As well as the obvious physical journeys, prolonged solo travel has led me on an inner journey, teaching me profound truths about myself. These are my top 7 spiritual gifts of travel and my most precious mementos, that I now carry with me every day.
The first gift I received when backpacking in my mid-twenties, was a return to a sense of child-like awe of the world. I didn’t realise I had lost it until I had regained it, I didn’t realise how accustomed I had become to routine and a hum-drum existence until I traded that reality in for an unpredictable life on the road. New places and cultures excited my senses, new friends opened my heart, and my eyes were opened to the incredible diversity that we are all a part of on planet Earth. Travel taught me that this world is indeed a mystery, as well as a very exciting place to be.
One of the countries I most wanted to visit was Morocco. Friends, family and acquaintances all warned me that it was dangerous and foolish for a young woman to travel there alone. I went anyway, though their well-meaning doubts chipped away at my brazenness until I found myself quaking and sweating as I flew into Marrakech. I made a conscious decision as we landed not to let my fear control my life. I took a few deep breaths and broke my fears down into manageable baby-steps, focusing on only one thing at a time: getting through the airport, finding a taxi, checking in to my hotel, exploring the nearby streets. Before I knew it my fear had dissipated and I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this exotic country. Travel taught me to have the courage to follow my own compass, my path is my own.
I don’t complain so much anymore, but if I do catch myself feeling sorry for myself or feeling that I do not have enough…(time, love, money, whatever), I quickly take a trip down memory lane. I remember my ever-cheerful friends in Egypt who work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to afford the rent on a tiny mud house they share with 6 family members. Or I think of the kids I saw in Cambodia squealing with joy as they played with their new toy – a plastic bag tied to a piece of string. Travel has taught me that I have more blessings than I can count, and to feel thankful for all that I have.
Before my overseas adventures I was quite shy, naïve and as my sister would say, “school-smart but not street-smart”. In fact, my family thought I’d be scuttling back to the safety of home after a few short months. But slowly the new situations and places I found myself in drew out a new part of me that was resourceful, confident and eager for a fully-lived life. Travel taught me that we are so much more than what we, or others, think of us, we all have unlimited potential just waiting to blossom into the light of a new day.
Although I did learn to manage my fear better, I still frequently had moments of uncertainty. In these vulnerable times I often found myself whispering a little prayer for deliverance to the Universe, which, to my surprise, would unfailingly respond, usually through a human angel sent to my rescue. Whether it was meeting a fellow sister on an intimidating, all-male, Saharan bus trip; the Indian family who drove me across town to an alternative bus station after I had missed the last bus in frenzied Delhi; or the kind Nepalese men who helped me find antibiotics when I was sick in a remote Himalayan village. Travel taught me to have faith in people and in life, and that most things work out just fine.
Travelling has forced me to let go of a lot of things and to be comfortable with that process. Letting go of belongings so that I can travel and live lightly, letting go of the known so that I can explore the unknown, letting go of old friends for awhile so that I can make new ones. A big learning curve has been letting go of the need to control circumstances, as often in foreign countries there is no other option but to let go and go with the flow. Our only choice is to do so grudgingly or gracefully. I try now to release control gracefully, it’s a much sweeter way to live.
I used to be so gung-ho in my beliefs. I used to believe that I was right, and if someone didn’t agree with me on a particular issue I could spend hours heatedly debating until they either agreed with me or I wrote them off as someone I didn’t want to associate with (I now cringe at how narrow-minded I was!). Through travelling I made friends with Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, the ultra-rich, the desperately poor, left-wingers, right-wingers and everyone in between. I learned that the world is a big place and we all see things differently. I stopped judging others or trying to force my ideals onto them and became much more interested in finding out what I had in common with others. Travel showed me that we all laugh and cry, we all have families and people that we love, we are all human beings doing the best we can with what we have. This is the way to peace.