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Three Lessons from Trains and Planes

Backpacking through Europe had always been a dream of mine.  I was fortunate enough to have a few friends ask me months ago if I’d be interested in a trip this summer, and by spacing out the costs and some serious saving(who knew making a monthly budget actually works?), I was able to make it happen.  A few core lessons stuck with me upon my return.  I believe them to be applicable to any adventure large or small, abroad or domestic, and hope that others find some truth within the words that follow as well.  

Be flexible.

We had it all mapped out so nicely.  A budget for every city, a reservation for all transportation, and an itinerary that would allow us to see it all so efficiently we’d be sipping sangria for hours each night to pass the spare time.   Each and every plan fell apart to some degree.  Whether it was unexpected costs coming up, lost luggage, a late(and from what little I understood, rather surly) German train conductor, or the street signs that appeared closer to hieroglyphs than words, our plans were rocked hard and often.  All we could do was be flexible, adapt, and move forward.  We learned from it, and were better equipped to handle similar situations afterwards.  Thinking of the bumps in the road as learning experiences does little to ease the mind while they actually happen, but in the long run overcoming these obstacles had numerous benefits. 

Traveling is not a movie which you passively observe, but a dance in which you must keep the beat in order to not fall woefully to the wayside.  You may miss a train or flight, but I can guarantee there is another way.  Get creative with whatever resources you have, and make do.  For every problem there is a solution somewhere, it just may not be immediately observable.  Once you relax and accept what is and is not within your control, you can focus on the good stuff anyway. 

The people are as important as the places.

People travel for all kinds of reason.  To see famous landmarks, to taste new flavors, to hear exotic music, all of these are valid reasons for leaving home behind for a bit.  However what surprised me in my experience was that the people I encountered became just as memorable as any park or museum, and the conversations with those from such a drastically different background were worth the world to me.  Hilarity and intrigue are all but guaranteed to ensue when cultures collide, and the brief time frame for these relationships to exist make them beautifully tragic.  People with values as varied as the places they come from, and with whom communication itself can be challenge, are the ultimate safeguard against a dull night.  I don’t know if I ever will see any of the foreign friends I made again, but it is good to know they are still out there somewhere in the world, likely being as wonderfully weird as when I met them.  The physical landscape of places stays relatively the same over the years, but no two journeys are truly the same due to the expansive diversity of locals and other travelers encountered.

Get lost.

Not scary dangerous why-did-I-ever-leave-home lost, but good and off the beaten path lost.  The line between the two blurs at times, so use your best judgement on this one.  While there are some things you have to see in certain cities, so much fun comes from the smaller places that will never grace a magazine cover.  The coffee shop that takes pity on weary travelers, and gives you free tap water.  A train out of the main city so you can better observe it from afar.  Walk(or better yet, bike) wherever you happen to feel on a whim, and let the city wash over you.  Give yourself a unique experience, and I can guarantee afterwards you will be as happy with those memories than you would with any super structured tour day.  Be careful though, and keep a map in the back pocket just in case. 

Once home, I found that the world kept spinning just fine in my absence.  Souvenirs are shared, and the once living and breathing adventure fades and condenses into a handful of anecdotal stories and pictures.  You missed out a few local events that all agree were fun, and play catch up on everything from politics to your favorite shows.  People change ever so slightly, or altogether disappeared while you were gone.  The ending can be bittersweet in this regard, but it is as natural as the excitement that came in the early stages.  

Travel and adventure invigorate the body and mind in a way totally unique onto itself.  The vulnerability of being without so many commodities and comforts we’ve all come to rely on opens you up to the infinite highs and lows of the unknown.  Getting back into the swing of your normal life takes time.  Only now as you go through your daily routines dutifully, you know of the strange and spectacular world that continues to churn only a few planes and trains away.