One Year On the Road- 5 Lessons
We caught the ferry back from Hoek van Holland, near Rotterdam, to Harwich England, leaving on Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve and arriving on Christmas Eve, Eve. We weren't really ready to go back to England but that was at least balanced by the fact that we were going to see our good friends for the ride home. We had met Scarlet and Marcus and their dog Stevie in Slovenia as our travels intersected perfectly for about 3 days. There we became fast and lifelong friends, and though we had kept up with each other along our continental travels, we were excited to sit, drink and really catch up. And so we did, drink after drink, sharing stories of Italy and Slovakia and Vienna and Sweden while the dogs caught up below deck in their kennels. At one point, numb from an afternoon-into-evening of drinking beer, I asked Marcus, “So what has changed for you after this whole year of travel?” I'll never ever forget his face. He paused, his remarkably birthstone blue eyes staring off into some vague point in the distance, and stroked his beard: “Everything...everything has changed. I mean…everything.” I stroked my beard as well, realizing I shouldn't have one, and simply replied, “Yeah, I'll never be the same.”
It's difficult to quantify exactly how things are different and exactly what has changed. He was right, everything had changed, for all of us, but to actually spell that out was- and is- challenging. This will be the most inept blog I've ever written because I cannot possibly convey a feeling that is so wholly encompassing yet utterly indefinable, and also because I cannot even begin to scratch the surface on definable points. I'll keep it to 5 broad themes and kick myself throughout for being woefully inadequate. But here's a stab, and if you've done intense “anything,” maybe you can provide some feedback to supplement my inadequacies.
There’s No Such Thing As Foreigners
Sorry, those people on the other side of whatever border you live on aren’t foreigners. They’re just not. It would be easy to riff on cultural differences as a sign that we're so so different. Fact is, we're not. When I lived an entire year as the designated foreigner, what I intellectually knew began to resonate more primitively; we’re not different. None of us. We all want the same basic things: a happy life, a future for our children, freedom from fear and pain. Past that, it's all just food, music, and style. There isn't anyone jealous of your heritage out there; they have their own. And they're really cool.
It's Good, and Even Healthy, To Leave Your Comfort Zone
Yep, leaving your comfort zone is, well...uncomfortable. But look, no growth ever happened from sitting around being comfy. Nobody ever learned anything from lying around except how many tiles are on the ceiling. Let the other American tourists board their American buses and get escorted gingerly to the next tourist stop where they never have to actually engage in any real conversations with the natives. You want a real learning experience? Try figuring out which meats are what animal at the local grocery or asking for directions from someone who doesn't speak a word of English, or trying to purchase constipation medication using just pantomime. There's a confidence that grows from knowing that no matter where you're plopped on the planet, you can figure it out. And no one can take that strength away from you.
One Needs So, So Little To Exist Contentedly and With Great Happiness
This is not me, the committed minimalist, telling you that you should also be one. This is me, the traveler who lived a full year out of one small backpack telling you that not only can it be done, you should try it at least once in your life. It will open your eyes. You, no matter who you are (and I'm talking to me, as well), have too much stuff! I packed 3 pants, which converted to shorts. I took 4 shirts. I took 4 pair of socks, 4 pair of underwear, 1 jacket with scarf, hat and gloves, 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair of flips, and minimal toiletries. I packed my laptop, phone, chargers, and a speaker for work and music. And I never go anywhere without a deck of cards. Whenever I decide to stop traveling, I'm throwing everything else away; I'm too happy without them.
If You're Not Following Your Passion, Then You're Missing Out On the Most Important Part of Your Life
“Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.” I don't know what I was waiting for. Since I was quite young all I wanted was to travel. I don't know why I waited until I was over 50; maybe it was knowing I would disappoint my parents, or maybe it was fear of failure. Whatever it was then, it doesn't even matter now; I have not a single minute of regret about pursuing my passion. Even when it's hard- and I won't kid you, any passionate pursuit is hard, including this one- it's still the best “worst day” I've ever had. My only regret is that I didn't start sooner. Make that your only regret in life. Make sure the word “sooner” is in there and doesn't end a word too early.
Anyone, Literally, Anyone Who Wants To Do This CAN Do This
Obligations, responsibilities, financial issues....I know, I know, I had them too. “Had” is the operative word. My obligations were mostly in my head, and when my head got clear, so did my priorities. I get that there are kids to be fed, family to look after, money to be made. I totally get it. Today isn't necessarily the day you embark physically on your passion but why can't today be the day you embark mentally, emotionally, and spiritually toward your ultimate reality? Obligations change as kids grow, as care needs change, as financial obligations shift. Why not incorporate your dreams into these ever-changing dynamics? I didn't wake up one day and decide I'm traveling for the next however many years and walk out the door. It was a 4 ½ year process of saving, planning, selling, learning new languages, prioritizing my life and my relationships so that I would be ready when the door cracked open, then burst through it. And my dream didn’t even include Europe; I was initially headed for Central & South America. You may not be able to fulfill your passion this very minute but you can sure as hell start working toward it, and with that kind of focus, it’s much easier to notice when the door cracks.
There's a great line from Alice Walker's The Color Purple that I've carried with me for years, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” I could spend all day unpacking this gem but let me put it briefly to you: the world is out there for you, through whatever passionate pursuit you undertake to discover it. It was built for you and it’s slanted in your favor. The greatest sin is the one in which we are given life and do not live it as completely as we are capable of and as intended. The thing is, we always know when we're not- it's that dull ache we try to ignore but won’t go away- and we always know when we are because it’s impossible to define but we’re too happy to care for a definition.
Let me just finish with this thought: if travel for an extended period is something you've given thought to, find a way to do it, and find a way to extend it if you can. If you know you have a passion for something, start working toward it and wait for that little door crack, then burst through. You'll be stroking your beard, staring off into that vague distance, trying to define all the ways you'll happily never be the same.