I turned 42 on Tuesday. I’m grateful that birthdays represent for me another year of wisdom gained. Deeper laugh lines and a few more grey hairs are a worthwhile trade-off. This past year has been a doozy as far as wisdom and life experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, not even for a glimmer of my younger, twenty something self.
My 6 month travel adventure has transitioned straight into my next one: figuring out what I’m going to do next. I am incredibly grateful, beyond words grateful, that I allocated this time post my travels to process. Process what I’ve learned, what I saw, what I felt, and what I feel now. What does that actually mean? It means, no, I am not looking for a job yet. Instead I am using the rest of my budget to read, and to research.
Sean asked me during my birthday dinner what were some of the lessons learned during my 41st year. After re-reading my journals for 2015, these were the lessons that stood out as ones that still impact my life post travels:
1. Enjoy whatever happens.
Don’t spend a ton of time bogged down on minute details because, whatever happens, it will be good. There is life to be experienced in every moment. It is so easy to get bogged down researching a ton of companies and reviews FOR EVERYTHING (flights, restaurants, guides, hotels, activities…). As I traveled I learned where my values lay. If I was going to do something with a guide, I was willing to pay extra for a company that offered small groups. But my favorite way to choose one was to ask for recommendations from a like-minded traveler. That saved me hours of comparing companies online. For lodging, nice hotels were not a priority, but a quiet, clean hostel, centrally located, worked just fine. I got to the point where I would take 10-20 min to book a hostel on hostelworld.com based on my requirements, knowing that any extra time beyond that wouldn’t really improve the experience for me. Travelers live on reviews, but make sure you also allow opportunity for chance conversation. Chance conversations with people led me to all sorts of interesting, unexpected activities I didn’t think to do myself (Indian cooking class, visiting the Atacama Desert in Chile, go on a 10 day meditation retreat, learning to play the flute).
2. The decision doesn’t matter, it is making a decision that matters.
I didn’t know where to start my travels for Southern India and was overwhelmed with the options as I sat in a hotel in Delhi trying to decide. I concluded hat where ever I went would work out (see lesson #1), I just needed to decide! I made the decision to go to whatever city I could either salsa dance, or take a Bollywood dance class. Within a few hours I had booked a flight to Mumbai for 2 days later based on a Salsa Meetup event. It’s possible that the event may not have happened, but its role was as a catalyst in getting me to make a decision on where to fly. And Mumbai was fabulous, for a million other reasons other than salsa dancing. Which leads me to my next lesson:
3. Traveling in a cheap country during off-season allows for many last-minute options. No need to plan ahead.
- This lesson warrants an entire blog just by itself. I’m a huge fan of off-season/ rainy season travel primarily because there are fewer people doing the same things. It is rare that rain has a negative impact (beginning and end of rainy season often just means less than one hour of rain a day), rates for everything are cheaper, and rarely are things sold out. Plus it means you see other beautiful things (rainbows and waterfalls) that are less common during the dry season.
4. Allow space between moments and activities in order to allow inspiration and serendipity.
- Antarctica was amazing. The shared experience with Sean on the 7th continent left my head spinning. After he left, although I had just arrived in South America for the first time, I ended up staying 6 days in Buenos Aires NOT sightseeing, but simply resting, eating and going to yoga every day. It wasn’t planned, but I realized I needed time to absorb Antarctica and I found I didn’t have the capacity to take in any more impressions. That time was critical for me to not only appreciate Antarctica, but it was during that time I brainstormed the idea of taking the road my parents traveled. I left Buenos Aires recharged, and ready to experience Peru and Bolivia. I can always go back to Buenos Aires another time.
5. The world is a much less scary place that the US media makes it out to be.
- I didn’t go to any countries in the midst of a war, but let me tell you that leaves a lot of the world left to explore. Most people are curious and excited to meet someone from the US.
6. The world is full of kind and considerate people focused on providing for their family.
- Volunteering left a mark from being able to interact with other cultures in an in-depth way. And it became obvious that most of humanity’s main cares, despite differences in language, culture and religion, are to provide for their family, and be happy.
7. Do what scares you. The fear of the fear is often worse than reality.
Other quotes: “It is OK to have fear, but don’t let it be the basis for decisions.” “Fear lies in giving up the known, but excitement comes from discovering the unknown.” “The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
One of my biggest fears was doing the 10 day silent meditation retreat. And in facing my fear, I gained so much confidence and learned so much about myself. Of all the things I did on my trip, facing that fear and what I learned, may have the biggest impact on my life today. Even now, as I acknowledge my fears about not knowing what my next steps are, I draw on my meditation experience as a source of strength to help me get through this new fear.
8. The impact and lessons learned from volunteering in another culture increase the farther away one gets from the actual experience.
I am still in touch with the people I met on all three of my volunteering programs and I am inspired what they are doing.
My fanastic volunteer team from Nepal: Pete, Kevin, Tiffani, Rachel, Roxy, Sheila, Balaram, Sunday,& Bing
9. Pack light. Pack smart.
I spent a ton of time deciding exactly what to pack. I front loaded the effort to make sure that everything I brought had a purpose, and hopefully three. This hasn’t exactly translated now that I’m back home, as I am relishing in having a few more clothes to choose from, but I am living with a heck of lot fewer things than I did before I left. I love knowing I can thrive with less. In fact, I’ve learned I thrive MORE with LESS, which is a guiding principle as I figure out my next steps.
10. I am sparkly. ie. Slow travel gives you the space to find out who you are.
Sparkly is a word several people used to describe me during my travels. Ironically it was something I only noticed after I got back to Colorado. The word sparkly kept coming up and Sean and I started joking about it. And then as I re-read my journals, I realized I had written down all the times people had referred to me as sparkly. What will I do with that knowledge? My goal now is to recognize for myself the things that make me sparkle. And do them.
Wildbeest Migration, Seregenti.