What was I going to do?? I’d be busy enough exploring once I reached my destination, but what about the travel time in between? And what about my website??
I ended up with lots of time to reflect, while in Europe and on my way home, so I thought extensively about my thoughts about travel (sounds very meta I know). I think I figured a few things out, and found new experiences to confirm pieces of advice I’d already heard. Turns out my trip was a lot more instructive than I’d expected from just two weeks on the road!
Here are some lessons learned:
1. It’s important to slow down sometimes - At first it felt very strange to have nothing “productive” to do. I actually started freaking out a few times - I should be writing, working on my business, doing email, posting on Instagram! I was making myself stressed when I should have been relaxing. Am I becoming a workaholic? I wondered. Am I just trying to fill every second of my day with busy work? In Venice and Rome, the Italian afternoons were far too hot for anything - work or otherwise. So we adopted the schedule of the locals, (trying to) get up early and then take a long siesta after lunch. This new routine forced me to slow down. And because I didn’t have phone service and often no wifi, I stopped obsessively checking my phone. It was weird at first - I kept checking my phone and realizing nothing had changed since the last time I looked. But then it was a huge relief. I didn’t need to be in a rush. When I finally did sit down in a cafe to write in Amsterdam, I was better able to avoid the busy work and focus on the most important tasks.
2. You don’t always have to have a plan - My brother and I wandered the maze-like streets of Venice, taking random turns whenever we felt like it. Some streets were more open, and some were just wide enough for one person, with the many storied buildings leaning inward at the top. Every now and then we would come out on a canal, go over and bridge, or reach a dead end where you could only continue by boat. Because we didn’t have a set destination, I realized, there was no way we could get lost. When we did hit a dead end, it was easy enough to retrace our steps and try again. We wandered in Venice and in Amsterdam, and these turned out to be some of the most rewarding parts of our trip. We stumbled upon amazing things we weren’t expecting to find, like a street performer playing the handpan. As a bit of an obsessive planner, I’m finally getting used to the idea that it’s ok to not know where I'm going all the time. You don’t ALWAYS need to have detailed objectives and goals. I still like goal setting, but sometimes it’s more important to JUST GO, try something, spend less time stuck on decisions, choose a road and adjust course later.
3. Pizza and pastries won’t kill you - In Italy I ate a good amount of food that’s not generally considered “healthy.” Yes, I have different opinions as to what counts as “healthy” eating than the general considerers, but I still usually avoid most Italian food due to my “paleoish” eating habits. Before I left however, my boyfriend told me, “You have to eat pizza in Rome.” “Ok,” I said. My brother and I found a tiny pizza restaurant run by an Italian man and his wife who’d apparently attended Italy’s famous school of pizza making. There were about seven items on the menu, and drink options were wine, beer, or water. The owner didn’t speak much English, so we just pointed to what we wanted. Pizza was served simply and unceremoniously on a piece of parchment paper, and it was delicious. Definitely worth it! When we’d finished, I debated for a long time whether to get another one, but I’m glad I didn’t because I really was full. And you know what - nothing bad happened. I didn’t immediately feel sick and horrible, I didn’t suddenly gain weight, my skin didn’t break out… These thoughts might sound kind of silly to some, but I know they’re very real worries for a lot of people following some kind of restrictive diet, or just trying hard to be healthy.
4. Person-to-person social interaction is key - One of my most memorable moments was asking a random stranger for a restaurant recommendation our first night in Venice. I didn't know any Italian and he had to tell me to speak really slowly, but seemed delighted that I’d asked his advise and tried his best to help. The experience made me realize that what's often missing from short-term travel is the opportunity to connect with people in a new place, to really experience a different way of living and seeing the world. I felt inspired to longer-term travel in the near future. There's so much to learn from other people's lives, and so much perspective to be gained that we just don't get when we don't reach out. I definitely get stuck in my head sometimes worrying about my problems, thinking no one will understand me, when really people deal with similar issues all over the world! Not sure how I got there from restaurant recommendations!
5. Stop worrying about the things you can’t control - On my way home, my flight from Manchester, UK to Chicago was cancelled, causing me to miss a day of work. Something to do with a black box that needed replacing... I could have stressed out about the wasted time, but a guy I met on the flight (who also used to be a personal trainer) reminded me how important it is to accept the things I can’t control, and then make decisions to move forward from there. That was his secret to happiness, he said. The flight cancelation was definitely out of our control, but we could still make the most of this unexpected situation. I found myself on a bus full of travelers I didn’t know, driving to fancy hotel in the city (free!). So I accepted that I’d be getting home a day late, enjoyed a free meal, and did my best to make some new friends. We stayed up late talking about travel, fitness, racism, and Uber, to name just a few topics, and even exchanged email addresses so we could stay in touch! Strangely enough, my layover ended up being one of the most interesting nights of my trip.
I’m trying to incorporate these concepts into my life now I’m back home - alternating fast-paced productive periods with slower interludes, looking out for opportunities and experiences I wasn’t expecting to find, reaching out to people more often, and (especially) accepting the things I can’t control. It’s really ironic how the more I let go of control and go with the flow, the more control I feel I have over my life. More on that later. :-)
In the mean time, I (fittingly) read this book while I was abroad, and I HIGHLY recommend it. And let me know what you think!