Traveling is such a remarkable gift and I’m constantly reminding myself how fortunate I am to get to experience its wonders. How and why I’ve traveled has taken many forms over the years. From quick weekend getaways to 3 week Antarctic adventures; for business or pleasure; going solo or with friends and/or family; on the cheap to all out luxury. But, along the way I’ve picked up some valuable lessons that I’ll travel with forever. I’ve had an amazing time and can’t wait for the experiences ahead.
If you’re like me, when you have an entire trip get cancelled, at first you get angry, then disappointed, then sad, and then you come to the realization that it’s all part of the “travel package” so to speak; you have to take the good with the bad. There will be other trips and other great adventures. Lesson learned. Which got me thinking about other lessons learned along the way. Then, what they all have in common. What I realized is that travel allows you to learn things about yourself and/or your traveling companions that you just never knew or wanted to face – sometimes wishing it had stayed that way if we’re honest here, but insights nevertheless. I hope I never stop learning…
Handle Bumps in the Road with a Smile
Okay, this is obviously the first lesson that came to mind with my trip cancellation! Travel itself can be very challenging and when things go wrong, whether it’s just a snag in our plans or a cancelled flight, our ability to handle that bump in the road emerges and we have a choice on how we react. I’m the first to admit I have been unkind to more than a few service personnel when things didn’t go my way. But, one day I saw someone behaving in an embarrassingly rude manner to a hotel desk clerk and I had a moment of self-reflection. I now travel well-prepared with the necessary phone numbers, travel insurance, plan B’s, and most importantly, a change in attitude!
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Vacations afford you the opportunity to reinvent yourself, so to speak, and to experience the most amazing discoveries and journeys. They are not the time to be shy. Hey, even pretend you’re acting! Do things you don’t get the chance to do at home or would never think to do. For me, striking up conversations with strangers is difficult at home, but surprisingly easy when I’m shopping in London.
Vacation Like No One Knows You
Vacations are actually liberating for me. I don’t worry about how I look – well, within limits, but I’m not spending my precious vacation time flat ironing my hair – or worrying about who I might run into (although I must say seeing my ex-husband at Heathrow was a complete surprise). I get to leave my home town behind and really play tourist.
Embrace the Art of Conversation
Talk to the locals, whether it’s at your hotel, when you’re shopping, or asking for directions. Ask for their advice on things to do and places to eat where the locals go. Share your experiences with them. Practice your four years of high school French. In most places, you will also meet fellow travelers. Chat with them, too. I’ve gotten tips on not to be missed attractions that I would have missed had I not struck up a conversation with fellow tourists. Plus, I love to share my favorites in my home town with others. All they have to do is ask…
Missing a Museum Isn’t the End of the World
If you’re anything like I used to be, you are so focused on seeing everything you possibly can, because you never know if, or when, you will ever return, that you forget to actually take the time to enjoy your surroundings. We rush around instead of savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of the city we have invested a lot of time and money traveling to. I’ve done this on multiple trips, much to my family’s displeasure, but no more. I now look down alleyways, stop in shops that intrigue me, and look up at the architecture of the buildings. I even stopped to read what people had written on the Lennon Wall in Prague. If I miss seeing some museum because I found the best pastry shop in the world, so be it…
Some of Life’s Best Moments are Stumbled Upon
I am so happy that I no longer plan every trip down to the last detail. It has taken so much stress off me as the planner of most vacations, because I no longer feel responsible for everyone’s fun. Whew! Instead, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of spontaneity when I travel and open myself up to the world of possibility. It adds an element of “you never know what’s around the corner” to the trip. I’ve found that some of the best moments in my life were stumbled upon and not because I planned them out. I now pick a few “must see” spots and then leave the rest to chance. And, if I truly fall in love with a vacation spot, I make a note to return.
Be a Better Person
The places I visit are not all sunshine and roses. I see a lot of poverty and hardship when I travel, as I’m sure you do, too. It never ceases to amaze me how people can survive sometimes from day-to-day. But, while it makes me eternally grateful for the life I have, it also inspires me to try to be a better person and help to change the life of even one person or animal, whether at home or during my travels. It’s very difficult for me to turn that blind eye, as I hope it is for you, too. For places that have struck some chord with me, I will even donate to a charity that I feel could really use the help, such as an animal rescue group.
Bond with Fellow Travelers
Travel allows us to share experiences – positive and negative – with our families/companions that no one else will ever have. What an amazing opportunity to forge a closer relationship with them. And, yes, you’ll be able to say “We’ll always have Paris” and mean it, literally. Make sure you take advantage. Also, take the time to see the trip through their eyes and not just yours. They most likely will see and feel your travel experiences very differently from you and you should learn from each other. And, hey, when your friends have no interest in seeing your vacation pictures, you’ll always have someone to share them with!
Find Inspiration in the Not So Obvious
Your travels should be truly memorable and remarkable and not just trips. It shouldn’t be just the Louvres of the world that inspire, but also the local vendor on that side street. I want to fill my journal – yes, I write a travel journal – with such awe and inspiration that when I go back and read it, all the emotions I felt at the time will still be there. They will vividly float out of the pages and I’ll be taken back to that perfect or not so perfect moment in time. Actually, I have already used that travel journal on many occasions to share that favorite restaurant with friends.
Most likely, you don’t think about what the trip is teaching you while you travel, but something may strike you much later. Perhaps a memory is stirred from a movie you see, a book you read, or you hear someone is traveling there. Perhaps you’re trying to come up with something for dinner and remember that roast pork with dumplings and cabbage that you had in Prague. Perhaps your child tells you they learned about elephants in school today, just like he saw on safari in Kenya. Or, perhaps you see a homeless person on the streets of NYC and it reminds you of your trip to India when you said you were going to try to make a difference.
How the memory is relived doesn’t matter…just make sure you find the lesson.
What lessons have you learned in your travels? We’d love to hear!