It’s funny how we travel – to far-flung places, to meet total strangers, to eat exotic foods, to lose luggage (not on Virgin Australia!) – all so we can find ourselves.
It’s so much harder to find yourself when you’re lazing on your lounge or even sitting in meditation, than it is when you put some distance (and some space) between where you are going and the life you leave behind.
The more road (or air miles) travelled, the less time the journey seems to take to reach deep inside to a place where suddenly the journey begins all over again.
Yep, travel is good for the soul (unless it’s an interstate commute for back-to-back business meetings or a red-eye to get to your aunt’s funeral).
“Not all those who wander are lost,” muses JR Tolkein, and my favourite from Lao Tzu: “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arrival.”
Here are a few tips to make travel soulful and special – tips about getting lost as much as arriving. About seeking as much as finding. About feeling the joy, regardless.
Make it about the journey
Half the joy (not a scientific measurement) of travel is in the planning – in the Pinterest collection of travel porn, the slow, sweet anticipation of new horizons. And then when your plane takes off it’s in the sheer freedom of flying – of actually travelling thousands of kilometres, half-way round the world, all while you might have been (comfortably) sleeping in your bed at night, or slaving a day away at the office. Air travel is pretty amazing isn’t it?
So are bumpy roads on the way (or via a ‘short’ detour) to somewhere very special in China; kamikaze drivers who nearly kill you in Vanuatu, and signs that make no sense but still get you somewhere, wherever it is you were meant to go. Taking the soul train, especially the Orient Express, or the mighty Ghan across the nothingness of the Nullabor must be pretty special too (both are on my bucket list).
Make it about the details
The delicacy of the dainty pink ribbon, neatly tied around a strawberry-shaped box, plump with raspberry-red tissue, nestling a golden, glowing, chocolate heart, ripe with luscious berry liqueur – notice the exquisite, sweet, smallest details. You will if you travel to Japan and into a department store emporium (dare you to make it out without sampling).
Notice the deep creases that furrow the face of the wise old man who grins a ragged-tooth smile in a bustling Asian street market as you find yourself smiling hello (or Ni Hao) back, before buying his dumplings. They taste divine. Notice the details that are the beauty of life, and your soul will be reflected back at you.
Make it about the people
When you notice the ragged-tooth smile and wrinkled face and the secret pain of the old Chinese man at the street market, you will realise that we’re all the same – and not just in our shared love of dumplings. Yum.
Notice, through the eyes of a toddler who has woken with a start amidst the mass of humanity that is New York’s Times Square at 10.30pm on a Friday night and feel the shock of realization that we’re all in this together. Yep, we’re hanging with the loud Americans (whether we like it or not).
We travel so we can meet people just like us, only different. We travel to feel the comfort of connection and to stave off the soulless cleaving of separation. The commonality and the juxtaposition both speak, no make that sing, to our souls – like yin and yang in harmony.
Make it about your purpose
We travel so we can learn life’s lessons – the ones we really need to understand. So you can find balance in Japan – a neat order, a respectful recognition that everyone is equal and that everything flows better when we allow each other to find our flow. You can find balance atop a Canadian mountain too.
You might find a smug equanimity in New York, a stiff-upper-lip resilience in London, an arrogant nonchalance in Rome and a sense of smart, self-satisfaction in San Francisco (which I love anyway).
In China I watch change out the rear view mirror of our tour bus and wonder whether it will ever transform growth into order, and it does – in a distinctly Chinese, chaotic way. The lesson is that we can cope with change. no matter how extreme.
Make it about the dramas that will become funny memories in the future
So hubby travelled to China on crutches after he snapped his Achilles tendon – and then we adopted our daughter (as you do). One of hubby’s crutches disappeared down a ‘hole’ in a gangplank as we boarded a Yangste river cruise. Luckily I was left holding the baby and he didn’t end up in the drink, just flat on his back. We laughed about it, just as people laughed (at us) as we tried to climb the Great Wall (they didn’t have disability regulations when they were building it).
Six years later, when we adopted our son, we saw how much change had sped up in China – so fast you almost can’t see it anymore out the rear view mirror. We travelled with the worry of my father’s cancer diagnosis, and then there was that trip to emergency at the children’s hospital…..
We cringe and laugh about it now, having already discovered the lessons of Vanuatu, when an overnight flight delay on the first night of our honeymoon (not Virgin Australia of course) had us flying into Port Vila early in the morning – so early we had to do a lap of the island as we watched the air traffic controller scurry up the tower like he might have a coconut tree. Welcome to Vanuatu time – she’ll be right mate (I oraet tankyu – Bula).
Ahh, did I mention the lessons in patience in twice travelling home from China with newly adopted babies, or in travelling with a 12-month-old, 7-year-old and almost everything including the kitchen sink (just kidding) to live in Canada for a year!? 16 hour flights with a toddler must be good for the soul as they’re not good for much else. Ahh, but a year living in Canada, priceless.
Take yoga and meditation with you
Finally, wherever you go, I’m going to suggest you bring yoga and meditation with you. An ongoing, or at least warm-up practice before you leave will help, but finding a new place and perspective for meditation and yoga will be worthwhile, wherever and whenever you lay your mat (or no mat needed). You’re guaranteed to feel right at home.
Linking up with the lovely Grace for FYBF.