It is raining this morning, and I am sick.
It’s one of those mornings where I long for a bathtub and a big fluffy bed and endless documentary television to while away a day when I’m too icky to do anything else. Instead, I’m tucked up in my little cave bed with my second cup of tea, listening to raindrops and resting. It’s almost as good!
Instead of hiking the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula and digging out big pools of thermal water on a hot water beach this afternoon, we’re tucked in under a solid rain, making the best of our camper life. I was awake most of the night (did I mention that I’m sick!?) thinking about the things that travel is teaching me. Care to take a midnight wander through my brain?
Travel is yoga for the soul. By nature I’m a planner and an organizer and a low-level control freak. The road is doing its best to bend that out of me, one country, one culture, one mini-catastrophe at a time. I no longer expect anything to run on schedule. If well made plans for a day crash and burn, well, there must be something else more important for the day. Mealtimes are flexible. Bedtimes are flexible. The definition of “food and lodging” are flexible. There really isn’t much in life that can’t be flexible, if I’m willing to bend with the wind and go with the flow… which, incidentally, is the key to reducing stress and increasing joy in the journey.
2. What I do not need
I have more than I need. I have always had more than I’ve needed, without exception. I do not “need” most of what I have, and knowing that has increased my gratefulness for the small things and the many comforts. I don’t have a bathtub, a big fluffy bed, or a TV this morning. But my little camper bed, my cup of tea and my cheese plate are still more than I need and I’m so glad for all three! Realizing what I don’t need has increased contentment and lowered my expectations and pretty much removed the anxiety that surrounds collecting “stuff” to pad our existence.
3. This is my life
A camper van cab top bed, my hubby’s knit hat on my sick noggin, a cheese plate and a cup of tea. This is my life. My life is no more than the moment I’m in. Where I’ve been doesn’t matter as much as where I’m going. Where I’m going doesn’t matter as much as where I am. There’s nothing to be gained from comparison to anyone or anything else. I am where I am because of the choices I’ve made. If I don’t like it, I can change it. All I have is today, this moment, sick in the rain. What will I make of it?
4. Who I am
I suppose all of life, from cradle to grave is an exercise in peeling back the layers of the onion, defining and redefining this, for all of us. The growing and changing and continual evolution of self is something interesting to me to watch, from somewhere outside of myself. Of course it’s a horrible cliche, that travel introduces you to yourself, but it’s true. Getting outside of all of the preconceived constructs that define a person is educational indeed. When there are no walls, no fences, no comfy confines, what will I do? Who am I really? How do I meet the world? Where do I fit in it? What can I give? These are the questions that define us, and redefine us. The questions that have brought me to my knees in places, both geographically and internally.
5. To make my own box
The idea that we can get “outside the box” in this life is just silly. Just about the time you climb out of the box you think you’re in, you climb into another one. We have people say to us, regularly, “Wow!! You guys live such an “outside the box” life…” And I get what they mean. Yes, we do in some ways: no house, nomadic, alternatively educated kids, careers outside of the cube wars. But we live a very “inside the box” life in the world we exist in: there are tons of other families what we call friends who live just like we do. We’re nothing special. They aren’t impressed. We’re in the box for them. So, at the end of the day, the thing I’m learning is that it isn’t about escaping from some mythical box, it’s about creating your own, according to your own passions, and your own definition of normal. My life is delightfully “in the box,” I’ve just created it myself and plastered the sides with travel posters!
6. To figure it out
There is nothing like having everything go to perdition on a far off continent when you don’t speak the language. In epic ways: like the stock market crashing and taking all of our money with it, and small ways: like having to get a delirious kid to a hospital, pronto, traveling teaches us to figure it out. When there’s no friend to call for help, no safety net in place, and no option to pass the buck, I have to figure it out. What I’ve learned: I can be trusted to figure it out. That’s a good thing to know about myself.
7. To have faith
Faith in the traditional, religious sense, hasn’t worked out too well for me over the long haul; it’s a long story, but suffice to say I’m best defined as a skeptic.
When I say I’m learning to have faith, I mean in juxtaposition to fear. To have faith in my own ability rather than to wonder if I can pull it off. To have faith in my fellow man, rather than fear his intention. To have faith in humanity to move forward for the collective good. To have faith that there is, indeed, light at the end of many a long tunnel. When I live my life from a point of faith instead of a point of fear, everything becomes possible.
8. To dream big
Perhaps, to some people, an open ended world tour with their family is a big dream. It was for us, once. It was the big dream that we sacrificed everything else for, and it’s been infinitely worth it. But now, it’s our “inside the box.” Long term travel isn’t hard. No where on the planet is out of reach. If anything, the problem is that we have so many options that it’s hard to choose which adventure to have next. We are learning to dream bigger, to open the next box and crawl out. The view from the tipping point of the lid is spectacular, clear to the horizon. That’s the cool thing about cultivating and achieving your dreams, one at a time; you realize that the really big, really epic thing that you worked flat out for, reached clear to the edge of your current horizon to grab hold of… is actually just the next wrung of the ladder, and there’s another rung, almost out of reach, waiting to be grabbed. One dream leads to another. I just have to keep climbing.
9. Be generous
I’ve never understood the impulse to hoard stuff, money, time, people, or anything else. I was raised in a family of givers, and to me, it’s just “the way we live.” Travel has just deepened those lessons and reinforced my natal belief that we are here to share and to give. I love to give. Stuff is just stuff, we share it where we can. Money is just money, if we have it, we give it. Time is the real gift, the true treasure in life, and when we have the opportunity to give time, that is the most precious form of sharing of all. The thing I’m learning from travel is how to receive as generously as we strive to give. The great blessing of being taken into a stranger’s home, life, kitchen, and heart. The generous friendship that results when we allow ourselves to be taken care of. The opportunities that then present themselves to reciprocate. I’m fortunate to live among, and call my friends, some of the most generous people on the planet. It’s great fun to strive to out-do one another in giving, sharing, loving and meeting each other’s needs. One of the best parts of our long term travel has been the many opportunities we’ve been presented with to give generously, and the many times we’ve been gifted with more than we could ever imagine.
10. Keep walking
Life is hard, isn’t it? Work is hard. Parenting is hard. Sometimes marriage is hard. Keeping all the plates spinning is hard. Travel is hard. Staying home is hard. Struggle seems common to man. My Dad has been known to say that, “Time carries us away from all things.” The older I get, the more I wade through, the more I realize the truth of his words and the layers of meaning below them. I thought I knew what they meant at 18; I did not. I hope I know now, but I suspect there is more to learn. The only trick I know for getting through the hard is a lesson learned every day we travel: just keep walking. Through the literal, the figurative, and the metaphorical, the emotional and the physical hardships. Just keep walking. Moving forward is the only answer. I can’t go back. Get over that thought right now. To stop is to start sinking, to mire in my own mental state. Drowning isn’t an appealing thought. So I must move forward. Of course I walk a lot, in the physical sense, it’s my own form of therapy, but really, the important walking is internal, and it’s there that I’m learning to keep pressing forward, to insist on proactive measures and growth towards productive ends.
What is your journey teaching you?