Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Transformation Vacation

Before Paul and I left on our trip to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago this summer our friends and family were intrigued. After all this was not your typical vacation.

“You’re going to walk how many miles? For fun? Why?” they asked.

The trip we were undertaking involved walking nearly all day for five and a half weeks under the hot Spanish sun, braving bugs and blisters and waking up at 6am and sleeping in creaky old bunk beds with a room full of snorers. We had to carry everything we needed on in our backpacks. This might sound like a nightmare for some, but from the first time my friend Matt told me about the Camino I felt a magnet-like pull to take this journey. Besides the fact that I really wanted to visit Spain again, I was seduced by the idea of taking on something that was difficult and outside of my comfort zone. I liked that it was something Paul and I could do together and wondered how it would shape our characters and bring us closer together. There was a big allure to having hours at a time to think while walking through parts of the country that not many people ever get to see and by the prospect of meeting new friends from all over the world.

I have always been of the opinion that the trips worthy of spending those hard-earned vacation days on are those that have the potential to change you in some way. For some that means quitting your job to vagabond around the globe for a year, building an orphanage in Kenya, bringing books to children in Cambodia, following the path of your ancestors in Norway

or hiking an ancient pilgrimage across Spain. For others, place can be secondary to the people involved on the trip. Some find themselves transformed after undertaking even a small activity that pushes them outside of their comfort zone.

While some of us would be perfectly content selling everything we own and zigzagging across the globe, I think it’s important to note that the search for change and growth can manifest itself in totally different trips for different people. Transformational travel can also come from spending 24/7 with your husband or parents or best girlfriends, meeting someone from another culture for the first time or discovering how much different other parts of the world are, yet how much they’re the same.

If I think back to the most memorable trips I have taken, the moments that really stand out are not those spent sitting by the pool or taking an afternoon nap (although these activities might represent a huge paradigm shift for people who are on 24 hours a day and rush to answer their crackberry at 2 am). I think about the things that have expanded me as a person. Things like the meals I shared with new friends from all different countries on the Camino, taking that first step backwards to rappel down a waterfall in Costa Rica, learning to navigate the streets of Washington, D.C. all by myself, walking 31 kilometers in one day with a killer foot injury, learning to ski after being completely terrified with the encouragement of Paul and my brother and sister-in-law, drinking new wine straight from the barrel before it was released to the public, growing closer to Paul after understanding more about myself, or trying octopus cooked in its own ink after mistakenly ordering chipirones instead of champinones.

Want your next trip to be a transformation vacation? Here are some tips.

Think back…
to your favorite travel moments. Ask yourself what made them special. What do they have in common? Did you try something new? Face a fear? Get to know the person or people you were with in on a different level? Get totally lost in a new culture? Live out a dream? Think about the ways you can you incorporate these types of experience into your next trip.

Challenge Yourself to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
This can be anything from finally deciding to try out an adventure sport –bungee jumping, hang gliding, white water rafting, rappelling to visiting a place where you don’t speak the language. If you always travel solo, bring along a friend or family member. If you don’t have travel companions, so what? Take the leap anyway.

Put Your Personal Limits to the Test

These can be physical limits, mental limits or social limits. Hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. Pick up your backpack and hike the Camino de Santiago. Climb a mountain. Bike across Europe. Stay in a tiny cabin with your whole family and toys that make noise for a week. Talk to the people around you. I like to choose trips where I can share the experience with new people. People can enrich your travel experience much more than place. If you are really brave, give Couch Surfing a try. If you are the kind of person who needs constant noise and stimulation, go someplace that challenges you to become comfortable with silence and meditation.

Go ahead, act like a kid. Being somewhere new can let you reconnect with that uninhibited, uncensored part of yourself. Eat 3 scoops of gelato for breakfast in Florence. If your heart screams, “I want to ride an elephant!” do it! Sometimes instant gratification can be fantastic.

Sometimes you don’t know how significantly a trip or experience has changed you until you take the time to meditate on it and write about it.
Keeping a journal or a blog can commemorate your experience and be a much more meaningful reminder of your journey than a miniature statue of liberty tchotchke. If you aren’t a writer you can still keep a reflection journal in other ways. At the end of the trip make a play list of all of the music you listened to on your trip that will trigger memories. If you are an artist, keep a sketchbook. My husband is an architect so he keeps a sketchbook with him on trips and draws the layouts of the buildings we stay in or sketches the old beautiful churches. He’s built up a really special collection over the years that triggers detailed memories for him.


Caminowebmaster said...

Glad to hear your Camino went well.

tmac96 said...

Wow, Very cool! I SO want to travel more. There always seem to be something else though that gets in the way. I guess it's like anything though -- you have to make it a priority in order to make it happen! :-) I'm inspired to get out there more just by reading your words. THANKS!

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