How Traveling Abroad Made Me Better Appreciate My Father  

by Niki Kraska

The Kraska family being silly at the fair.

A family that plays together…

When I was 21, I spread my wings and flew across the Atlantic to spend three months studying, volunteering, and traveling in South Africa. I hiked Table Mountain overlooking the ocean, woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise, survived a close encounter with an angry and charging elephant, and jumped off the world’s highest bungee jumping bridge with only a cord around my ankles.

The common thread amongst all of these experiences was the thought I had just afterward. “I wish my Dad was here experiencing this with me. 

My Dad: the man I grew up knowing as a big kid and daredevil, who worked long hours for his family, and who I probably took for granted more often than I’d like to admit. As a third year college student across the world, he’s the one I wanted beside me as I tasted so much of life for the first time. He was the one who had been introducing me to adventure since I was three; it didn’t feel right without him there.

Seven years and nine countries later, that feeling hasn’t changed.

This Father’s Day, my first on a different continent, I’m realizing so much of my father is actually with me no matter how far away I go. 

Be it your father, grandfather, uncle, or some other father-like-figure (including moms!), the life lessons and support you’ve received from them doesn’t fade away when you step off the plane into a foreign city. In fact, traveling abroad can allow you to see so much more of the influence your father has had, and still has, in your life. 

Here are some fatherly lessons we’ve learned that enhance our travels and have, personally, made me appreciate my father even more: 

Dorian Kraska as a construction worker in Indiana/Illinois

My dad, the Iron Worker

“Jump in! I’ll catch you.” 

I’m sure many of you understand what that means without needing further explanation. We had dads that told us they would catch us in the water, only to watch us go head under and flail our arms until they did, in fact, “catch” us.

The lesson is obvious, we didn’t get hurt. We faced our fear and jumped in, got a mouthful of water and shock, and returned to the surface with our dad’s strong hands around us. We survived, probably had a little fun, and wanted to do it again and again until we didn’t even need those hands anymore.

Even if we fall head under water while we travel, maybe we get scammed, lose our passport, or simply feel lost, we know we will bounce back up. Our dads showed us that we can. They’ve taught us resiliency in a variety of settings, from swimming pools to bike paths to first break-ups. Now we see that resiliency and independence in action when we’re out on the road. But even more, we know their hands are still there to catch us, even if they are miles away. 

Make time for play.

I used to tell my mom I wanted a younger brother to play with. Her response: “You have your father, that’s enough!” 

She was right. He pulled pranks on us, turned our basement into a playground, put food on his face at dinner to make us laugh… I don’t think that man is ever going to grow old. I love it.

There are times I put on music to teach dance at the children’s home in India I volunteer with, and the kids literally run around the room half dancing and half just being goofballs. There’s no chance I am going to get them all to focus or get through what I prepared for the day, but as I see them laughing and shrieking wild with delight, I know it doesn’t matter. The power of play to heal, to release stress and emotions, and to foster connections is very strong. 

Not all kids (or adults) have the luxury of pure, simple play. I’m sure there are others, like me, who travel and get caught up in their work/volunteering/studying and don’t make time for it. That’s when remembering your Peter-Pan-like father helps you let loose, and gives your brain and your spirit the release it needs so you can continue making travel rewarding for you and those around you. 

Niki and Dorian Kraska at the father-daughter dance

My first date to the dance taught me how to be respected

A little help goes a long way.

Remember that time when you didn’t speak the local language, you couldn’t find the location you were looking for, you didn’t have enough money in your pocket to pay for a taxi…and then out of the blue a person came by and, like magic, helped you out? 

Language barriers, unmarked roads, different currencies, there are a lot of little things that can make travel a big mess some days.

I am grateful to have had many people, strangers, help me out in big and small ways throughout my years of traveling. Whether it’s giving me a ride to the airport, helping me hail a taxi, or translating to the waiter what I am trying to order, gestures like these not only make life easier, they bring a smile to my heart. 

Small acts of kindness come naturally to my father. He puts his spare change in anyone’s parking meter when he sees it’s about to expire; he catches fly balls at baseball games and gives them to kids nearby; he offers a ride to the man on the street he see’s take the same route each day. 

Now that I have had so many of these tiny (and sometimes big) gestures come my way, I can’t help but think how cool my dad is for doing the same for others, how many people’s days he has brightened over the years, and how easy it is for us all to do the same, no matter where we are in the world.

Fight Back.

As gentle as our father’s can be, they can also kick some serious booty when they need to, and this, THIS, has become ever more relevant for me the more I travel.

Our dads teach us to fight our own battles and to stand up for ourselves. To use our voice and not care about manners when the situation calls for it. 

Niki, Dana, and Dorian Kraska at the dinner table.

Today, he’s usually the only one putting food on his face.

When you’re young (and sometimes sheltered), this might not make sense. We are socialized to see aggression and anger as wrong. I personally found it very difficult to have a back bone amongst my peers because I wanted to be nice.

That niceness can get so ingrained it quiets you, and when traveling, especially solo as a woman, being nice doesn’t always work in your favor.

After all these years, the fighter that my dad tried igniting in me when I was young is finally finding its way out. There comes a time and a place when you realize if you don’t say/do something now, no one else will for you. Instead of being afraid, your father’s strength makes you strong.

“Are you flying there? Won’t your arms get tired!?” 

Dads sometimes have the worst humor at the wrong time, or the best humor at the perfect time. Sometimes their jokes make no sense and you want to hide your head under a rock (especially when he pulls them out around your friends). 

No matter what kind of jokes or how often he tells them, when you are stuck on a bus for 10 hours, or when you’ve landed in the hospital with food poisoning, you’ll miss them. And more often than not, you’ll start telling those corny jokes to anyone who will listen. 

That’s because our dads have taught us to look for the humor in life. To not take everything so seriously and to, at least, add some comic relief during the hardest of times. I long for those moments he’s able to lighten up the mood. Even if we all roll our eyes at him in the moment, in the long run those shared smiles and laughs keep our family close.

Through the highs and the lows of travel, humor can help us pull through. And when we are meeting new people and fostering new relationships, humor can be the universal language that brings us together.

The Kraska family of Crown Point, IN celebrating the holidays.

Our entire family has benefited from my Dad’s strength of character

Happiness and family are most important.

Above all, the more and more I leave the nest and experience life around me, the more and more I appreciate how much my father prioritized our family. 

From waking up before the sun to get to work, to cheering me on at volleyball games and dance recitals after school, to ensuring I was doing well in my studies, my dad was very present in my life. We didn’t have the money to travel overseas, but my parents made it a point to take us on local trips whenever they could. We didn’t have much to pay for college, but that didn’t stop my dad from encouraging me to go to one of the top universities in our country (where I was introduced to study abroad).

I saw my father both work hard to provide for his family, and play hard to enjoy life with his wife and kids. I saw him and my mother take a day off from work to enjoy time together at the beach. 

Throughout my life, he has shown me that experiences and family are more important than money and material things, and that you are supposed to work to live – not live to work. It has made it that much easier for me to follow my dreams of volunteering abroad, see the world, and take unconventional routes for my education and career.

Whatever lessons you have learned from your father, whatever memories you carry with you while you’re abroad, our dads/uncles/father figures in our lives have helped us get to where we are. Hats off to these men for showing us what’s possible. Hats off to you, dad, for giving your little girl wings to grow!