Shirts. Check.

Jeans. Check.

Underwear. Check.

Snacks. Check.

Books for the plane. Check.

A yo-yo, piano music, bubble bath and the family cat? Whoever says you can’t take it all has obviously never seen a 3-year-old pack for a vacation. Looking pleased with himself, my toddler tries to zip up the luggage. I quickly take over, thanking him for such a great effort. He smiles — job completed — then runs off to see if he can help his older brother pack. I waited until his little blonde head was no longer in sight before pushing the cat out of the bag and emptying the majority of its contents.

The seventh rule of the Dalai Lama’s Rules of Life says “Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before.” I’m not Buddhist, but I love this piece of advice. So this year we bought tickets for Japan. I’ve always said we need to take vacations. We can always make more money. But we cannot always make memories.

With our bags finally packed, the sheep lambed out, goodbyes said to all our pets and my father-in-law’s American Express card tucked next to our passports (I’ve heard one should never leave home without it), we finally stepped into the airport where we voluntarily submit to being scanned, patted, searched and glared at for trying to smuggle mascara through our luggage without putting it into a clear plastic bag.

Finally settled into our seats, the kids snuggled up in the airline blankets, eye masks and slippers, and my husband and I held hands as we breathed in the first scents of vacation. I know there are many people who don’t believe in God, but at the first patch of rough turbulence, it seems everyone’s hoping there is a higher power, and whenever we land safely, we always seem to offer him a little something.

We did the temples. We did the shrines. Mt. Fuji, the suicide forest, ice caves and food. We ate a lot of food. And like all great travelers, we saw more than we remember, and we remember more than we saw!

Our kids enjoyed driving on the “wrong” side of the road, from the “wrong” side of the car and driving with “wrong” speeds (kilometers). As we filled up the gas tank one afternoon, my husband was muttering about how dumb kilometers were. I tried to convince him that since kilometers were shorter than miles, we were actually saving gas, and that we should always take our trips in kilometers. It didn’t work.

We saw the snow monkeys sitting in hot tubs. They laughed and hissed at us — with good reason. As I looked around, I saw all manner of cold, frozen humans, standing in the snow, taking pictures of monkeys that were relaxing in natural rock pools of warm water, sandwiched between two snowy mountain peaks — who were the real monkeys?

Traveling isn’t always pretty (sometimes it’s dirty train station floors), it isn’t always comfortable (just check out the blisters on your feet), sometimes it even hurts (arm strain from carrying a sleeping 3-year-old for miles), but that’s OK. The journey changes you. You can shake the dust from your shoes of each place you’ve been — but those dust fragments will never leave your memory. Traveling also allows you to learn new things. While reading a book one morning, I came across a word I wasn’t familiar with.

“Most women in Amsterdam in 1680 were proibido.”

Lacking a dictionary, I asked my husband to look it up on his phone. “Proibido” — a Portuguese word for prohibited.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know that!” my husband ribbed.

“Ha,” I laughed, “I suppose you are up on your Portuguese?”

“Not as much as I should be, considering I am Portuguese.”

I was stunned. Traveling definitely lets you learn new things. Like how your husband of 14 years is half Portuguese and his grandfather was Basque!

But of all the books I’ve ever read, the best stories are always found between the pages of a passport: where your feet are dirty, your hair is messy and your eyes are sparkling with life. I don’t know all the questions, but travel is definitely the answer!

Brianna Walker occasionally writes about the Farmer’s Fate for the Blue Mountain Eagle.

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