What I Learned from Traveling - How it Can Build Compassion and Self Reflection
The first time I traveled a significant time on my own was 6 years ago – it was one of those life changing moments when I realized I could not be held back by my family’s choice of safe holidays to vacation spots that were beautiful, but after 12 years was predictably irking me.
Since then I have made a few trips on my own, the most challenging was an adventure trip to Costa Rica when I stayed awake all night in my one-person tent agonizing if I’d be carried away by the raging river a few meters away. On top of that I had a persistent rain drip coming through the tent’s upper seam and a buzzing mosquito I could not seem to find!
This year I went to Europe. What traveling does for me is to force me way out of my comfort zone. The sheer organization involved in getting my bags packed with the right seasonal gear and minimizing unnecessary overseas pharmacy emergency purchases, takes planning. Lots of little Ziploc packages with all sorts of tinctures and pills for the “in case moments”.
What I love about travel is that I am often compelled to think laterally in new, unfamiliar situations.
This allows me to fully take in another culture, and discover that sometimes, try as I might, my jokes or sense of humor are simply not understood. Shocking really, when you discover that you aren’t fully understood and not because you can’t always speak the same language. It reminded me so much about my highly insecure early immigration years living in Toronto, Canada when I thought because the Canadians could speak English and being an English speaking South-African myself, this meant we “understood” each other - we didn’t. Yes, the basics could be understood, the cultural nuances could not.
When I did a values exercise in a coaching session, I truly recognized the importance of travel for me personally, I was deeply dissatisfied. Growing up we traveled a lot as a family and my parents were spontaneous with doing things. It was an ingrained passion of theirs and became mine. Of course when you have little children of your own and a life with another person it’s difficult to maintain a sense of self and to recognize what values are lining up and are being lived congruently with what makes you feel happy and alive. When life is too predictable it becomes boring, when there’s too much change it is unnerving. There’s a balance. Like everything in life, a balance is struck of what suits the family, your spouse and you. The idea is not to forget the YOU. Your voice - to express your dreams, desires wants and needs.
Travel just affirmed my desire to tap into the experiences of learning new things, eating new food, learning history and being culturally enlightened to imagine a different way of thinking other than my own. When you step into having to look after yourself you also appreciate and become more compassionate with what others are doing and thinking. Shifting perspectives opens the way for us to add some excitement or to fill up the void. It also clearly shines a light on what we thought was important and suddenly is not.
Costa Rica had me a lot out of my comfort zone, and finding my voice to assert myself to balance, was hard. I understand now that putting myself into certain chaotic situations was a way to test myself: what I was capable of, and what my limits were – I stopped at the one-person, mud-drenched, torrential rain camp night! I recognized that I was a “tough princess” aptly called by my adventure group: tough by day, preferring luxury by night!
What are you willing to put up with in your life?
What are you willing to let go of?
What are your tolerance levels?
You can't use travel to run away from dealing with your life: It is important to discern that travel is used for exploration and self-enlightenment and not to be confused with escape. When you are running from your troubles with no self-reflection, the stress of not dealing with things that need to be dealt with in your reality will follow you wherever you go until you deal with whatever it is you’re running from.
Conversely, when you are simply worn out and are desperate to get on a plane, maybe that is exactly what you need to do (finances depending). Even a trip to a different part of your city or state can shift your thinking. And if all that is impossible; then try to imagine a time when you were on holiday or at a place that filled you up so entirely that you became deeply satisfied. Conjure up every detail and then ask yourself, if you were to have a fabulous conversation with yourself, what advice would your confident self give your stressed out overwhelmed state?
Remind yourself of living in your passion and of the things that make you wholly connected, vibrant and alive.