As I prepare to get back into the real world, I’m taking stock of everything I’ve learned in the last year and a half since our journey around the globe began. 12 of those months were spent traveling across 26 countries on 6 continents; the rest of the time has been dedicated to re-acclimating to life in one place, for now, surrounded by familiar faces and things. The lessons I learned out there have helped immeasurably with the transition back here.
I learned that all I really need for life on the road is 4 pairs of shoes: flip-flops, tennis shoes, sandals and a ballet flat. All are comfortable enough to walk in for any amount of time and each serves multiple purposes. We chased summer on our journey, with a few dips into cold weather – Patagonian glaciers, cities in northern Europe, New Zealand in October. The tennis shoes took me thru numerous hikes. The flats and sandals were nice enough for a night out or a museum or church. Aside from all the time spent on beaches, the flip-flops guarded me from sketchy showers and questionable floors in hotels, trains and planes. And when needed, the flats and tennis shoes protected my toes against cold. Had I planned to encounter more cold weather, I’d have swapped out the sandal for a motorcycle boot. Back in my real life, those are still the shoes I gravitate toward, while my beautiful designer shoes I once loved so much sit on the shelves gathering dust.
I learned that airplane turbulence is God’s way of reminding you who’s in charge, and that toilet paper is a privilege, not a right.
I learned that when it comes to booking a place to stay, travel sites like TripAdvisor are your best friend and worst enemy. There is no better way to get an accurate picture of a place than to read reviews written by like-minded people. It’s also the perfect rabbit hole by which anyone can be consumed. Suddenly two hours have passed, you’ve read about every hotel in the greater area and are so confused and frustrated that you end up booking the first place you looked up. Give yourself a time limit to look and book – for me, it’s 30 minutes – and move on. Save your precious time and blood pressure.
I learned I don’t need much – to wear, carry with me, live on. Humans are like goldfish – we acclimate to the size of our tank, or apartment or house or wardrobe. We can adapt to more and do just as well with less. Don’t get me wrong – I like my things. It’s just very clear to me now that I don’t need the majority of them. And that I’m actually happiest when faced with nothing but the few items that fit into my small carry-on suitcase.
I learned there are certain things I will never again travel without. I wrote about my list of travel must-haves here. But the most important is an open mind. And a sense of curiosity.
Finally, there’s a simple question I’m asked which makes me panic: what did you learn from your trip? I start searching my brain for some life-changing revelation of an answer, a zen-inducing deep shift inside me I can pass along. I learned that handy wipes should be carried at all times. Deeper? Headlamps are priceless. Still no? Then I’ve got nada. Until now. After the last couple of months at home, faced with nothing but time to think, I realized I did take away something bigger than just packing efficiency (I could give a seminar on this). I learned to JUST. LET. GO. Let go of the wheel. Let life happen. Get out of my own way. We did our trip in a way that meant we had no plans, weren’t sure where we were heading next or where we would be in a month. And the not knowing was so liberating. It was my favorite part of the entire journey, and a complete departure from my normal OCD self. And it’s the single biggest holy shit-revelation to come out of my time away. I’m betting many people can figure this out without leaving their jobs and homes and lives for a year, but until now I didn’t realize what a difference it would make if I just gave up control. For the first time in my life, I sat back, let life happen and it served me so well. It was so entertaining to watch. And in the short time I’ve been back, I’ve tried to maintain that hands-off-the-wheel attitude with everything that happens in my life. We will see how that changes once I’m back at work and in the States for longer than two months at a time. But that’s my revelation. And for me, it’s life-changing.
Between that and my four pairs of shoes rule, I feel so wise. And no, I’m not giving away my designer shoes. I’m still me.
To see this blog as it appeared in The Huffington Post, click here.