Travel and Life’s Lessons Reaffirmed
It’s often helpful to reflect on where we screwed up or didn’t maximize our potential and learn lessons from these experiences. But more often, we’re not learning something new, but rather relearning lessons, or just revalidating lessons learned, once again. Below are a few new lessons learned, but mostly a few revalidated ones coming out of this three-month journey to Italy.
Upon retirement, we set the goal to establish a base of operations from whence we could travel extensively and experience the world in ways prohibited by full-time employment. Our first long term travel occurred a year into retirement and long before the ‘Base’ was fully established. This six-week trip was back to our old haunting grounds of Germany and Austria. It worked out well. Our second was to go back to Ursula’s home town by spending ‘A Year in Vorarlberg.’ It only lasted nine months (two three month spurts for me). Still, it was back to familiar grounds where we had an apartment and a supportive community of friends. Our ‘Bellissima Italia’ adventure is really our first long term trial away from everything with constant moving from one location to another. Here’s a couple of observations about long term travel we learned along the way.
Three months of moving every few days is too long. It sounds like a great way to live, being a gypsy without concern or care, and leaving everything behind. While aspects of it have its allure, for us, it’s too long. It’s tiring; the logistics of constant coordination can be nerve-wracking, consume lots of resources, and take away from the overall experience. While not be fixated on a specific, planned out schedule is adventurous, not having accommodations coordinated long before makes spontaneous travel onerous. After a period away, the novelty and excitement of new places subside, and you are drawn to thoughts of home and friends. We’ve concluded that six weeks is probably a suitable timeframe for our future excursions out in the world. In response to this lesson reaffirmed, we’ve canceled our two month trip to Spain in April.
Ling term travel is harsh on relationships, even established ones. Living in each other’s shadows day after day invites constant reminders of the other’s faults and shortcomings that can obscure those attributes that make that person so dear to you. When you only have one person to ‘bitch to’ and that person is the one you want to ‘bitch about,’ it can be isolating. On the flip-side, you learn to lean heavily on your partner and learn to grow together that way. It’s a mixed bag and has to be handled carefully to ensure there’s a balance. Afternoons away from each other is vital and helps freshen up the time spent together.
Travel light. In my old ‘Airborne day’s,’ we had a saying’ travel light, freeze at night.’ This is definitely a ‘sacred cow’ truism that we’ve slain again and again. We swore we would not violate this rule of thumb, and yet we did. Our original plan was only to pack enough to fit in a backpack and handbag. This would allow us the ultimate freedom of maneuver to travel with buses, trains, jumping around without a trail of luggage, and other impedimenta. Unfortunately, traveling over two seasons in two geographical regions made this impracticable. We found ourselves packing for three months for both the Mediterranean beech environment and the snow-covered mountains of Austria, plus leaving room for the crap we buy along the way. We’re both too old to travel light and freeze at night anymore. While the weight of one’s baggage is inversely proportional to the level of enjoyment while traveling, it’s the contrary once you’ve parked yourself in a hotel.
Travel with clothing that’s wrinkle-free and dries overnight. If you wish to maintain a decent appearance and not smell, you’ll have to pack a lot of clothing or frequently wash in your hotel sink. This gets challenging for winter type of clothing, but it is do-able if you select well. Make sure what you bring serves multiple uses by mixing and matching appropriately.
Conditioning. Staying in shape on the road is critical and challenging to accomplish if you are not dedicated. Be dedicated. It’s too easy to get fat and stuporous while traveling extensively. It’s easy to get hurt and nurse your ailments by skipping the daily regimen of stretching and calisthenics. I have a friend who once brought a 25-pound barbell on a trip and found space to work out. On longer trips, he carries stretchable bands and has an exercise regimen where he works out his major muscle groups. He’s amazing, we all could learn from his example. But we probably won’t. However, we all could do a bit more than just sit around and drink beer and eat while traveling. Getting out of condition leaves us more susceptible to injury and more excuses for not working out. It’s a bad move, stay in shape.
Travel for the sake of travel is aimless and seems to be a meaningless way to live. While on travel, it’s helpful to focus the adventure in consequential or purposeful ways. You can only visit so many cathedrals or castles before you’re burnt out on them. Burning out too quickly could ruin your experience. Developing a complimentary aim makes the experience more engaging. Focusing on each new place around learning the history, the culture, improving your language skills, photographing different architectural styles, or writing about your odyssey gives more meaning to your travels. Seeing things just for the sake of having seen them, gets real old quick. Discover something special that allows you to leverage this new place, this unique experience.
Communication is key. When away from home for extended periods, your attention will wander back to your routine back home. An excellent way to quench these distractions is to have a good suite of communications and people who’ll let you know that all is ok and you should really focus on where you’re at. Find hotels and B&B that have high-speed internet. This is becoming easier and easier as it part of the competitive model to get more clients/customers. Have a smartphone or tablet computer capable of accepting a local telephone SIM card. This is key when you are away from your hotel room and need to navigate your way around an unfamiliar city or find a restaurant. Equally important to your enjoyment is to be able to read reviews online so you can find just that right place to visit, or discover where to stay away from.
Aimlessly traveling with no real plan may be a delightfully hedonistic lifestyle while on the road, but it’s wasteful. One’s time is quickly eaten up, and there may not be many memorable experiences to have made it all worth the expense and time. However, planning a rigid schedule that tightly manages every second of every day is another way to ruin one’s travel. Finding a balance that offers plenty of flexibility into a schedule that gets you to places you want to see is vital. The flexibility allows you to seize unexpected opportunities of happenstance that present themselves from time to time, particularly if you’re looking for them. While chatting with locals, you’ll discover all sorts of places to see that aren’t in the guide books. While driving or walking around, your curiosity will draw you to unknown places and unexpected events. Having the freedom to maneuver your schedule around these opportunities will heighten your travel experience to new levels of enjoyment and satisfaction. Don’t plan too tightly.
This is but a shortlist of ‘lessons reaffirmed’ that we’ll update from time to time. If you have others add them in the comments section below.