Saturday, July 09, 2016

Travel Thoughts and Taughts

Have you ever watched the departures screen at the airport and imagined hopping and skipping across all those cities? Whenever I'm at a major airport, I usually stare at the departures board and day dream of traveling to those exotic destinations. Finally I had the opportunity to trapeze across a small section of the world earlier this year. Five months on the road is a long time, but I've barely scratched the surface. This world is a big place. And that's wonderful because there will always be something left to see and do.

Months on the road was a novelty for this former citizen of corporate America. There was an impulse to operate in week long vacation mode, to cram the days and to try to see as much as possible. This definitely led to burnout and I had to pace myself. It was exhilarating to realize that I had all the time in the world to see so much and so little. It's liberating to realize that traveling the world is checking off boxes on an infinitely long list. I learned the paradox that the more you see, the more you have not seen.

I set out out from Calif in the beginning of Feb. It would have been hard had I been on my own the entire time. Meeting and talking to strangers is fun to an extent. And so is the feeling of complete independence. I've had some amazing conversations with complete strangers on the solo legs of my journey. But I think I'd choose travel with family, friends and friends of friends over solo travel. I like to share my experiences with people I can keep in touch with, with people I have something in common with. I love getting to know people at a deeper level and to invest in relationships. And this can't quite be achieved during fleeting encounters with strangers at cafes or in trains. But this shouldn't deter solo travel. After all, the alignment of time, money and energy happens very rarely in one's life. Throw in the requirement of friends, and you are looking at astronomical odds. Thus, when you get a chance to travel, you take it. And that's what I did.

Travel is an incredible teacher and you learn a thing or two on on the road. First, traveling made me realize that most people are nice, even Parisians. There are morons out there, no doubt. But statistically if we are much more likely to meet nice people, why do we worry and assume the worst all the time? As Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Obviously it is important to keep your wits about you and not be naive, but that shouldn't devolve into cynicism and unwarranted suspicion. For me, life is about taking risks, being open to new experiences and being vulnerable so as to let others into your lives.

Second, I learned to trust God and yourself. When you travel, you are by default outside your comfort zone. You learn to go with the flow. Some planning is obviously essential to enhance your experience. For example, standing in line for an hour when you could have bought tickets online is stupid. But you can't plan for everything. You can't have every eventuality accounted for. It would have been hard for me to be prepared for everything that happened on my first day in France. And you have to remember that most problems can be solved with money and a level head. Take one step at a time. Don't look at and worry too much about the boulders on the horizon that you trip on the pebble at your feet.

Thirdly, I learned that if I were nice to myself, I'd be nice to others. If you wake up late or spill coffee or misplace something, relax. Stuff happens. Slow down and you'll have more time for kindness. Besides, as Calvin said "When you're SERIOUS about having fun, it's not much fun at all!" In this year of mercy, I have learned that mercy comes from within.

Lastly, on a personal level, this trip satisfied my wanderlust to a certain extent. There are many jokes about the Jesuit vow of poverty. But even a Jesuit level of poverty means that I'll never have the freedom to go anywhere and everywhere I want. In a way, even though this trip was absolutely awesome, I'm willing to let it be a one time thing. As I mentioned before, this world is a truly big place and I'll never see everything. But having seen a tiny bit, I'm satisfied and willing to let go of the freedom of having the world at the reach of my credit card.

The world is beautiful. Let it inspire you. If you believe in God, use the moments that captivate you to thank and praise the creator. In the drudgery of life, sometimes you may lose sight of beauty and life will become tedious. Take time to find the beauty around you, in nature, people, food, architecture, music, and the list endless. Find God and find beauty in everything. And as the ancient prayer goes, "May you always walk in beauty."

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