What I learned from finally saying yes to big trips
If I’m completely honest, I’ve always wanted to travel abroad. My first experience came when I was 18 and visited Italy with one of my English teachers and some classmates. It was one of the most educational and empowering experiences of my young adult life. And I set my mind to travel more, to return to Italy, to see the world. But as we know, life happens. Between jobs, and going back to school (twice), it just hadn’t happened. Sure, I’d seen some great places around the United States. I’d even visited Canada, but nothing close to what I had dreamed of as a teenager.
It took getting an executive coach and making a few important realizations to kick me into action. I decided I would travel; this would happen. You can get back money, but you can’t get back time. So when a friend of mine moved to Brazil and the financial situation just happened to work out, things just sort of fell into place. I went from no trip on the horizon, to planning a nine-day stay in Brazil, and thinking about future trips to other places as well. And better yet, I decided to match my love of running with my desire to travel.
And the trip did not disappoint. Brazil is a beautiful country with welcoming people. I got to experience a different culture and language, see locations recognized around the world, relax on picturesque beaches, and run a half marathon on the most beautiful course I have ever raced on. But the trip was more than all of that. Just like when I was 18, my travel taught me things I hadn’t realized it would.
I have struggled with the concept of being present, in the moment, not thinking about the past, not worrying about the future. But there’s something about being on a beach in Buzios that forces you to live in the moment. I was truly present during this trip. I didn’t think about work, or my worries, or all of things that usually distract me from enjoying life. When I ran, I ran sans headphones, to listen and take in all that was around me. I felt like just soaking in life. And that made me feel so alive, and the experiences so much richer.
If you know me, you know I’m a planner. I like my life organized. I have my work calendar, my personal calendar, my running calendar, etc. But during this trip, I was just open to the experience. Flexible. Ready for whatever the day brought. And I think it made for a rich experience. My usual focus was widened to see and embrace the newness of the adventure.
There may be no greater vulnerability than being in a place where you have very little language skills. I tried to learn some Portuguese before I left, but a phone app cannot prepare you for the speed at which Brazilians speak, or the pronunciations, for that matter. I had to be OK with utter language failure, to sometimes futile attempts to communicate. I had to be OK with getting by with broken and limited Portuguese (or a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English as the case may be) to get what I wanted or needed. I think that’s humbling and teaches you how much there is to learn in the world. Of course, language is only one example of that, but you get my point. That vulnerability makes you open to learning in a way you are not when you feel like the master of knowledge and communication.
And I think most of all, travel makes you appreciate the great vastness and diversity of the world. Sometimes, thanks to the news or social media, we think of the world as this big scary place. It’s us versus them. People are “others.” But when you go out into the world, you discover the beauty – of the land, of the people. You appreciate the things that we share, and the things that we don’t. You see the world for what it is, rather than what it is portrayed to be.
Good for the Soul
And at the end of the day, this trip was just good for my soul. I boarded my flight back feeling nurtured and happy, fuller in spirit, and rich with experience. There are no words or photographs that can fully express exactly what that feels like, but I hope you get my point.
And I hope I can take what I’ve learned into my day-to-day life – to be more present, open, vulnerable, and appreciative. So instead of seeing travel as a luxury, I see it as a valued piece of my lifelong education, and I’ve made a commitment to myself to continue my education. A trip of this size may not happen every year, but it will surely not be very long before my next trip is on the horizon.
If you have been thinking of taking that big, fantastic trip – do it. You will surely gain more in experience than the cost of that plane ticket. Boa viagem!
Author’s note: I wrote this as a reflection after I returned from Brazil last year. Now I’m making final preparations to go to Peru. Say yes to the trip!