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Our Great Layover: How to Better the World with a Travel Mindset at Home

I had started a blog for my company, SteamLine Luggage, a few months ago with the announcement that my family was going to travel for a year and would be documenting our adventures. We had just welcomed our fourth (and final!) son into our family and had planned on permanently leaving our Dublin home of […]

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Sara Banks with three of her four sons off the coast of Lamu, Kenya, in 2019.
Sara Banks with three of her four sons off the coast of Lamu, Kenya, in 2019.

I had started a blog for my company, SteamLine Luggage, a few months ago with the announcement that my family was going to travel for a year and would be documenting our adventures. We had just welcomed our fourth (and final!) son into our family and had planned on permanently leaving our Dublin home of ten years for a spin around the world. We had covered a bit of ground with our children already, tuk-tukking through Sri Lanka, on safari in Kenya and Botswana, and dipping our toes into China. Timing-wise, this plan was even more practical for us than a year of city life, and the children were young enough to let their classroom be the world. It was our attempt to make our lives feel a little longer, to slow down and dive deep into communities, and it was going to be rich with the kind of learning we had been craving for ourselves and the boys since becoming parents seven years ago. We were going to take our businesses fully remote and fulfill the dream of uprooting from our routines to get outside our bubbles, letting our sixsome enjoy the pure exhilaration of exploration. 

But then the pandemic rocked all our worlds, followed by the global social crisis that shook our foundation, and has forever changed our worldview. Before we knew it we, like everyone else, were made to look straight at our core values and decide to fight for what was important to us. And in the midst of all the chaos and uncensored self-assessment, I found myself feeling proud of the human spirit for its better angels of mutual love, for our infinite adaptability, for the way we are hellbent not only on surviving but thriving.  

As I consider the tremendous political reforms needed to address systemic racism, the lengths that the conscientious are going to in order to protect their fellow neighbor, I keep clinging to a  humble hope that an ethos of communal care—a life where we see our neighbor as an extension of ourselves, as someone who bears similar struggles, or whose differences we can embrace and empathize with—is a way everyone can help combat the challenges we are fighting today. Our collective awakening has made me think that perhaps there is no greater teacher of a generous worldview than travel, the urge to try to understand other cultures, the spongy attitude we must adapt when stepping on someone else’s turf, the adaptability we cultivate when all knowns are cast aside and we become reliant on trusting someone whose culture may be so far from our own, a new guide and friend on foreign soil.

Personally speaking, my family travels to escape in a different way—less from than into, less to rest our minds than to stimulate our imaginations—in the process of working to understand other communities, cultures, and lives. We go fewer places but stay longer, trying to become part of the woodwork for a while and to take baby steps in others’ shoes. The incredible joy of the human connections we’ve formed on our adventures led to my building a company and life around seeing the world. Right now many people are communicating their hunger to pause, listen, and learn. Travel teaches us precisely this—the Oz-like magic that gently unfolds the moment we step on foreign soil and all our senses begin to soak up other customs and ways of life, to listen deeply and openly in order to understand what people do differently and why. At this crucible moment I believe that in a sense we are being called to act as travelers in our home countries, to acknowledge just how much we don’t know, what our truest selves may have to share, and the lessons from others that we must take home. 

The moment our borders reopen, my family will resume traveling for the very reasons we have made it an essential priority of our lives: because we want our children to know how special this world is, to see how many differences we can have yet be the same, to show them how other people live, experience how they go to school, eat what they eat. I want them to see that they can develop a community around them by simply engaging with other people, that feeling new to a place is scary and how good it feels when being welcomed into a community—so that they will do it in turn for others. I feel that the more we can bridge these cultural gaps, the more empathetic we will be to others, the happier we will feel, and the better place our world will become.

We may have been given a hard lesson but perhaps it’s an opportunity to reconcile errors in the way we lived before the health, economic, and social crises that are upon us. Let us not squander the opportunity to live warmly and openly, with real empathy for others. If it is so easy to bridge cultural barriers when we step on foreign soil, maybe we can practice the re-emergence into our own homelands with the same compassionate views for our communities, to walk in our neighbors’ shoes for a step or two, to listen to each other until we find a common thread. May we return to work with a plan to protect our employees’ physical health with proper virus protection and their mental health with reasonable expectations for their time, along with the flexibility that empowers the best work—and happiest worker. May we return to society armed with informed love in lieu of implicit bias. Not because we were told to but because we have learned to actually care, inside our hearts, about the human lives connected to our own. Because, in the all-too contemporary words of Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So instead of blogging about my family adventures for the foreseeable future, I’m going to pursue my longtime dream of building a community around my company, a kindred network of travel lovers who uphold their cultural values wherever they roam…or stay safe-in-place…as their case may be! I hope to help exchange the wisdom of our editor, influencer, and customer friends as we have never needed each other more. May our community, like every well-intentioned community, be a harbinger of brighter days to come.

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