Sharing the World’s Stories

Liebster Award Nomination
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada: The Highland Heart

Dublin, Ireland.

I’m standing on a stretch of gravel, surrounded by gray. Gray ground, gray stone walls that soar high over my head, even an iron gray sky, the clouds hovering so low that it begins to feel claustrophobic. I am trapped in an oppressive, gray box, the air hanging thick and humid around me.

There are only two splashes of color. The first is in the form of two small, dark brown crosses, situated on either end of the courtyard, a somber reminder of the purpose behind this gravel stretch.

The second is a flag, proudly waving its colors of orange, white, and green.

These are the execution grounds of Kilmainham Gaol.

An hour prior I hadn’t known this place existed. I hadn’t known about the dozens of Irish political prisoners that died here, hanged or shot, in a world awash with gray. I hadn’t read the goodbye letters of young men, no older than eighteen, as they awaited their inevitable death. I hadn’t seen the cramped cells, dank hallways, or somber chapel that became a final home for so many people.

A letter written from a young man to his mother the night before his execution.A letter written from a young man to his mother the night before his execution at Kilmainham Gaol.
A letter written from a young man to his mother the night before his execution.

It was one of those unexpected experiences that you sometimes come across on the road. One of those moments that reaches deep inside and touches your heart, leaving a piece of the story with you forever. It reminded me that, while the beer was great and the Irish landscapes were beautiful, I was here for more than that. I was here for the stories.

My experience at Kilmainham Gaol made me think about the bigger question. Why do we travel? What makes us put one foot in front of the other, hop on that airplane or train, and seek out new and foreign lands? What attracts us to that which is so different, when time and time again humanity has proven that it tries to segregate itself, isolating the differences between people and using them as social and behavioral markers.

Oh, he’s from Ireland, so of course he drinks a lot. Her? No, she’s from the Middle East and that means we should feel sorry for her. Be careful talking to him, he’s just another gun-toting American.

How often have you heard something similar? Some stereotypical generalization based simply on where someone is from? Unfortunately, it happens time and time again, around the world.

But I like to think that those who travel are unique. We recognize differences, yes. Our brain is wired to do so. But instead of fearing the foreign, we embrace it. We immerse ourselves in it. We ask questions and, in doing so, we open doors to worlds that others will never have the joy of experiencing.

Travelers are like children, wide-eyed and curious. They want to take in the world, absorb it without judgment, and share their discoveries with as many people as will listen. This is a beautiful thing.

This is why I travel. I hope it’s why you travel.

thewindow

My experience at Kilmainham Gaol was a poignant reminder of how little I know, and how much of the world has yet to reveal its secrets to me. Every country, every city, every individual carries with them a story that is waiting to be shared. This gives us a powerful responsibility. As strangers in their lives and lands it is our duty to listen, without judgment, to these stories.

And then, when we inevitably move on, it is our duty to share them. Not for our own gratification. Not to say, “Hey, look where I’ve been. Look what I’ve done.” But to encourage understanding and to remind people that just because something is different, that doesn’t make it any less human.

As travelers, we are ambassadors of the world’s stories. We carry them from every corner of the globe, trading them and planting the seeds of acceptance and understanding. We nurture them and add our own unique flavor. If we are lucky, we ignite the passion to learn and listen in another, and they, too become ambassadors.

It is, in many ways, the most important job of all.

What is the most poignant, surprising, or unexpected story you’ve come across in your travels? Please share in the comments!


 

This post is a part of the #SundayTraveler link up. Check out Chasing the Donkey and the other hosts for more great travel insights.

Liebster Award Nomination
Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada: The Highland Heart
  • Great post! Whenever you come across something that makes you take a step back and ponder your reasons for traveling, it really puts everything into perspective. We travel for our love of exploration and knowing that there is so much more to see out there than what our naked eye can see. It’s all about expanding your horizons and realizing that you can learn so much from getting out of your comfort zone and traveling the world.

