“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
This week, I read a fantastic article this week that discussed the 9 reasons that travel makes you smarter (source citation: http://bit.ly/1JLyOdz). The article resonated with me on every level and I thought of the many ways that travel has increased my mind share, opened my heart and allowed my heart to explode with a great love of life that I had not previously experienced.
This also launched a trip down memory lane for me – memory is a wonderful thing when you can go back and revisit previous experiences that you created and didn’t realize would have a lasting impact on your life. Thus, I share with you some of the amazing experiences that I encountered when I started traveling.
1. Activates the Mind
The first time you travel to a new country is when you realize that most of your day to day life is lived on autopilot. The routine of your day you normally do not acknowledge like how you communicate, travel from home to work, get ready for work, cook your food, eat your food and go to the bathroom. I can imagine the shock of using a bidet for the first time and not knowing anything about it. The habits you have become used to that no longer require conscious effort to accomplish are gone. In a new place, your mind must be active and ready to learn much like a kid attending his first day in school.
My personal experience of how travel activated my mind. Traveling to a new land for me is exhausting and exhilarating! It is exhausting because it forces one to always keep an open mind – to remain in a state of “going with the flow”. I always return from an “off the grid” travel experience exhausted but filled with the great memories of my time away. In this great place of “flow” – serendipity occurs!
My first solo-travel experience took me to Bali, Indonesia. I was completely and utterly lost – yet, I felt completely at ease with not knowing. This came as a real shock to my control freak nature – the one who always needed to know the next step – the next task – the next to do that would be checked off the list. I carried along a 50 pound pack (looking back I took much shit – something I am still working on whilst traveling) that held my most cherished possessions (i.e. the things that were familiar to me).
I stayed on the outer edges of Bali during my 2.5 months of solo travel. I would move from place to place as people would recommend that I “go see” something in another area of Bali. I spent no time researching the places people would recommend – I’d simply pack up my bags, grab a taxi (until I figured out the mastery of driving a moped in Bali) and move onto my next destination. Each morning as I would wake up – I would say the following prayer silently: “Please take me to the places I need to go, allow me to meet the people I need to meed and share the experiences I need to experience whilst I am here”. There was so much freedom in having the ability to move from place to place at the drop of a hat. If I liked a place where I was staying – I could stay over for a few more days. If I didn’t like the place I was staying and playing – I could move onto the next destination. The freedom I found in those moments has NEVER EVER left me – I remain thankful! And, yes, I did learn to use an Asian style toilet during my stay.
This photo was taken during lunch with my family in San Francisco as I waited for my mid-night departure to Bali. I remember this moment and this photo as if it were taken yesterday. I had never in my life experienced fear and excitement in equal parts. I was excited for what awaited me on the other side – yet, terrified to leave the comforts of my life, my family, my friends – MY ROUTINE! But, I pressed through it. Now, I realize when FEAR and EXCITEMENT are conjuring up inside of me in life and I know that I must get on the other side of fear to see what awaits me!
Traveling to a new country expands our awareness and introduces us to greater diversity. It’s likely you might help a person pick up their home after a monsoon or help a child fight starvation. There are things happening in the world we can only imagine on our TV screens.
In 2011, I was invited on a humanitarian trip to South America. We were going into a remote village to assist 800+ men, women and children. A medical doctor accompanied us on the trip. Our mission was to build a much needed free standing classroom, vaccinate the children, cook meals and play with the children of the village. I NEVER in my life could have imagined how much this trip would change my life.
My life changed the moment we walked into this village. I truly had no idea that people living in third world countries had little to no access to some of the most basic human needs. I felt blessed to be an American and horrified that I lived with so much while others didn’t have the basic needs. The children were infected with intestinal parasites from not having access to clean water. But, there was something else that amazed and inspired me during this time – I felt a connectedness of the people in the village as we worked and observed their daily life. They didn’t have televisions or mobile devices – thus, you could find an entire family sitting together enjoying a meal where everyone was present. My life changed from the time spent in that village.
This little girl captured my heart the moment we entered the village. She was playful and afraid. She would come and find me every single day and then run the moment our eyes met. Her name is Cynthia. I have never forgotten this little beautiful little girl.
3. Connect to New People
If you are lucky you will meet a few people from different countries who will teach you about their culture. If possible, maybe a few pen pals as well! They can continue to share with you their culture and you can further practice a new language instead of embarrassing yourself at the local Chinese restaurant where you end up talking in a fake Chinese accent thinking they understand you better that way.
I met so many incredible people from every part of the world you can imagine during my solo-travels. Thus, I recommend everyone in this life time take a solo trip. A solo trip forces you to open up and meet new people (honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of traveling – meeting new people).
I spent equal parts of my time traveling alone and traveling with people from all walks of life. It never failed me – I would walk into a restaurant or coffee shop – sit down to order my coffee and the next thing I knew I was engaged in a conversation. I loved learning and hearing the views of my fellow human travelers. I realized that as different as we think we are – we are much the same – the human experience!
One of my most favorite encounters was a time I was sitting outside the Circle K in Bali enjoying a tea. A Balinese woman drove in on her moped. We exchanged smiles (a smile – the universal human language). She asked me my name. I told her. Then, without hesitation – she invited me to visit her family and her home. I didn’t even remotely hesitate – jumped on my moped, followed her home and shared an entire afternoon with this family.
I met these two amazing women during my 2012 travels. And, I connected with both of them again in 2013. They have become family. I met both of them in restaurants as I traveled alone. Then, I continued on traveling with each of them. You are truly never alone when you go.
4. Slows Us Down
One of the more obvious reasons to travel is to take a break from your life. Working, caring for a family, caring for a home, socializing, and responsibilities – they all contribute to our fast-paced lifestyle. Traveling offers the opportunity to live slowly and in the present. Enjoy yourself! Here you can see the habits in your life for what they are with a priceless clarity. It’s possible you might discover that 4 hours of gaming a day is not really a priority!
This is perhaps the most important and valuable lesson that travel has taught me. It is OK to SLOW DOWN. It is OK to take a BREAK from life. I somehow missed that MEMO in life. It is also something that I have to try (really hard) to keep with me upon my return to the U.S.
This week has been a great example of how quickly I can get caught up in LIFE. I woke up this week and watched the beautiful sunrise over the mountains here in Colorado. Later that afternoon – I was out for a run and looked up and literally cried when I took in the beauty of the mountains as I was out running (holy shit – holy shit- so beautiful). The next morning as I was dashing out the door – I noticed a little purple flower that must be native to Colorado and is blooming all around me. There is so much beauty in the world – And, I cannot tell you how often I forget to STOP and ENJOY it.
Whilst traveling, sunsets and sunrises are always a top priority for me. I get up to wait for the sun to come up and I sit down to watch the sun escape into the vast ocean. Watching sunsets and sunrises during my travels was such a beautiful reminder to me that slowing down is important. Yet, I forget this when I get back into the busy life.
Sunset in Bali, Indonesia.
“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
― George Mallory, Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings of George Mallory
With Great Gratitude, Brandi J.