The Lessons We Learn While Wandering

There is no doubt in my mind that traveling is the soul of inspiration!

It creates the right kind of energy you need for resiliency.  It can help us find purpose.  It can help us rediscover our identity.

It also reveals the worst parts of ourselves.  All of our irritations, prejudices, entitlements… are challenged when we travel.  We simply cannot hide who we are when we travel.  We cannot avoid other people and other customs.  Sure we can reframe the experience and share only the best parts, but what we choose to do with that experience when we get home… is not the point of traveling.  Traveling forces us to reflect on what we think is important and how it relates to each other.  For me the theme this year was… how polite is too polite?

Being able to choose our travel partners is a gift.  Traveling together means we celebrate the company we are in.  It allows us an opportunity to respect and trust each other.  It also means even at the best of times our personalities will clash and test our sanity.

If you travel to collect iconic photographs to share with family and friends, by all means do what your time and finances will allow!

For me it’s about experiencing life from the viewpoint of the locals.  Which is difficult to do if I feel rushed or stressed out by the situation.  I don’t regret the experience entirely because I learned something about myself… I discovered that I am a terrible host and that I have no business or desire to do anything like that again!

Basically I found out that some of us have different ideas about traveling.  I travel to learn something new about the world I am a part of.  My idea of traveling well means I am taking the time to recharge my soul.  It’s not about getting there and proving I saw something.  I venture out because it excites me!  I don’t travel to impress someone.  I travel for the moments that remind me I am more than myself.

We don’t give ourselves enough time to travel.  I learned that I am at my happiest when I have the freedom to explore and the time to do so at my leisure.  I found out that when time is your enemy you feel rushed.  I had to face a hard truth.  Limiting the time you have to explore a new area can sometimes be downright miserable.  This year I experimented with our timetable.  In some cases I didn’t have control over the time we were given.  I found my ideal time requirements was to plan for a week in a given area or 3 days for each city.

We have problems communicating why we want to travel and what we really want to see.  Figuring out what you want to do, what activities or sites are a priority to you… and what is important to your traveling partner.  When I travel with my family I research what will be of interests to each person and we compromise.

Traveling with someone other than an immediate family member was an eye opener.  Sometimes people want their trip planned for them because the choices are overwhelming.  I get it.  Expecting your host or partner to know your preferences is weird.  Unless you are paying them as a mind reader, take the time to share your expectations!

We are ignorant of the details that make or break a trip.  Once you have an idea of what you want to do, get involved in the details.  If your host is familiar with the area you want to visit, they will probably have plenty of suggestions.  If you are both entering unfamiliar territory it becomes far more important that you engage with the planning, otherwise you leave your host feeling frustrated and overwhelmed… and you leave feeling the trip was a disappointment.

Getting on the same page could mean you decide who is responsible for map reading and who is responsible for the itinerary.  In either case when plans fall apart for unseen circumstances, two eyes are better than one.

Sometimes the idea of a place doesn’t live up to our expectations.  We have seen some of the most inspiring photography over the last year… and what I found out is that a lot of that is interpretive art.  Sometimes even undoctored pictures convey a sense of perfectness that doesn’t measure up.  One of the most disappointing moments for me this year was Bebelplatz, a public square near Unter den Linden boulevard where the Nazi students burned about 20,000 books.  It’s been on my bucket list ever since I heard there was a memorial there.  I was psyched up because of the pictures I had seen but when I saw it for myself it failed to connect with the emotional value the place had for me.  It was a hole in the ground.

It was frustrating because I had to make an effort to go out of our way to see it.  We got off the wrong stop, backtracked, and walked past the memorial several times before I realized where it was.  Leaving the memorial I came to terms with my disappointment in my own way.  Would I have felt differently about it if I had never seen the picture?  Especially since the picture was better than the one I could have gleaned on a grey and rainy day?  Maybe.  The experience has made me more appreciative of my own photography.  I was too upset to do this, but next time I’ll take the picture.  The picture of people huddling over this small area, with all of the construction around it, and under the drizzling rain.

Traveling abroad means you stand out.  We ran into three types of well seasoned travelers

  1. The tourist who blends in.
  2. The tourist who stands out.
  3. The average European on vacation.

They come in all sizes and fashion trends.  Sometimes they attract attention, in the way that it’s easy to point out the group who finished a rigorous hike.

It’s not always apparent that we stick out as easily.

On several occasions in conversations with our fellow travelers, they knew we were Americans.  How? Our accents or our attempts to speak the language were obvious to them.  More telling were our clothes!  Most people like to travel comfortably.  Generally for me that means jeans and a t-shirt.  While waiting for a plane or riding on the train it was obvious that we were under dressed.  We weren’t the only ones who were wearing jeans but next time we might consider stepping up our game!

What about you, did traveling more open your eyes?  In what way?

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