  • I wish everyone would think as you/we do. I think when we travel we open ourselves to the rest of the world. One of our mottos is “replace fear with curiosity” 🙂

  • There are so many poignant moments but I don’t think I have the right words to describe them in a way that does them justice. Travel unfailingly makes me appreciate the beauty of my surroundings- people and places- wherever those surroundings happen to be.

  • I think I travel for similar reasons…and at times the reasons shift in one way or the other. For me the unexpected story was travelling leaving one small island and heading to three different countries and noticing the difference in how people noticed me in passing. It was blatant at times I almost blended in, almost a no body other times I was one of a kind, something to be stared at…too much attention almost a spectacle it was an eye opener.

    • It is interesting to see how others perceive you. What countries were you visiting?

  • What a thought provoking post! When people ask why we write about our travels they often feel its to brag about the places we have visited or because we want to be able to attach photos of the picturesque places we have been to but it is far more than that. As you say, we have a responsibility to share our knowledge with others. We all write in a different style, about different things but each of us share something that will be meaningful to others that, if we didn’t, would eventually be forgotten about over the course of time – especially some of the smaller places that we as travellers often visit when we decide we need to get “off the beaten track” for a while. For anyone that is struggling to remember why they started writing in the first place, they need to read (and potentially re-read this post) to remind them! 🙂

    • Thank you so much. 🙂 Also, wow, I’ve only glanced at your blog, but I love it! Traveling and books? Perfection! I’ll definitely be perusing for some ideas!

  • I loved this! It is definitely so important to remember these moments. At home and abroad. One of my favorite things I noticed was a small group of elderly people (from a nordic type country, I cannot be sure) were at our hotel near Niagara falls. They approached the pool, and to my surprise and delight they each jumped straight into the deep end. Didn’t even test the water. In that moment I thought, I want to remember that and channel it daily!

    I learned some really sweet stories when we visited the Titanic cemetery in Nova Scotia as well. But those are more sad and much longer to type. Though you can find them on this page if you are interested: http://simplyalexandramyfavoritethings.blogspot.com/2013/08/snapshots-of-halifax-nova-scotia-summer.html

    Thank you for sharing,

    Alexandra
    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    • Thanks for the comment! Oh, man, I have a small obsession with Titanic stories. Had a fascinating visit to Cobh, Ireland last summer where we paid their maritime museum a visit. They had such interesting stories about both the Titanic and the Lusitania, and just the general history of emigration in Ireland. I look forward to reading the stories from Nova Scotia!

    • Alexandra, my grandmother was from Nova Scotia–Jessi and I would love to visit the Titanic cemetery and sites there!

  • It’s amazing the what moments affect us both in life and on the road.

  • Such a well written and thought provoking post Jessi. This certainly one of the reasons why I travel too. If I only ever discovered stories along the way I’d be very happy with that indeed.

  • Beautiful post, really heartfelt. I have tried to write something along those lines but somehow it always came across as smug and presumptuous. So, I reached for the delete button. Your post, on the other hand, is amazing.

    • Haha, you know, that’s funny, because I totally asked Tara to read over the post first because I was worried about coming across as presumptuous! I think as writers we’re always a bit hard on ourselves. If you mean it, your intentions will shine through!

      • I don’t think it’s possible for Jessi to sound presumptuous, haha. Thanks for reading!

  • Such a “straight-from-the-heart” kind of post! I agree there’s no better way to learn than doing it through travelling. I have visited Kilmainham Gaol, and did realise that there’s so much to know/learn about Irish history, and the visit did leave a lump on my throat somewhere!

  • Great article – travel isn’t all fun and games. It’s about learning more about the world, the history, cultures and gaining a new perspective on life. This would be one of those experiences that made you really think about the value of life, how fortunate we are and make you think.

  • It’s not so common that I bump into such an interesting and genuine post! I really feel identified with your thoughts about traveling and our responsibility. I will share your post with my followers!

    • Thank you Gabor! I appreciate it and I’m glad you liked it!

  • I think traveling is the best school/university one can attend. I have learned a lot through travelling, and not just about a country`s history, but also about social aspects or problems.

