Christmas tree ornaments
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The True Spirit and Meaning of Travel: What We Can Learn From Christmas 2020

The year is 2020; and here we go again: after almost two months of what seems to be non-stop advertisements for endless sales and a continuous onslaught of music in celebration of one of the holiest days for Christians around the world, there are people who believe that the true spirit and meaning of Christmas is lost in a vast sea of commercialism and profit — and I could not help but wonder if a similar sentiment can be analogous to the true spirit and meaning of travel…

The True Spirit and Meaning of Travel: What We Can Learn From Christmas 2020

Santa Claus Bristol
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

…but this year, the proliferation of Christmas everywhere is understandable: after what the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — and, more importantly, the arguable overreaction and inept mishandling of it as a response and result — has ushered into society in general, many people have endured unimaginable suffering through most of the year 2020 in terms of loss of livelihood, loss of health, and loss of freedom of movement.

The travel industry was actually a mixed year for customers: bargains abounded, achieving elite level status became easier, the expiration of miles and points in most frequent travel loyalty programs were extended, and many airlines “permanently” eliminated change fees and other ancillary fees — along with the draconian policies which were associated with them — but travel itself also ground to a virtual halt due to the temporary decimation of the travel industry as a whole, which suddenly rendered travel to many places either extremely difficult or impossible.

Although the miles and points of frequent travel loyalty programs can indeed be potentially valuable to being able to better afford travel; and while elite level status in a frequent travel loyalty program can result in enjoying the opulence of luxurious benefits and amenities — such as fine foods and creature comforts at theoretically no extra cost — they are not the reasons why I travel.

Regardless, some people will do just about anything when a potentially lucrative deal is presented. There is a real adrenaline rush when considering the lengths some people will go to secure a deal — no matter how potentially lucrative it might be; and especially considering that the consummation of the deal may not be guaranteed — and such stories can be the foundations for interesting articles…

…but are miles, points and elite level status generally the commercialism equivalent of travel in recent years? As has been said by some people pertaining to the modern perception of Christmas, has the true spirit and meaning of travel become lost in the frenzy of taking advantage of that next great deal?

Not this year.

Although some people carelessly and selfishly go about their lives as though a pandemic was of absolutely no threat to anyone else, other people have isolated themselves in their basements in fear of contracting what they believe is a guaranteed death sentence.

Those are the extremes, in my opinion. We should absolutely be concerned about the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — that has been my stance since the very beginning of this health emergency — but not to the point of the aforementioned extremes. We should not be doing nothing; but we also should not be panicking, either.

Furthermore, the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic has sharply divided the world — chiefly by exposing existing underlying important issues which have been significantly magnified — and reiterated the need for us to be more respectful towards one another. Assist each other by sharing helpful information. Say please, thank you, and apologize when warranted, as I never thought of doing so as a sign of weakness. If conflict or criticism becomes necessary, do so constructively. Take the time and effort to give feedback. If a person who left a legitimate critical comment for me was willing to take the time and effort out of his or her day — even if it were only for a few minutes — to bother to give me feedback, then I feel honored. As I wrote in this article:

No one is perfect; and no company associated with travel is perfect either. Constructive criticism — which I absolutely invite from you pertaining to The Gate, by the way — is essential in helping the subject of that criticism to improve. If a person is willing to take the time to post positive or negative reviews instead of using that time on something else, then it should be appreciated. I have said it before multiple times — such as in this article — and I will say it again: Constructive feedback is a gift.

My day is truly brightened when I find out that an article which I wrote helps someone who reads it and that person takes the time to let me know. That is what writing a weblog should be about, in my opinion — helping, informing and entertaining others…

…and by doing something which is so simple as treating another person with friendly respect, you too can do your part in helping to ensure that the world is better for that person — even if only a little bit — and help to strengthen hope for the future that things will get better.

Travel and Christmas as Topics is Nothing New

Hampton Inn Tarpon Springs
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Travel and Christmas are integral parts of the story of the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie which debuted the life of seemingly hapless George Bailey in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, New York where his passion for travel was surpassed only by his determination to always be moral and ethical in doing the right thing.

At one point, a simple yet costly mistake committed by his Uncle Billy unraveled everything for which George Bailey had worked hard — so hard that he never did get an chance to indulge in his passion to travel all over the world, which caused him to become so despondent that he contemplated committing suicide on Christmas Eve by plunging off of an old bridge into the icy waters of a raging river during a snowfall at night. A bumbling Christmas angel named Clarence had to show him what life would have been like had he never been alive — and to this day, I find it amazing how much we all matter — to one extent or another — to the lives of people around us.

You and I are so fortunate to have done many times over what George Bailey never had a chance to do — but although travel might have been easier had frequent travel loyalty programs existed back then, does anyone really believe that he would have been obsessed with miles, points and elite level status?

There is nothing wrong with engaging in the excitement of snagging that next great deal to build up the balance of miles or points in that frequent travel loyalty program account. In fact, I have been known to participate in that myself now and then…

…but for me, travel is not about miles and points and elite level status, which are simply means to an end. Travel is a passion of mine which is about visiting new places; learning new languages; observing the rituals and traditions of various cultures; trying new foods to eat; and enjoying experiences one would not experience at home. It is about looking out the window and watching the world pass by on my way from one destination to another. It brings about a better education of other people like no other medium in the world — an education which encourages diversity; discourages stereotyping; strengthens tolerance; and promotes understanding all year long. I have learned far more from traveling than from anything else.

Similarly, I have heard people say that Christmas is the time of year where peace, joy, love, cheer and helping others should be spread by all people around the world. I never understood why Christmas should be different than any other time of the year. Shouldn’t what makes Christmas such a special time of year to millions of people around the world be observed all year long?

Although Christmas is rooted in the religious teachings of Christianity, it not only has unfortunately transcended to vast commercialization — but on a more positive note, also has fortunately transcended to a spirit which is not recognized by the boundaries of religion. If someone wishes a merry Christmas to a person who is not Christian, I do not believe it is out of ignorance or a desire to convert that person. Rather, I believe that the person is simply wishing the best for the recipient of that greeting — regardless of religious belief.

As one example, employees of a rental car location in Abu Dhabi wished me a happy Eid-Al Adha — and I was not offended in the least even though I am not Muslim. In fact, I smiled, as I found it thoughtful that they included me in their wishes pertaining to a holy day in Islam — regardless of whether or not I was Muslim.

One tradition to remember your travels — if you do not already do it — is to pick up a small souvenir made in the country in which you travel and hang it on your Christmas tree every year. Every souvenir you hang on your tree will remind you of your travel to that particular country — as well as what you experienced and learned there. Admiring a tree such as that would eventually be like seeing the whole world at once.

Then again, eating Christmas dinner from a can likely would not want be a new tradition you would ever want to adopt.


Hampton Inn Tarpon Springs
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The commercialization of Christmas is nothing new. In fact, that is an integral part of the story of the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street — so anyone who tells you that this is a recent phenomenon is not being truthful with you.

We should be grateful and thankful when any entity — whether it is a corporation or a person — gives us something for free or a great deal in which we can participate; and one thing which the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that we should be especially grateful for our health and ability to live. This world has a lot to offer us — and we should experience it and enjoy it to its fullest.

A lot can be learned from the pandemic, Christmas, and travel — I have already outlined some of the aforementioned benefits of them — and although perhaps some people may think that the time to do so is long overdue, it is never too late to start…

…and with that, I wish you a Merry Christmas; a Joyous belated Chanukah; and safe travels to you for many years to come. May we all return to travel as soon as possible.

All photographs ©2016 and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

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