Some people deride cruises as a poor form of travel—one where you are sequestered from the cultures you visit. I might have been one of those people before my visit to Norway. Some people deride family vacations as well—since how much “vacation” can you get with your family? I might have also been one of those people before my visit to Norway. But my latest vacation changed all that, and I don’t think it was just the clean fjord air that cleared my head. Here are four things I learned on my family cruise vacation:

 

1: Respect Everyone in Life

Life is hard for everyone. Who knows what the guy driving in front of you in traffic deals with daily? Maybe he’s struggling with a broken heart, he could have been left by his wife of twenty years. Who knows what the group of pedestrians readying to the road are worrying about? Maybe about a family member on their deathbed, terminally ill. Who knows what the girl in front of you in line at the grocery store is thinking about? Maybe about a serious health problem, and she doesn’t know how much time she has left. Who knows what the man you’re walking in front of is thinking of? Maybe about how to make ends meet and bring food home to his family. So then how hard is it to let someone go, stop at a crosswalk, wait a little bit more patiently in line, or hold a door for someone? It’s not hard. We all face problems that others may not be able to understand, so lets just try to make things as easy as possible for fellow human beings when we can while interacting in the most banal of everyday situations.

This really rang true in Norway, where cars stop for you even if you’re just paused on a sidewalk near a cross walk chatting to the person next to you. I learned it when I saw a basket of raspberries being sold on the honor system–take your basket and leave your money on the table. There is no one in sight, only your conscience can guide you here. I learned that on a cruise ship full of retirees with an average age of what seemed like 70 but where a small gesture like holding a door or making room for someone at a dinner buffet can light up a face.

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2: Nature is Cool—Never take it for Granted

Hanging out in nature is fun. Sure its healthy, and its beautiful, but it is so much more than that. It is also a way to get in touch with yourself, and your own inner feelings. The trails in both Geiranger and Flam are beautiful and manageable for anyone who is decently athletic, climbing to altitudes where the air is cleaner than anything I have experienced before.Both trails are also dotted with waterfalls one can drink from (saves a lot of money in the long run). The light rain that fell in Flam made for some beautiful pictures and proved to be relaxing—a few drops of summer rain falling on your back when you’re thousands of miles from home is one of those feelings that one needs to live.

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And as a side note I have to say that I respect the citizens of Flam for their anti-cruise ship signs that dot the landscape in silent protest. They’re right, after all. I would hate to live in a remote village and have cruise ships with populations five times of the village descend on me during the summer months.

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While the waters of the fjords are undeniably beautiful, you don’t need to go that far to get that feeling of true human contentment in the midst of nature—just go to your local park. Wherever you live support the local green spaces, its all we can do as individuals when living in a world gone crazy with building more office spaces for people to work and make the money to spend in the commercial spaces that are being built at an equally fervent pace.

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3: Family is Family

Regardless of who they are, what they might do, or what they may say your family is your flesh and blood and all time you spend with them is to be cherished. True family time is rarer than any football shirt, that much is certain. Before this trip I never thought that I could even remotely enjoy seven days on a boat with my family. How wrong I ended up being. I not only enjoyed it, but I also learned a lot about who I am and who my family is. That feeling of being able to truly understand the people who are your only real bonds to the world is special. Take a chance and go on a long trip somewhere far away from home with your family, it may just give you a different point of view on a lot of things.

 

4: Life is Random

Life is random. So take a few chances here and there, and embrace the fact that you can control very little in life. There are just too many variables, and attempting to control them all will drive you out of your mind. As we boarded the return flight back to Istanbul at the Brussels airport I learned this very clearly. As I sat chatting with our tour guides at the gate we learned that a family of four was missing. They had checked in, so the plane would wait until the family cleared passport control. We waited. Everyone from our group save myself and the two tour guides had boarded. And we continued waiting as the tour guides got a little nervous. After all, it is their responsibility to ensure that all members of the tour group board. Then I see them running, a father with his wife and two boys. Being a family man might just be one of the most difficult things in life.

They arrive out of breath, excuses flying out of the father’s mouth at lightning speed—a malfunction at the left luggage lockers, a misunderstanding with a taxi driver. The tour guides just tell them to get on the plane as fast as possible. I lead the group aboard, and everyone is staring at me. I suppose I look like just the type to hold up a plane. Later I learn that they thought I was the missing passenger. Sometimes in life you just have to grin and bear it.

Midway through the flight the beverage service has to be suspended due to extreme turbulence. I can barely hold my tray steady, whiskey and water splattering everywhere. Then comes that crackling announcement through the loudspeakers, the one you think only happens in the movies.

“If there is a doctor onboard could they make themselves known to the cabin crew?”

Like everyone else I am rubbernecking, looking around at the seats. Someone must have been affected by the turbulence. One of the stewardesses staggers up to a seat 15 or so rows up. The man who stands up has curly hair greying at the sides and I immediately recognize him. It’s the father of the family we waited for. The cabin crew provide him with a first aid kit as he gives some instructions.

So the last passenger on is the doctor. I lie deep down in my seat and stretch my legs out in the emergency exit aisle and take a sip of the Ballantine’s as we rock and roll ten thousand feet above the earth, that earth that is full of random coincidences every single day.

Never stop learning. Never stop adventuring.

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