    • That’s a good point, Tammy. It isn’t just about the past — it’s about the present and the future too. Every country has its own current upheavals, and it’s interesting to see which issues rise to the surface in each country.

  • Very well put, I love ‘Travelers are like children, wide-eyed and curious’ – that is pretty much exactly what I was saying to a friend the other day, the more I travel, the more I regain my child like wonder of the world and that is priceless.

  • I love this post! You made some good points in your article. I believe that if we are open-minded and if we take the time to get to know the people and their culture, we will learn a lot from them – information and stories that you would never find in a guide book.

    I blogged about how I ‘accidently’ participated in a temple procession In Taiwan and it still one of my fondest memories and experiences in Taiwan. Here is a link if you would like it check it out! http://foreignsanctuary.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/stuck-in-the-middle-temple-procession-in-taiwan/

  • Paul

    Wow, really great article – extremely well written and thought provoking. I love learning on my travels about people, culture and history – it helps me to connect to a place. I also get annoyed by stereotypes and generalisations – Hailing from England, people assume I speak like the queen, have bad teeth, and know Tony Blair!!!

    • You mean you don’t? Haha, just kidding. England is one of those places that is absolutely full of false stereotypes. For a small place, it’s incredibly diverse!

  • Love the idea that it’s our responsibility as travellers to share the stories of the places we have travelled to. I travel with my children and that is one of the important lessons that I want them to learn – that we aren’t just travelling to see places and things but to learn about the people and their stories.

    • I love that you’re passing the message on to your children. I don’t have kids, but I’m a huge proponent of instilling a love of travel in a person at a young age — and that includes an appreciation for why you travel! I have very fond memories of traveling when I was young. 🙂

  • I didn’t make it inside Kilmainham Gaol, but I did get to the outside of the attraction. Loved your take on the story and your opening description. Love traveling and reflecting on things like visiting the gaol did to you.

  • Great post – I agree with you completely! 🙂 I love that photo as well by the way! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

  • Beautiful and poignant…love this post!

  • You’ve summed it up perfectly. Nothing expends our horizons like travel does. And you’re right “when we inevitably move on, it is our duty to share them”. Great post!

  • So glad to have read this just now, it left a big smile on my face. I cant think of that one moment, but I know each time I go someplace knew I like to spend time doing a little reflection. Big thanks for linking up with us for #SundayTraveler

    • I’m glad you liked it, and I’m glad it made you smile! If you think of a story, please share! I love hearing about moments that have a profound impact on others. 🙂

  • “Every country, every city, every individual carries with them a story that is waiting to be shared.” Yes! What a poignet reflection of what it means to be a traveling. I completely agree with what you have written and you’ve said it better than I ever could. Great post.

  • Hi! I found this blog through the Part Time Travelers FB Page and I am so excited to follow along on your adventures! I am a 20-something newlywed based in the NE Kansas area. My husband and I are big on US road trips and Canadian Travel. We of course aspire to travel further upon acquiring normal non-student jobs etc. But we travel as much as possible. I keep a lifestyle blog that has a focus in travel, I would love it if you stopped by so we could connect and swap travel tips and recommendations! My site is undergoing a redesign… but you can find my travel posts under the ‘passport’ tab. 🙂

    -Alexandra
    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    • Thanks, Alexandra! I’m excited to dig through your site. I, too, love road trips and am in the process of planning one through the southeast USA. I’d love to swap stories sometime! Happy traveling. 🙂

  • Great post. I sometimes find it difficult to explane why exactly I think traveling is so important, no only for me but for everyone. You are spot on with this post, and it’s beautiful written!

  • Wow I love this post! I think you hit it right on the nail of why we travel (and said it better than I could hope to!). I’ve only begun my own rtw trip not too long ago, and I hope to gather many stories from all over the world, and see the world in a new brighter light 🙂

    • Thank you! I hope to do a rtw one of these days, and can’t imagine how many amazing stories you’ll run into! I can’t wait to read them. 🙂 Have fun!