The Two Journeys of Independent Travel
When it comes to independent travel, there’s much to do when planning your trip – flights, accommodations, transportation, attractions, etc. All of these pieces are necessary to be sure things go smoothly and you have a great time! There’s a second part of the trip that no one really talks about or prepares you for, the internal journey through uncertainty to awesomeness that happens as you go through the outward experience.
The Outward Journey
Truthfully, once you have all the plans in place, tickets booked, and logistics managed this is the easy part. Yes, you still have to figure out how to get to your next destination, train station, attraction, etc., but you discover it’s easy enough to find the information you need. This is where the magic starts – you pop out of the tube station to see Big Ben towering over you or round a corner and catch your first glimpse of the Black Sea! The nerves that come with getting yourself from place to place start to melt away as you discover you really can do this!
When you stand in the places where history was made, lives were forever changed, and the course of nations was altered, there’s a profound shift in awareness that happens as you try to wrap you brain around it all. In those moments, I often think of Carl Sagan’s words about looking back at the image of Earth from space, our Pale Blue Dot.
“That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
For me, this leaves me with a sense of wonder about our shared humanity – how the humans of the past coped with their circumstances – and makes all my problems so incredibly small. During these moments, I can’t help but reflect on my place in the grand scheme of things. This is when I notice more of what’s happening inside my head and heart.
The Internal Journey
This part of the experience is more difficult to prepare for. I’ve been struck dumb – more than once – by an iconic work of art, the majesty of towering mountain peaks, and a panoramic view over a breathtaking city I’ve always wanted to see. These are the moments that usually make up my favorite memories and why I’m so completely in love with travel!
When you step outside your everyday surroundings and routines, you create space for a different perspective. Everything is new, fresh, and full of life! It forces you to be present. Your senses are bombarded with new sights, sounds, and smells that you have to somehow incorporate into the catalog of information already collected in your brain and memories. When there are so many unfamiliar sensations, it can be a little overwhelming (in the best possible way!). Your perspective has to shift simply to accommodate it all!
When traveling, I always keep a journal in my day pack or purse because it helps me process all of the feels when I can get them out on paper. It forces me to find words to explain what’s happening inside as I have these new experiences. Photos are my other favorite way of capturing the moments that make me see life in a new way. They rarely look like what my eyes are looking at, but when I browse them later I’m whisked back to those moments and take a minute to reflect on those experiences.
Preparing Yourself for the Shift
The shift in perspective is inevitable, unless you’re really dead inside or not paying attention to what the hell is happening around you. This is where “slowing down” comes in. When you’re running through a destination with a checklist of places to see, you can sometimes miss the magical moments that knock your socks off or not really process them completely! I promise you, the best memories you bring home aren’t going to be from stuff on your checklist. It will be the unexpected encounters and experiences that you’ll talk about for years to come.
The best way to prepare for this kind of life-affirming shift in perspective is to simply be aware of its possibility and allow yourself to be open to it. Engaging a destination with an open heart and mind usually means it won’t throw you totally off kilter and provides the space for huge amounts of gratitude and appreciation. I mean, you’re here! You’re living, breathing, and experiencing these wonders you’ve been dreaming about! Life doesn’t get any fucking better than that. Period.
What types of experiences really changed the way you see the world? Were you prepared for them? What helped you process these shifts in perspective?