I have been looking forward to writing this post since returning to Canada as I have spent almost every free moment of my time reflecting on our time spent abroad. My last few days in Koh Tao were also spent reflecting, and I have found it very interesting how my thought pattern has changed since returning to Canada. While still in Thailand I had nothing but positive thoughts about the journey and how we carried ourselves throughout. Since returning home I have been riddled with doubt; Did we enjoy every minute enough? Did we go to the right countries? Should we have spent less time in one country versus another? Will I ever get to travel to this degree again? And on, and on, and on my mind races. I think it has something to do with all of the subliminal messages we receive on a daily basis from the media and those around us. We constantly compare ourselves and our journey to others and that leaves us feeling inadequate. In addition to this, few people understand what Chris and I have gone through or experienced, and most people doubt what we have done to some degree. A common interaction we have with people is to tell them what we have been up to for the past year and have them answer,”You did what?” …and then slink away giving sideward glances as if we have some sort of ailment they can catch simply by speaking with us. This is an adjustment in itself as meeting other travellers on the road where everyone is in the same boat to some degree sparks amazing conversation and discussion and mutual sharing of information between both parties about where we have been, where we are going etc.
I am also still processing many things about the trip. With the pace and ferocity of our travel itinerary it did not leave much time for reflection. It was “on to the next country” without a backward glance at the country we were leaving. It takes a lot to fully digest all that we were able to see and do and I expect this is a process that will continue for a long time. I think that is part of the beauty of it, and why travel experiences are so long lasting. As time goes on, memories strengthen and the emotions surrounding the experience intensify rather than a normal memory which often fades. I am grateful I have such a plethora of memories to sift through at my leisure.
I have been asked an innumerable amount of times since returning barely a month ago, “How are you ever going to adjust to”normal” life again?” I often reply, “Isn’t that the million dollar question.” I think the bigger issue isn’t adjusting to other peoples norms, but finding a norm for myself (and Chris of course). By no stretch of the imagination will our norm ever be the same for the average person, but I think we have to do some work to truly define what our normal will look like. Traveling will always be a big part of our lives, however we have learned that long term extended travel for a year isn’t something we are overly interested in doing again any time soon. For now we are content with our average 3 weeks a year (Gah, we need to move towards a vacation time similar to Australia) and knocking off countries close to us. We also want to spend a lot of time exploring our own country and have several trips planned for the upcoming months within country. How long will we be content with this set up? I can’t answer that right now. The travel bug has been subdued for now but it is only a matter of time before it rears its head again.
How have I been coping so far? I would say that to this point I have been surviving. I started work less than one week after landing back in the country and it felt like my world was turned upside down. I had just spent the last year of my life doing as I pleased, when I pleased with absolutely zero responsibilities. I then began work where I was at the mercy of the position and had (what felt like) all of the responsibility in the world. I found it incredibly challenging despite how much I had reviewed and prepared. Nothing can really prepare you for your first week back at work, especially in health care which is the definition of unpredictable. Not to mention the massive changes that have happened since I last practiced in a community setting over 2 and a half years ago. I have drawn upon all the lessons learned while traveling to get through the first few weeks back at work, and I thought it would be interesting to share some of these lessons with you all. This is not a cookie cutter list that you will find if you google “Lessons learned while traveling.” It is an honest and real list, while many of the other lists I have read are written only about the overwhelming positives aspects of traveling. I hope you enjoy, and I would love to hear your feedback or lessons learned while abroad!
- Always be a traveller, not a tourist. Be conscious of your impact on a place and make a concerted effort to really get to know where you are. Talk to the locals, read the paper, listen to the radio or news. This is how you will know the real story of the country you are in.
- To enjoy experiences to the fullest you need to accept that things are disorganized, chaotic and without reason. If you allow yourself to become frustrated because things are done differently (and more logically) in your home country, you will have a disastrous time. You are in their country, stop asking “Why.” Things will shift from infuriating, to fun.
- That travelling doesn’t allow you to “find” yourself. So many people have the idea that if they go far enough somehow they will all of a sudden realize who they are. The contrary is true. I read a fantastic (and honest) list of travel lessons at markmanson.net and he said, “Rather than discover who you are, you begin to question who you are.”
- Be present in the moment. We are so obsessed with pictures as a culture and we are missing out on really experiencing things because we are behind the lens of camera. The difference between a story and a picture is only one of them can make you feel the emotion of an experience. A picture is one moment in time, but a story changes and evolves every time you tell it. If all you can say is, “I got a great picture,” then you missed the experience and the opportunity for a wonderful story. I am not saying don’t take pictures, take a picture, then set the camera down. Drink in your surroundings and try and memorize every detail of what you are experiencing. *As a side note I would love to learn about the psychology of picture taking and the effect it is having on our society. Days before our visit to the Taj Mahal in India a Japanese man died trying to get a selfie. The same thing happened on “Death Road” in Bolivia. It would be an interesting topic for discussion!
- Communication is the single most important tool in life, and it is not only verbal. Learning to be a good communicator via body language, hand signals etc. can be very effective and powerful. Some of the best conversation we had during our year was with people who did not speak a single word of our language, and us of theirs.
- Sometimes life lessons come at unwanted times and give you unwanted truths. This is part of the beauty of growing as an individual.
- Compassion begins with having it for oneself, before being able to give it to others.
- Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. The most important relationship you will have is with yourself. If you are hard on yourself, you will inevitably be hard on others.
- People are inherently good, kind individuals. Treat them as such.
- The grass isn’t always greener on the side (in fact, it hardly ever is)
- Meaningful conversation is a rarity, cherish the people in your life you are able to share it with. Endeavour to make the effort to deviate from small talk to meaningful conversation with new and old friends- it can be life changing.
- The best memories are made in the smallest moments. The first few seconds of waking up in a tent in the fresh air of a new place, a really good cup of coffee after thousands of cups of instant, making dinner using fresh local ingredients, etc. When I think back on the trip it is often the smallest of moments that elicit the biggest of smiles. The “highlight” reel isn’t necessarily what I conjure when thinking of the trip.
- The same goes for adventure. Adventure doesn’t have to be a big, grandiose thing. It can be a trip to the grocery store. It is all how you approach it.
- The power of vulnerability (Big thanks to Rilla for introducing this concept to me). This goes for both as a person, and being in a new environment. We often cannot handle the feeling of vulnerability but when we learn to embrace and focus ourselves on experiencing it, it can lead to powerful moments. *There is an amazing TedTalk on this concept if you are interested.
- Being uncomfortable is part of daily life for almost every other person on this planet. One of the best things you can do to gain perspective and grow as a person is put yourself in situations in which you are uncomfortable. 4 months tenting throughout Africa where showers, sleeping mats (or beds), refrigeration, warmth, etc. were novelties taught me a lot about comfort and how it isn’t to be taken for granted.
Bonus but more personal: The mountains are always the answer to the most difficult questions life hands me. For inspiration and perspective, hiking through the mountains is where I will find both.
- I am privileged beyond belief both in Canada, and outside of Canada. This is a lesson I was reminded of daily.
- Personal safety is not something to be taken for granted. Growing up in a place where doors were left unlocked, keys left in the ignition, personal belongings unattended and being able to go anywhere at any time of day (especially as a woman) is a great privilege. There are many countries in which people fear for their personal safety (even in their own homes) as part of daily life. These aren’t just war torn countries either. In South Africa people build concrete walls around their properties to keep people out and their families safe and car hijackings are an everyday threat.
- “Space” in this world is a privilege. Both personal space (think India) and personal land are things we take for granted as Canadians as we have the most of both out of any country in the world.
- The four seasons are a blessing and something beautiful we are privileged to experience in Canada.
- Being able to say, “I am bored” is a privilege. I hate this saying, and feeling, but no where else in the world do they have the privilege. They have to collect water, hunt for food, try and find shelter etc. There is no time for boredom as they have to fight to meet their basic needs.
- No job in the entire world is perfect, there are negatives to every single position. Accepting this, and realizing your job is the least interesting or important thing in your life will lead to increased satisfaction with the position. Life is about what you do while not at work.
- Without creativity there is no inspiration in life. This is something I need to integrate into my “work” week. My career leaves little room for creativity so I need to have a “second” job in which I attain opportunities for this, like continuing with this blog.
- As Canadians we agonize over our positions and what we would change or how would do things differently and it seeps into our personal lives. Showing up for work, giving it your all, and leaving it all behind when you are finished are important things to make a concerted effort in doing.
- It is never too late to change. We met countless people who had late in life career changes and are happier than ever. Not that either Chris or I are thinking of this, but it is an important lesson to remember if the need ever arises.
- Find the balance. If this means working less to maintain a better quality of life, then so be it. You will be more productive while at work and while not. Life is not about money (we are really good understanding that lesson).
And finally, the biggest lesson of all? Chris and I are unbelievably lucky and blessed to have shared every single moment together. Most couples struggle to make it through a week in Mexico at an all inclusive resort. We spent every waking moment together for 378 days, and are still smiling. How lucky are we?
I will leave you with a quote from Anthony Bourdain that I found and thought was appropriate for this post.
Cheers everyone, looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the post!