Travel is so many things. For most of us, travel is a breath of fresh air – a few weeks of vacation in a refreshingly exotic place. When you make travel a lifestyle, however, it takes on a distinctly different feel. Travel is incredible: it gets us our of our comfort zone, it makes us humble, it makes us brave, it makes us curious, it makes us wise. Overall, I have loved this opportunity to travel the world for a year with my best friend. In this post you’ll find a celebration of honesty, truth, and the fact that life is life no matter where you are. Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had time to reflect on the major lessons I learned from 15 months traveling around the world – here they are.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
The most obvious example of this was when it rained for two days straight during our ten day trek in Patagonia. Our tent and all two sets of clothes we had were soaked, heavy, dirty, and stinky and we had many more nights to go. But I also learned that in a few days, things would be dry and clean again. When I was nauseated by homesickness in Bolivia, I learned it would pass. When I was terrified by our double-decker bus journey through windy Peruvian roads, I learned it wouldn’t last forever. Upon reflection, I learned that most of my life thus far had been spent making every effort to avoid discomfort. But when it comes down to it, any discomfort you end up facing is most likely temporary. Kimmy Schmidt taught us this, too.
Though we began to learn this lesson through our physical discomfort, the implication for the rest of our lives is astonishingly refreshing. The job you hate, the friendship that feels stale, the neighbors that aren’t very neighborly – all that stuff is temporary, too; even more so when you realize the power you have to create change in your own life. Whatever is currently plaguing you: it will pass and you might even have more control over it than you realize.
YOU ARE STILL YOU
Ernest Hemingway hits the nail on the head: “Traveling won’t ever help you to get rid of your problems. You can’t run away from yourself.” I just wish he told me before we left.
I thought I would come back from our trip tan and ripped, possibly with dreads and some tattoos I picked up in Southeast Asia. It’s probably unnecessary for me to tell you: I did not. Not even the tan part. I have never been able to tan before. Why did I think things would change with a little time and distance? Why did I have such high expectations of myself even beyond these material aspects? I was still me, even without the usual stresses of daily life. I struggled with anxiety at home, and was disappointed to find I struggled with it while we traveled. The things you dislike about yourself will not disappear, even when you walk away from all your common stressors. I certainly had intended to leave my problems behind and toss my cares to the wind, but ultimately they came with me whether I wanted them to or not.
You are still you, which is both disappointing and freeing at the same time. It frees us up to accept ourselves in a new way, instead of viewing ourselves simply as a product of our surroundings.
NOTHING IS AS PERFECT AS YOU IMAGINE
The most common greeting we have heard over the past year is this, “How is/was your trip? Is/was it so amazing?!”
What people want to hear is: “Yes!” But the true answer is “Yes… and also no.”
Were things amazing? Yes! We climbed mountains, hiked through canyons, traversed an ancient ocean floor, gazed upon glaciers, kayaked to deserted tropical islands, sailed the Adriatic Sea, received Buddhist blessings, danced with elephants, cuddled with monkeys, and stargazed the darkest skies in the world.
Were things hard? Absolutely! We missed friends and family, got sick of each other, got sick to our stomachs, longed for hot showers and familiar food, missed being connected to community, missed doing meaningful work, and struggled with the long-term feeling of being outsiders who belong nowhere.
There were moments of pure, unadulterated bliss during our trip – plenty of them. But overall, we learned life is still life wherever you go. We still had to do laundry, deal with home improvement issues from afar, manage relationships, and deal with a new set of stressors. I think it’s tempting to think that “life will be better if…” but more likely, life is just brutiful life, no matter where we are or what we have. Though we’re all clawing towards it, there’s actually no perfect other dimension where a gorgeous spouse, vacation home on the beach, or “perfect” body will change our lives the way we think they will. So we best get to doing the best with what we’ve got.
Like every damn thing in life, our whole experience for me was in the grey zone: It was amazing and hard. It was incredible and painful. It was refreshing and lonely. It was so scary and so worth it.
Sometimes, the most wonderful place can be your own bed. Sometimes, the most wonderful experience is sharing a good whiskey on a summer evening among friends. Sometimes, the most wonderful feeling is standing atop a mountain you’ve worked so hard to climb. There are so many wonderful things, both near and far. But here’s the kicker: always – joy is a choice. Traveling has taught me to practice choosing, every day; brutiful moment, through brutiful moment.