Travel Lessons: Every Day is a Gift

Bleary-eyed, dizzy and disoriented from an overnight ten hour flight, I walked and walked and walked the beautiful city of Sydney, Australia. And then I stopped, sat down, and dozed asleep sitting upright on a bench in the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was 4pm in the afternoon on a mild day in May. Thirty minutes later, I woke up to a sunset over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House of Sydney. I watched the sun slowly descend below the skyline of central Sydney to mark the end of the day. I was awestruck, mesmerized, and felt blessed to be there (and awake) to see that beautiful sunset.

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We all love sunsets. It’s the part of the day when things slow down, people get off work, and the lights from the streets and the buildings start to turn on. Day becomes night. And it’s also when you see the sky turn from blue to red or pink or orange or some combination of those colors. The wonderful array of colors only lasts for not more than thirty or forty minutes, until the sky becomes dark black. During those colorful moments of the sunset, you realize how each day is a gift, which should be cherished and used to its full capacity.

As I walked back through the city to my apartment, I noticed lime green banners with white lettering up above, hanging from the street lights, with a simple suggestion for crossing the street.

The sign read, “Stop. Look. Listen. Think.”

We cross roads every day of our life and we engage in this natural reaction of crossing the street, so I was intrigued how the Sydney government was advertising this slogan throughout the city. As I walked with the crowds of people making their way after work to the train stations, bus stations, parking lots, and other destinations, I noticed people quickly darting through the city. Everyone was in a hurry to get to where they needed to be, as if robotically moving from point A to point B.

So do we ever really stop, look, listen, and think?

Travel makes us cross roads that we have never been on before. Because we are in a different land, everything is new and fresh. The architecture is different, some of the vehicles vary to what we see at home, and the locals and their fashion sense differ from what we are used to. We look, we snap photos, we may listen, and we sometimes smile. Few are the moments for pause and reflection.

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If anything, travel is a reminder to us to really start thinking. By putting yourself in new places, you are able to discover the differences and realize the similarities of the people and things around you. You see how in even the most developed cities of Sydney, San Francisco, and Shanghai, poverty still exists amongst the BMWs and Audis that zip by on the streets the destitute live on. You see how devout a Bangkok taxi driver is to Buddha when he buys fresh flowers from a roadside vendor for his little golden Buddha statue that sits on his taxi meter. You see how Taipei office workers, on their way to work in the mornings, give offerings of food and burn incense at a small Buddhist shrine, located on the corner of a neighborhood park. You see Japanese mothers wearing high heels and riding their bicycles along busy Tokyo streets, with a toddler sitting on the front and the older child sitting at the back.

By observing these cultural differences and reflecting upon them, travel puts us in a place where we could not be at home. The noise and the busyness of our normal routines at home do not exist when we are on the road, thus we’re allowed time to stop and think. We make it a point to watch sunrises and sunsets when we travel because we are doing it in a foreign land. We will remember it more so than if we were watching it on any other day at home. And it’s in the moments of the sunset that we indeed stop to think.

Over the course of the next three days in Sydney, I watched three sunsets all from different places and vantage points. What was consistent in each of the experiences was that I was filled with gratitude and joy for what I had accomplished that day and for all the blessings in my life, most notably my family and friends. With each sunset, I was renewed with energy to continue traveling for the mere pleasure to stop, look, listen, and think.

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How many sunsets have you watched in your life?
What did you do today to make your life meaningful?
Was it another day in which things were just the same as usual?

Here’s my simple advice to you to take a day of travel wherever you are (as inspired by the Sydney government):

Stop what you’re doing before the end of the day.
Look at the sunset.
Listen to the sounds around you.
Think why you are there.

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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