Souvenirs are not the only things brought back from vacation

I went on a vacation a little while ago. It started as a conversation about getting away from the snow and ice and other bothersome situations, and all I wanted was a place on a beach, in the sun, where it was impossible for me to do laundry. For me, that equals a vacation.

Somehow that morphed into a trip to a foreign country, and in spite of my fear of the unknown – especially when traveling – I went ahead with the plans.

Now I have a confession to make. I am not the best traveller around. I don’t travel much, so I am terrible at it. In light of this, I try to avoid problems by doing a lot of research on how best to go about it, and what to do and what to avoid while visiting the destination I have in mind.

I have been known to generate actual binders of information, complete with many colorful tabs, with this process. It’s mostly unnecessary, but it comforts me and settles me down about the stress of traveling, so it does serve a purpose.

I always pack too much and have a poor sense of how long it takes to do anything, and trying to get to an airport, get through security – not to mention customs – and then find my gate and catch a flight is quite the challenge for me.

Add to that the fact that I might cause a hold-up for complete strangers who actually do know what they’re doing, and you have enough stress to create the perfect storm, and thus an epic meltdown. Needless to say, I do whatever I can to circumvent that launch sequence, but it doesn’t always work.

Perhaps I am getting older, and just maybe a little wiser, but this trip didn’t seem to be so bad. Even though my daughter did warn my travel companion about the potential of the meltdown, it never occurred.

I actually breathed normally the entire time I was traveling, and found myself at times trying to settle down my traveling companion instead. It was an interesting observation, to say the least.

I did expect to just take it easy and enjoy the time off in the sand and sun for most of the time I was there. Whereas most of the passengers on the chartered plane seemed to be looking forward to simply getting drunk in an exotic place for seven days, I was more of the mindset of learning about how people live in another country, so far away from my own culture.

I did my best to learn some of the language before I got there, but guidebooks don’t teach everything there is to know about grammar. Thinking at one point that I was asking an older gentleman with a horse if I might give it a kiss on the nose, I was told later that I actually asked the man if he would kiss his horse for me. That would explain the strange look I got.

Still, the grace and patience of the local people were steadfast and made me realize that regardless of everything else, humans are humans and all was forgiven in an environment filled with laughter and kindness. After all, we all smile in the same language, and thank goodness for that.

We did the typical tourist thing, observing the customs, trying new foods and buying lots of souvenirs, but another thing was happening that I hadn’t counted on. I don’t know if I even realized it until I was back on the ground in Chicago, but my perspective had been adjusted in a wonderful way.

Just trying to escape from O’Hare airport while driving back to the parking ramp, I realized something that I hadn’t before. We live in a county of great bounty and have so much more than we need. We spend much more than we need to. And we appreciate things a lot less than we should. We tend to value things instead of relationships. We can enjoy life so much more than we do, and we can do it with so much less.

As a result, I’m changing almost everything about the way I live, starting yesterday.

I’m going to spend a lot less time watching television (and I don’t watch much now). I’m going to spend much more time outside, regardless of the season. I’m going to stop looking at catalogs and magazines, and wanting and wishing I had all the stuff in them.

I’m going to stop trying to get stuff in general and start enjoying what I have more. I am going to start saving my money for important things, like more trips abroad. I am going to start making the things I need instead of buying them.

I am going to start making art a priority in my life instead of waiting until I have time for it, because that never happens. I am going to sit outside and draw more of what I see, and not worry about what it looks like and remember that what it feels like is the important thing.

I am not going to stress about things getting dirty, broken or lost. I always want to remember that the experience is what’s important – the relationship, and not all the fussy little details that creep up in between. Those evil, insidious details that eat up our lives and make us forget to enjoy where we are and what we’re doing.

I am not going to let petty people with small worlds affect my own. I want to experience and enjoy every single minute moment of life, even the gritty, ugly parts. I am going to stop worrying about all the deadlines and the @#$% rules and live my life the way I want to live it and not give a damn about what anyone thinks. I want to be fearless.

Next time you go on vacation, have a great time. Experience all you can, wherever you go, and with whomever you interact with, and see what you bring back, besides the souvenirs. I hope it changes you forever, too.


Originally published May 3, 2013.


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