Traveling Towards Wellness
I think I’m fortunate. I inherited the “must travel” gene. Always antsy, I can’t remember a time in my adulthood when I didn’t feel the urge to hoist in my anchor to set sail towards mysterious lands and exotic people. I used to joke that four years in one job, in one place, was all I could take before boredom and depression set in. I relate with the wisdom of the anonymous person who said, “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you.” So I have looked to open roads and open skies as a means of self-healing and stress relief.
Inheriting the Gene
My travel gene comes from my mother’s side of the family. After the death of her second husband, my beloved grandmama Evelyn (see my November 2018 blog) became a solo traveler. Still young at 60, she maintained a career as an office manager while using her vacation time to see the world. On visits to her Spokane apartment I would flip for hours through Time Life coffee table books about Africa, China, and Europe. My brother and I received small gifts and trinkets from Russia, Tokyo, and Scotland. Some of my favorite memories were listening to her stories and looking through colorful stacks of snapshots.
My grandmother passed down the journey gene to her daughter Kathryn, my mom. A self-proclaimed Tom Boy with a non-apologetic adventurous spirit, my mother and step-father have traversed the United States, backpacked through Europe, Great Britain, and Iceland (yes, catching trains and riding public transit), sea kayaked in South America and Alaska, hiked in New Zealand, and mountain biked in Patagonia. My mom, terrified of heights, bungee jumped at the age of 70 off of the tallest bridge in Australia. (Side note: I occasionally watch this video to be inspired by my mom’s bravery, and also get a good chuckle.)
Traveling vs. Vacationing
As I age and gain perspective about the lives of my maternal mentors, I’ve come to realize that, for them, travel wasn’t just about vacationing. The effort of scrimping and saving, planning, and heading towards destinations that may be uncomfortable was about life-long learning, self-awareness, and curiosity. For them, traveling was a way of freeing themselves from their routine daily lives. We are different humans when we travel to places where people and their customs are different. We become more patient, better listeners, better eaters, and more active than we are at home. After a few days we feel reduced stress, sleep better, and loosen the clutter that fills our working minds.
A week ago, Patrick and I returned to Friday Harbor from a 30-day journey to Morocco and Spain. Our four+ week get-away incorporated days of relaxation with periods of cultural immersion. In Morocco, we visited the fishing and surfing town of Essaouira, the glitz and mania of Marrakech, the ancient dark alleyways of Fez, the blue city of Chefchaouen, and spent four days touring the Kazbachs and Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains and Southern Sahara. In Spain, we toured the Alhambra and Goudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We ate our fill of chicken tagine, olives, couscous, and bread, bread, bread. We visited with locals and forgot about work, our pets, our political climate, and — we forgot to be stressed.
What Holds Us Back
This brings me to my current favorite travel quote: “Dare to live the life you’ve always wanted.” — Like everyone else who longs to make drastic changes in their lives to achieve bucket lists of adulthood fantasies, fear can hold me back and actually be the catalyst of my anxiety. It is the act of NOT moving forward that leads to stress-induced health issues. But as my time grows short on this planet, I feel greater urgency to throw caution to the wind. I would rather be poor and fulfilled than rich and depressed.
Thank goodness, that even after his death, Anthony Bourdain is here to guide me.“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
My daughter Oceana is also host to the travel gene. With multiple trips under her belt at the age of 29, she will embark on a solo four-month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this June. Like me, and Evelyn and Kay before us, she is happiest when planning her next destination.
For me Travel=Happiness. And, ultimately, happiness is the key to wellness in all of us.
The blessings that traveling brings to me:
1. Leaving my comfort zone and personal bubble
2. Experiencing new food cultures
3. Leaving news and media behind
4. Reconnecting with my husband
5. Leaving the cooking and cleaning to others
6. Experiencing the hospitality and friendliness of strangers
7. Making new friends
8. Experiencing the beauty of the planet
9. Passing my experience along to others
10. Less anxiety and better overall health