When you are an experienced traveler, there is nothing quite like the feeling of the anticipated journey. Especially when that travel takes you to new lands. For indeed, something happens to people when they travel. A traveler’s brain lights up in new areas, and life itself takes on new interest and color.
Staying in one place can numb the senses. Even when a person lives in a beautiful area of the world like I do, the normal becomes mundane.
I appreciate the beauty of the Central California coast, where I live. The Big Sur coast still takes my breath away. Still, I travel the same Highway 1 to work every day, eat the same Safeway Caesar Salad for lunch, set the same table for dinner with the same plates we've been using for years, pay the same bills off every month, shower in the same bathroom, and shop at the same Trader Joe’s.
In some ways, it's like sleepwalking through life’s repeated habitual patterns.
Even when I am pushing myself to learn new songs on the guitar or study Japanese or find a new restaurant to take my wife for date night, many regular aspects of life continue as usual, blurring past my brain with their banality.
Then it’s time to go on a trip!
Time to Wake Up!
On a trip, everything is new. I travel on a quaint road through unfamiliar landscapes. Or take a chance and eat the frog’s legs offered me by a new friend. I set the table with chipped plates discovered in an old cupboard in the apartment we’re renting.
Or I figure out how to pay the bill with unfamiliar currency to a landlord who doesn’t speak English. In the afternoon I shop in a market with foods I’ve never seen and don’t know how to prepare, buying them from a person in broken language I learned yesterday. No sleepwalking here!
A second thing I feel as I begin any adventure is the anticipation of what the journey can produce. Without fail, relationships with family members deepen.
Instead of getting the kids out of the same bedrooms to eat the same breakfasts before leaving for the same school, we have to first of all figure where the kids are going to sleep, what foods they are willing to eat, and, if part of the whole picture, where the heck the school is located and how we're going to get there.
Doing this often causes tension with each other at first. But then we have to work to relieve that tension. This often involves conflict or struggle, but, in the end, we successfully navigate something difficult and come out stronger in our relationship on the other side.
Our Personal Experience When Living Abroad
A good example of this occurred when we moved to China for a year with our family. Before we began our job at a university in Ningbo, a coastal city of approximately 5M, we spent 10 days two hours north in Shanghai. A friend had allowed us to use his apartment there.
The only problem was that our friend was not there. He gave us a key and told us to use his place, but he would not be there until a couple months later.
Imagine a tired family with three kids, aged 14, 12, and 8, arriving in a Shanghai apartment without any food or air conditioning with 90°F+ (32°C+) temperatures and high humidity outside. We didn’t know the area or where the nearest store was. We had a little Chinese money, but didn’t know enough language to ask for anything specific.
Can you imagine the whining from three hungry, thirsty, tired kids in that situation?
Wandering around the nearby neighborhood, I found a little store, but the only things I could identify were bottled water and ramen packets. I bought those as well as some fruit from a market along the way, and returned to the apartment where we took care of some of the most basic needs of the whining army.
As time went on, the kids rose to the challenge and began to help forage for food and communicate with people in the culture in innovative ways. We had arguments, made bad decisions, made good decisions, but, in the end, we survived and grew through the experience.
Anticipating the Month Ahead
So what struggles, good decisions, bad decisions and discoveries will we make on this trip? We're leaving today, to a land admittedly easier for us to navigate. Nevertheless, we'll have dozens of new opportunities to learn, challenges to overcome, lessons to learn. I cannot wait!
Whatever happens, feeling my brain wake up and anticipating the deepening of relationships with my family – these are two reasons for the adrenaline rush I’m experiencing on this morning before the flight.
Can you related to this idea of zombie living? Have you encountered a similar set of emotions when beginning an international trip?
Image credit: Stencil
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