Posted by: charityliz | February 12, 2012

Single&Thriving: Lesson 4

Lesson 4: Travel as much as possible, and expect to be changed as a result.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― Mark Twain

My love for travel started when I was 15 years old, when my parents let me and a buddy visit another best friend, who had recently moved away to Portland. I still remember getting on my first plane, a little nervous, but feeling incredibly independent and free at last. I was about to see the world! – or at least Portland.

Since then, I’ll admit, flying itself has lost a bit of its luster, with lost baggage, boring layovers and motion sick landings. But it still holds a special place in my heart as a symbolic gateway to unexplored destinations. And travel itself has been one of the most powerful catalysts to gaining perspective about the world and myself as an adult. There’s something about getting away from my everyday environment and routine that allows me to step out of my own shoes and look at my life from a bird’s-eye view, all the while, being influenced by whatever new place I’m experiencing at the time.

During college, I took my first international trip to Guatemala to live and volunteer at an orphanage/girls home for the summer. This changed my life. For the first time, I was immersed in another culture, felt what it feels like to be a minority and got a small glimpse into a world that was much different than the one back home. I learned what it truly meant to be a privileged American—far more than I had learned through the collection of Sociology classes I had taken at UCLA. Supporting that orphanage is still an important part of my life to this day and a way for me to remember that I have a choice and responsibility for how I choose to use my resources (From everyone who has been given much, much will be expected. -Luke 12:48). I haven’t forgotten the lessons I’ve learned there, but I also realize that the rest of my travels are indeed a confirmation of the privilege I’ve been able to enjoy in my life.

I had an amazing adventure in Panama a few years later, but my most epic travel experience to date was a trip to Europe that I took in the summer of 2009. This was a critical juncture in my life. I was in my late twenties, had been working in a professional job for about 7 years, feeling a bit trapped by the responsibilities of work life, as if I was too young to let the world pass me by, yet still wondering if I would ever cash in on my dream to see Europe. When I finally made my decision to make it happen, it took over a year of planning and saving—but it was more than worth it in the end! The entire trip brought a freshness to my world and an opportunity to reconsider my life in general. The picture below was taken during one of my first nights in Europe while I was touring Paris alone. I’ve always loved this photo because it captures a look on my face that I haven’t seen often– total excitement, anticipation and satisfaction.

In Paris, I learned that a city really can be as romantic and charming as it seems in movies.  And since then, I’ve decided it’s OK to dream as if some things in life might end up as beautiful as they are in the movies! On a less romantic note, I also learned that getting around without a lick of French in Paris is difficult, if not completely foolish! From there, I spent a few days in Denmark, where a proud Danish citizen sang the praises of socialism in a way that challenged all the disadvantages that I had learned about socialism through my American education. I also learned that biking in the rain to a brewery can be super fun! From there I joined two of my best friends in Lithuania, where one was teaching at an international school for two years (talk about taking opportunities to travel—that girl made it happen!). Lithuania was beautiful and fascinating, and I learned that while there is definitely a sad and depressing side to Eastern Europe, it is totally underrated as a travel destination.

From there, the three of us traveled to Croatia. By this point in my travels, I felt so emotionally, mentally and physically distant from my “real life” back home that I could actually picture myself (and seriously considered) coming back to live in Croatia to start a Stand Up Paddle tourism business and spend the rest of my days paddling on the Adriatic! Everything in me screamed, forget my career—I’m ready for a new life! (This coming from a girl who didn’t even know where Croatia was on the map until about three months prior!) But we kept going, as we meandered over to Italy, where I had the joy of soaking up some of the beauty of my own Italian heritage. I found myself reassessing the pace of life that I led, just by watching the way those Italians enjoy the simpler things and the slower pace in their life.

I learned all that and so much more during that sweet European tour. It seemed to make me question every aspect of my life back in the States, but it also allowed for deep reflection about what I actually do want for my life. No matter how lovely a life in Europe sounded, I found that I loved the community, friends and family that God blessed me with, and in the end, I wanted to return to that. I also knew that I had a great career, but finally admitted that I had hit some “dry patches”. So, I returned with a renewed sense of urgency and inspiration to change things up so I didn’t have to feel stuck in the dry patch. That ended up being one of the most challenging and fruitful years of my career, and eventually catapulted me toward looking for a new and somewhat risky position in the Bay Area that would maximize my potential.

As much as I love those extended trips to far-away places, I have to say that any kind of travel is good for my soul. When I couldn’t afford the time or money to go abroad, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore some U.S. cities – New York, Chicago, Boston, D.C., Miami, Florida Keys, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Orlando, Baltimore…And of course, California itself has offered a wide landscape of treasures to be discovered over the years. Whether it’s a flight across country or a road trip up the coast of California, every opportunity to get away seems to give me a chance to relax a little and reflect on life from a different angle. And inevitably, I come back with more clarity on what I want to change or more confidence in what I’m returning to.

“The entire benefit of this trip has been so, so good. I loved the adventure that each day held…I loved spending a whole month with great company, humor and memories…I loved seeing marvels that I had only admired in books before…I loved being totally disconnected from work…I loved that it was all a gift from God…I love the life-pondering, reflection, and perspective I got to have while being away for so long and I pray that those things would not be forgotten, and that I would grow and change from this trip.”  -journal entry at the end of my Europe travels, 8/17/09



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