While I was growing up, my family and I traveled a lot. All the new, exciting places there were to see usually took priority over places we had already been, so there were very few locations I got to visit more than once. However, the one place that always seemed to defy this pattern was the Hawaiian island of Maui. In total, I have probably been to Maui eight or nine times, and I'm still not tired of it. At this point, it is like a second home to me. I know all my favorite activities to do there (though there are still plenty I haven't tried yet) and all my favorite places to eat. Maui is my escape from reality, and no new vacation spot could ever take its place in my heart.
The main attraction on the island is, of course, the beach, where sunbathing, surfing, and snorkeling are all popular pastimes. The ocean itself is home to many other entertainment opportunities, including scuba diving, submarining, and sailing. However, the most important ocean activity to experience while you're there is whale watching. The way the three Hawaiian islands of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai formed left the ocean somewhat blocked among them, which means the water on the west side of Maui remains relatively calm and shallow for an island in the middle of the ocean. It is for this very reason that Maui is such an excellent and well-known place for whale watching. Every winter, humpback whales travel from Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii to give birth in the calm, shallow water among the islands. These gentle giants are beautiful creatures that are incredible to watch. You can often see them from the beach, but taking a whale watching tour is the best way to see them up close.
I've never been one to enjoy clichés. Of course I participate in them just like anyone else, but I usually try to look for a more unique option in any situation. It was for this reason exactly that I wasn't really looking forward to the trip I had planned to Italy with my family. I would never turn down an opportunity to travel, but I would've preferred somewhere more exotic and unheard of. As it turned out, however, clichés aren't always a bad thing. Although Italy may be a popular tourist location, there is a reason: it is most definitely a place worth visiting.
Italy is an astounding country with culture, history, and beauty everywhere. Any type of traveler would love it because there is something there for everyone. For me, of course, the best part was the history. In fact, among the abundant artwork and architecture, history was almost inescapable. However, Italy's exceptionally rich history is only part of what made the country such a wonderful place to visit.
In recent years, discovering your ancestry has become a popular trend. It is interesting to know where you came from because, in my opinion, it allows where you're going to mean a little bit more. I, myself, am a mix of different heritages. I have ancestors from several different Native American tribes and ancestors from several countries in Europe. Growing up in Oklahoma, I lived in the homeland of my Native American predecessors for most of my life, but my first experience visiting the land of my ancestors abroad was when I went to Scotland.
Like England, Scotland is known for its perpetually damp climate. However, while England is very crowded with tourists and business persons, Scotland is quite peaceful and serene. The green, rolling hills are as comforting of a sight as any in the world, and the country has plenty of interesting history to enjoy as well.
My particular relation to Scotland is rather interesting. Sir William Wallace, the person Mel Gibson's character is based on in Braveheart, is my great uncle (with several extra greats of course). For those of you who haven't seen the movie, William Wallace was a Scottish revolutionary who fought for Scotland's independence from Britain during the Scottish Wars of Independence in the late 1200s. He was eventually captured by the British before being tortured and brutally killed as punishment for standing against British rule. In Scotland, he has become almost a mythical figure that is regarded as a national hero.
Although I was too young to see the movie Braveheart at the time, I knew about my heritage and my relation to this important figure before I visited Scotland. However, physically being in the place where so much history and so much of my ancestry took place was a life-changing experience. I was very young at the time, but knowing the importance of my ancestry to history in this beautiful place known as Scotland was still incredibly moving.
Although I have traveled extensively in my life, there are a few places that still remain nearer to my heart than any others. One of these places is China. This country became one of my favorites after I traveled there on a trip to see a good friend from my childhood. This friend was originally from South Korea but had come to Oklahoma with her family for a couple of years. When it was time for her to return home, I decided there was no better way to spend time with her than by taking a trip together. And what a wonderful trip it was!
Not only was China a country of rich culture and history, but it was also a country of growing importance in the modern world, and all of these factors combined to make my experience there astoundingly interesting and enjoyable. The beauty of China was that it wasn't just an urban country with lots of big cities, but it was also a country with a lot of rural areas as well, including farmland, beautiful mountains, and endless forests. When one thinks of China, an image of bustling cities and crowded public places may come to mind. However, this is only a narrow view of all this country has to offer.
In life, I have been lucky enough to have received a great education, and a very important part of that education has always been travel. As much as I have learned from great, inspiring teachers in college, high school, and even before, nothing can compare to the educational value of travel itself. Whether you're learning about Michelangelo's temper while gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, learning about the ancient traditions of the Incas while admiring the view from the top of Machu Picchu, or learning about the tunnels the ancient Egyptians built under the pyramids while exploring them yourself, the information you learn is bound to be more memorable if you experience it firsthand.
It is for this reason that I chose to go on a study abroad trip to Spain several years ago with friends from school. Aside from my love of travel, I also love the Spanish language and have been working to learn it for many years. As a non-native speaker, I can attest to the fact that the best way to learn any language is by traveling to the country where it is spoken. Without the experience of daily interactions with multiple people who speak the language, it is difficult to ever achieve fluency (or anything like it) in a second language.