I’m writing this column from Reid Harbor on Stuart Island, one of Washington State’s beautiful San Juan Islands. As we anchored a couple of days ago, we noticed that four other boats from our dock at Shilshole Bay Marina were also here and soon we were all having drinks in one of the cockpits, visiting dinghies bouncing around happily behind the boat. 

One of the boats is aptly named, Small World. Indeed, it is. 

If you have been reading my column over the years you know that we spend part of each year in Panama. Heading up the Strait earlier this week, one of the huge container ships we passed was named APL Antwerp. Homeport: Panama. The ship, loaded with hundreds of colorful containers, was likely ocean bound, heading south to Panama where it will anchor in the bay among the ships we observe from our terrace, waiting to transit the Panama Canal. I grabbed my camera and snapped photos to email to my south of the border friends with whom we are in regular contact.

A close friend spent the fall, winter and spring in Guatemala. On one Skype call (a miracle in itself) she told me about chatting with some guys at a local bar. They were traveling through Central America and their next stop was Panama. “Where in Panama,” asked my friend who had visited us there. “Isla Taboga,” they replied. The island we live on! And they were going to visit friends of ours - people she had met when visiting us a couple of years ago. 

What are the chances of all of these encounters? These days they are good. Very good indeed and getting better all the time. So much so that it’s not even that surprising anymore. As our world becomes smaller thanks to fast and convenient travel options and communication technology offers instant access to friends and family, it is not unusual to experience what may once have been too incredible to even imagine. 

Even here in the cove, which has spotty reception at best, we heard about the tragedy in Nice. Yet another in an increasing series of incidents occurring in our world. We heard about Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton. Up to the minute political conversation happened during our spontaneous happy hour, despite being far from home. We are more connected than ever before and unless we really don’t want to be, we are in this together.

A friend across the bay is flying his one world flag instead of an American or Canadian flag, which is the regulated norm on the water. Rather than identifying as belonging to one country, this flag – we have one, too – is a picture of the globe from space, making the statement that this world IS our country now. We are a global community. We are facing a global mess when it comes to politics, climate change, and economic disparity. And, sadly, terrorist attacks on innocent people. 9/11 was a wake up call for the United States. Listening to Arundhati Roy address the United Nations following the World Trade Center attacks, I remember her saying that she meant no disrespect and no diminishment of what we were experiencing. But, she pointed out this sort of thing had been happening for a very long time all over the globe. “Welcome to the world,” she said, sadly.

Like any family, we share joys and heartaches. We are no longer isolated and travel is no longer, necessarily, just about vacation and fun. I have come to believe that travel is essential. However we can make it happen.

Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

This is why we travel. This is why we live in another country for part of the year. Few of the people I have met doing these things are rich. Rarely do we hang out with people traveling in 4 Star luxury mode. But we are out there, doing what we can to see this world and be part of this life. To gain a better understanding of what our fellow earthlings are experiencing. To enhance our own life and give ourselves a more realistic view of our home.   

The first step is…  well, taking the first step. It’s about saying “yes.” And then doing the hard stuff of getting things started. Doing your homework, your research. Making sure that whatever it is you are thinking about doing will work for you. And then, making the commitment for better or worse.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS is a freelance writer and essayist. She lived on Queen Anne for 20 years and now lives on a sailboat in Ballard.