillary would have agreed.

Throughout my travels, I have been consistently awestruck by humanity’s passion for the arts. Europe’s dazzling cathedrals, petroglyph-filled caves in New Mexico, Japan’s simplistic rock gardens, and the bright red wraps of Africa’s Masai warriors … all are examples of ways we humans bring beauty and inspiration to our lives. And, it doesn’t have to be visual arts. The gamelan bands of Indonesia, the rousing step dances of Ireland, and Argentina’s seductive tango are also creative forms of self-expression. Of the many nations I’ve visited, regardless of whether they are wealthy or less developed, every single one has exhibited evidence of the creative human spirit.

On a year-long trip throughout Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, we once met a Canadian man who was travelling with a small box of paints and a sketchpad. He proceeded to show us the portfolio of work he had created. It was an ideal souvenir, his own artistic impressions of the sights he had seen and the things he had experienced. I was incredibly excited and determined to enrol in art classes the minute I got home. I eventually found that with some effort, I was able to produce passable pencil sketches. Colour pencil was fun, but anything that involved a paintbrush felt impossible. I kept working at it off and on, but it has now been a few years since I’ve tackled anything visually creative. In contrast, it feels effortless for me to put my thoughts and impressions down on paper at the end of a day of travel. The words flow easily onto the page as I replay the events of the day in my mind. I realize now that writing in my travel journals has become my artistic expression. It is through travel that I found my art form.

I hope to travel to many more countries in my lifetime, and am confident that I will gain even more insights and truths, allowing me to thrive and grow. Acceptance and respect for the differences of others, a strong sense of volunteerism, and discovery of a love for writing are all direct results of my rich travel experiences. Learning is a lifelong process and I am grateful that travel has provided me opportunities for these elements of personal growth. The world has offered me much wonder and beauty. And best of all, the values that I have gained through travel are beyond what I ever imagined possible while reading those childhood adventure stories.

Debbie Mckeown Bio:

I am a British Columbia-based freelance writer who has travelled widely on all seven continents. This passion for travel extends to sharing my adventures with audiences of all ages. My articles have appeared online and in print publications in Canada, the United States and England. For a complete list of recently published material, please click here. Please see my website (www.djmckeown.com) to learn more about me.

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COMMENTS (2) | inspiration, self growth, tolerance
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Comments

2 Responses to “Inspired By A Life Of Travel”

  1. Mark Shaw
    September 16th, 2011 @ 5:58 am

    It has beeen a great blessing to have seen the parts of the world you have traveled through your eyes as writter.

  2. Sara
    September 16th, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    So often you hear people say how valuable an experience travel is, but I’ve never read anything before that so beautifully captures the ‘why’ of that.

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