Are you wondering how long we can all keep on traveling? According to the UN, there are, as of today, a total of 193 sovereign states. Now, I have been traveling a lot and for a long time, and I have barely gone to a fifth of them. I haven’t even completed exploring the state of Arizona, where I have lived for seven years.
And the pandemic has not made bucket-list travel any easier for any of us. But, there should be no worries. I believe there is significance in the difference between outer and inner journeys. In practice, there is always a lot of attention given to outer journeys. Just look at all of TravelAwaits’ inspirational content. Almost all the articles are about a destination or a mode of travel. But once in a while, you will have an experience that I call an inner journey. They are the ones that come about as a result of our outer journeys. These are the best gifts of travel, and there are, I think, three kinds: lessons learned, changes made, and insights gained.
Here is how a lesson is defined: an amount of teaching given at one time. Sometimes it can be as simple as operating a different kind of coin-operated shower at a campground. In Chicken, Alaska, had I learned that lesson faster, I would not have had to give up and use the sink for a bath in the cold of early fall way up there in the north. Other times, it can be as complex as learning to find your way when you are lost in a place where the language is as foreign as the land. An example: I got by with a smattering of words aided by a great deal of hand and body language in rural Mexico. How I wish I had taken lessons in conversational Spanish.
RVing in North America gave us one particularly valuable life lesson. The RV which we used as our home weighed all of 10 tons. It was so expensive to carry that weight as we went around the continent in the process of discovering different neighborhoods. The cost of fuel was one of the largest expenses of a life on wheels, so we learned to stock up only a week’s supply of groceries and pantry items, have only four of everything from silverware to linens, and avoid buying anything unless it was replacing something else. Guess what great life lesson that taught us? Yes, we discovered that the only way to travel light is to live light.
Now there are many definitions of the word change. Technically, it is the instance of becoming different (and it is as certain as taxes and death). We constantly change as we go through life. But my thesis is that we change more when we travel because we are exposed to a barrage of new places and practices consistently and often. My travels have given me the gift of several life-altering changes.
One of those was to finally realize how to be a wife. Before I left to migrate to and retire in the U.S., my calling card had these words printed on it: “President/CEO.” Now it reads “Wanderer, Writer, Wife.” On my third try at marriage, one that was at the outset fraught with gender, cultural, and individual differences, especially in our advanced years, we succeeded. Travel gave us so many coping mechanisms during our extended honeymoon years. In the end, the throw pillow that read “We get along in our RV cuz we don’t have room to disagree” became a favorite possession.
And I not only became a wife without losing my identity; I also became an American without losing my roots. Our RV odyssey led me through three stages of American discovery. Starting in the West, I was moved by the beauty of the land and began humming “America the Beautiful.” As we crossed the Midwest, a gradual conversion to the American way of life happened, including cooking burgers and dogs, wearing jeans and ball caps, and dancing two-step and enjoying rock and roll. When we reached the East Coast and I encountered America’s historical roots for the first time, the transformation was complete. I began to hum “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At my swearing-in ceremony, I did not receive just a piece of paper. I had a whole new heart. I had truly become an American.
Finally, travel gives us the gift of insight, a deep understanding of a person or thing. We have so far traveled to 38 countries. In the process, I have developed a healthier perspective of the qualities that travelers must have in new and strange lands: Flexibility, curiosity, and courage are among them. I have also been able to deal with different kinds of travel mishaps including falling ill while on the go. A good attitude is essential during such times. It is good if your travel buddy has that attitude, too. I was lucky.
I also have a better understanding that there are times and reasons for traveling with either your best friends or your spouse and for going to brand new or old favorite destinations. I also know much more about the best seasons to travel and how long to stay in one place. Because of travel, I have repeatedly experienced that there are so many beautiful people out there and that food is always best in its place of origin. Finally, I have come to really stick to my routines for keeping fit while on the go. I have even formulated new rules that adhere to CDC safety guidelines for traveling during the time of coronavirus.
Now that I am no longer able to travel as much as I did before (now we’re away from home just three to six months a year, down from eight to 12 — partly because of COVID and partly because of age), I have discovered how to blend outer and inner journeys well. My husband and I have the luxury of the latter when we are at home. Because we have done and are still able to do some travel, we continue to be enriched by both. Whatever age we start traveling, we must begin to take note of our inner journeys and start our own book of sorts of lessons learned, changes made, and insights gained. These are the best gifts of travel, and they become more precious over time.
Editor’s Note: Carol’s second travel book, Cruising Past Seventy: It’s Not Only about Outer Journeys. It’s Also about Inner Ones, which includes more insights on her journeys and lessons learned, is now available for preorder on Amazon. For more travel takeaways and inspiration, see all our Inspire content here.
Source Note: The figure cited in the first paragraph of this article regarding the number of countries in the world comes from this Worldometer page.