For the purposes of this article, I’d like to make a quick distinction between travelling and vacationing. Traveling is the process of venturing to another city or country with the purpose of engaging in a cross-cultural experience. Vacationing is the idea of spending time in another city or country with the purpose of relaxing, touring, and partying. The lines can get blurred but essentially, if you’re staying at a five-star resort 50 km away from the locals, if you’re uninterested in the culture or mores of the local people, if you’re ordering fries at a spot known for its baklava, you’re likely vacationing. Both are amazing, and I’ve had the privilege of experiencing them both, with family, friends, and solo. In this piece, I reflect on the everlasting impact travel has had on me. I write this with utmost respect to all the countries and indigenous people I have encountered. While travel has unequivocally deepened my sense of self, I implore you to take a deep look at the positive affects travel has had on my well-being and allow yourself to be inspired enough to embark on your own journey(s).
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Utilizing rambunctious creativity
Imagine me. In the heat of summer, whilst in Switzerland. What do you do when you don’t speak great French or Dutch, you’ve gotten on the wrong train, and you’re carrying thirty pounds of luggage on your back? Do you panic? Quit? Cry? None of the above. You problem-solve your ass off in real time. My sense of creativity when solving problems expanded tremendously when I began to travel. I found my brain working in delightful ways. I didn’t know I could think this quickly, pick up a language, connect with another, sit still, or switch tasks with such ease. I learned how to appreciate a well-designed metro system. I learned how to read a map in twenty seconds because the last train was leaving for the night in rural Italy. I learned how to use my body to speak, and my eyes to listen.
In retrospect, it was a review and elegant implementation of emotional intelligence. These are skills that go untrained in formalized settings like schools, language exchanges, and other programs. Getting out, becoming part of the thick of the crowd, smelling all the smells, and tinkering with the unknown is exactly how a person refines their ability to pay attention to detail. It is a sublime opportunity to challenge yourself by engaging the part of your brain that sits on its ass when you’re eddying in the familiar only.
Seeing through a different lens
Upon return, to my homeland, I saw the world differently because I was different. I had been touched. Once you experience your brain acting brilliantly, it’s hard to shrink back to old ways of thinking and being. I started imagining all the juicy, creative ways I could make my life work and encourage the same type of brilliance in others. And for the purposes of monetizing this skill, travel has indubitably enhanced my natural proclivity towards design thinking.
Additionally, a common misconception is that women who are committed to travel are wishy washy, unable to commit, or lost. Au contraire! While most of us thrive on flexibility and liberation, it takes a substantial amount of foresight to plan and strategize your adventures. Seasoned travelers know that it takes skill, patience, and resourcefulness to build a juicy itinerary that veers off the beaten path, is respectful to the site, and honors one’s sense of adventure. I am no longer bothered by the opinion of folks who’s fear outpaces their courage, but it can still be an irritating myth to encounter. Press on anyway, my daring darling.
“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
Joie de Vivre
The most simplistic translation of this French phrase in English is “exultation of spirit”. I was able to have this exact feeling fill me to the brim while in Thailand. I remember trekking through overcrowded airports, squeezing into buses, and walking for miles through foreign land all to end up at the most breathtaking sight of beauty. I remember the kind faces of the Thai women in the villages who smiled with humility, shared their unbelievable stories of peril, and laughed with me from the belly. I remember looking to the sky while riding on the back of that motorcycle (sorry Dad, no helmet). The breeze caressed my face the way breezes do, sweetly. We whizzed through the sleepy town in silence, sticky with the sand from yesterday. Even with the humidity at ninety percent, I knew deep down, this was joy.
No one else knew where, who I was, or have been and it didn’t matter. I’d never experience that much breathing room. It completely altered my relationship with time. Being fully immersed in that moment taught me aspects of mindfulness I began to unravel the deep, intimate joy of ‘being here now’. These are fruits that cannot be quantified nor taken away. As Toni Morrison said, the world’s beauty was simply enough.
“Travel robs us of…refuge. Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks, we are completely on the surface of ourselves. But also, soul-sick, we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing without a thought in her head, a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable.”Albert Camus, A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning