13 September 2009

On Travel

Traveling has many benefits but one of the best things it does is to teach me the gift of action.

At the beginning is an idea for travel. The idea takes time to shape and form. I spend many minutes mulling over if this idea should become something real that happens to my body or something that stays in my head.

For me, the notion of travel is not real until the plane ticket has been bought. I spend hours searching for the right price but most importantly, the courage to say yes.

Once I get to my destination, I disappoint myself. I have traveled enough to feel that I am a seasoned traveler. But even seasoned travelers get rusty.

Mistake #1 (perhaps the biggest and only mistake you can make)
I think that I can figure things out on my own and fail to act.
I clutch my guidebook at baggage claim and look through it to find information on how to get from the airport to my first hotel. I can't find the right information. I turn to my partner in veiled panic. We discuss together and come to a loss quickly. We don't know what to do. We are afraid to look like stupid Americans in a foreign country. So we discuss all the possibilities of what the ambiguous phrases in the guidebook could mean about how to find an ATM or cell phone card or transportation. We come up with three, possibly 4 theories as to why we are in our current predicament.

Finally, a wiser member of our party says, "Hey, there is no way that we can figure this out on our own. Let's just ask someone for help." And goes over to the information desk and asks in English and the problem is solved, pronto.


When J. and I arrived in Venice, we were all fumbles and no action. We were afraid to act, to make a mistake as vulnerable tourists. But by the time we had traveled through Italy and arrived in Rome a week and a half later, we had learned to recognize our limitations faster and ask for help as soon as we recognized them. We had learned that the only way to get something done was to act.

We learned that smiles, "Scuzi," "por favore," and "grazie" can go a long way. As Paulo Coeho says, when you have a dream, you will find people who are willing to help you get to your dream.

Gracious Italians and fellow travelers helped us at all times. By the end of our time, we never had a moment wasted where we stood around stymied and muttering amongst ourselves about possible tangential solutions to our problems (most of which had to do with being lost). We took action, we reached out to others, and found our way again and again.

If I was lost and the map was unhelpful, I learned to ask for help from one person, then another, and then another, until I had what I needed to find my destination. The first person gave me lots of hand signals for right turns and lefts. The second person was incredibly friendly but had no clue. The third person let me borrow her close-up map which ended up being the wrong neighborhood. But those three people combined gave me the right combination of information and support to venture out on my own, to keep my tired legs going over the cobblestone paths and find my address at the end of an improbable alley.

When you make a mistake, you truly do learn from it. You learn more Italian phrases. You learn to use more hand motions. You learn more of the universal language that communicates friendship and desire.

The spirit of traveling is the spirit of action and I am so grateful for it. Once that plane ticket is bought and you've reached your destination, you find that it was all worth it--the money spent, the strength it took to face your fears and muster the courage to say yes to your desires. Again and again, without fail, traveling shows how decisions and actions bring change, how mistakes are part of the journey, and that the true pleasure of life is being on the way and following our hearts.

Back in my apartment, I can see my old spirit--the one that used to sit dejected looking out the window, full of ideas but feeling discouraged. This old spirit would look at the dirty dishes or piles of laundry and think, "I wish I lived in a cleaner place. I wish this place wasn't so dirty." And then return to sitting and wondering how life could feel so hard.

Now I have the lived experience to say to it: Do something, anything, and you will be on your way to your desires! The only way to get something done is to act. You must move your body, reach out to someone else, tip the dominoes and let the chain of action begin.

1 comment:

  1. Great observations, especially in the first anecdote. I can really relate to that - not wanting to look dumb and then ending up kind of paralyzed.

    I am starting to write a post about your and J.'s wedding gift. Do you have a wedding picture you could e-mail me that you wouldn't mind me using?

    Thanks, Hanna! Welcome back.