2016 Travel Resolutions and Lessons from My Dog

by Tausha Cowan in

The first several days of 2016 have already been an interesting rollercoaster. I rang in the year in Boracay, Philippines watching fireworks on the beach with friends and exuberant strangers. It was an unforgettable experience and a memorable way to kick off 2016. Less than 48 hours later, my childhood dog of 19 years passed away while I was in Hong Kong, leaving me unexpectedly devastated and distraught at being so far away from my grieving family. 

During the long, 15-hour flight back to New York, I thought about those first few days of the new year and how they would shape the way I approach 2016. 

I also thought about my dog Nina, what I have learned from her during the almost two decades she was part of our family and how that applies to my travel resolutions for 2016. And while it may sound like a tenuous connection to relate my dog to my travels, there is more in common there than even I initially realized:

The Joy of Discovery
Similar to babies, there's something about watching a puppy discover new things that makes me happy. The rediscovery of something through the eyes of someone who's never experienced that thing before gives you new perspective and feels as though you're also seeing it for the first time. My dog, like many other dogs, was a curious puppy and would often find herself joyfully discovering something new, whether it was food she wasn't supposed to eat or the delicious wood paneling in our house that she loved to chew (my parents didn't appreciate this discovery). That act of discovering something new and taking joy in it, whether it's in places near or far, within the familiar or the unfamiliar, is something I plan to do more of in 2016, particularly in places that are familiar. It's easy to discover something new when you travel far to the unknown but it takes more effort to see and appreciate new things in places you feel you already know. The only difference between my discoveries and my dog's is that I won't be chewing on any wood.

Delight in the Little Things
Nina was delighted by a lot of things, most of which goes back to food and affection. What I loved about her delight — and the delight of many dogs — is that her excitement would emerge at things I wouldn't expect her to still be excited about after so many years. Whether it's my mom coming home from work again, causing her to run and wag her tail vigorously until she was picked up and hugged, or someone giving her a vigorous belly rub again, or the 10 billionth bacon treat she got for being a "good girl" — she was so easily excited about seemingly little things, but more than that, her excitement never dissipated. During my travels this year (and in life), I want to be just as excited about the little things and to not take anything for granted. A beautiful moon, a pretty sunset, a colorful flower — whatever it is, I want to have the same continuous excitement and appreciation my dog had over her bacon treats. 

Pausing to Enjoy the Moment
One of the curious things Nina occasionally liked to do whenever we would take her outside was to just stop and sit in the grass for awhile. She also liked to find the sunny spot in our house and would park herself there for hours. It always fascinated me to see her pause and enjoy where she was. Of course as a child I would rarely leave her be but as I got older, I understood her need to be still. Sometimes I would grab a blanket, bring it into our backyard and Nina and I would sit quietly and enjoy ourselves. These days, I don't think I pause enough to enjoy the moment in both my travels and daily life. I'm often thinking of the thing I still need to do or the place I still need to see next. One exception was during my recent island hopping in Palawan (one of my favorite travel moments of last year). I remember sitting on the boat as we were heading back to El Nido Town and being so attuned to the sunshine, the sea and the way the islands jutted out of the ocean in fascinating shapes and sizes. It was a rare moment of pause for me that I plan to do more of in 2016.

It's Okay to Meander
As she got older in age, my dog began to embrace and even perfect aimless meandering. She would roam around our house for hours, seemingly without any specific purpose in mind, though I suspect food was always an underlying cause.  Her wanders always amused my family because we often wondered what she was looking for and what she was thinking. But perhaps she wasn't looking for anything — or perhaps she was looking for food. Another thought is maybe she just wanted to meander for the sake of meandering. It makes me wonder when was the last time I did that. I remember when I first moved to New York, one of my main hobbies was meandering. I would wander around the city for hours with no direction or purpose; I just wanted to walk and see where my wandering would take me. These days with work, social appointments and other things happening in my life, I realized it's been a long time since I've had a few hours of quality meandering, both around my neighborhood and when I'm traveling. Of course now that we're deep in the midst of winter, I probably won't be meandering around New York for a few more months, but my dog's aimless wandering reminded me that it's okay — more than okay, it's great — to meander. 

Though I will miss my childhood dog more than words can say, I'm grateful she was part of my life for so long and that she taught me some valuable lessons I can apply to my travels. So to my dog, Nina, I say thank you, I miss you already and I hope you're getting endless belly rubs and bacon treats in doggy heaven.

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