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  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

Life Lessons Learned From Traveling

Clearly I am a huge fan of travel. I think there are so many benefits to traveling including expanding your mind and exposing yourself to different ways of life. But on one recent sleepless night thanks to jet lag following my return from an epic two week European adventure, it occurred to me that traveling actually teaches us some important life lessons. Learning these lessons on a micro level while traveling, can have a huge beneficial impact if you apply them on a macro level to your life's journey.

Here are the most important life lessons I was reminded of on my trip:

Stay Flexible

When traveling, it is more likely than not that you will face some unexpected challenges. A flight will be cancelled or delayed, the weather will not be what you had hoped, a traffic jam will disrupt your schedule...the list goes on. It is important to stay flexible and get creative about how to handle the problem. On my recent trip, we planned to take a bus from Chamonix to Lake Como with a stop at an historic Italian village for lunch. What a lovely day! However, leaving Chamonix, we got stuck in a miles long traffic jam trying to go through the tunnel leaving the valley. We found out that the tunnel was closed for some reason and would not reopen for three hours. Instead of sitting there frustrated for several hours, the bus driver found a different route to get us to our end destination. We missed out on the historic Italian village, but alternatively we got to see a different part of the Italian countryside and stopped at a small roadside restaurant which served the BEST fondue of the entire trip! Staying flexible allows you to roll with the punches and reduce anxiety while sometimes delivering some delightful discoveries.

Let Go of Control

I am a person with well established control issues. Just ask my friends and family. I have definitely gotten better as I've aged. Also, the pandemic definitely taught me a bigger lesson that the control we think we have is often just an illusion anyway. This realization has helped me to relax in many ways. I am still generally a planner and I like to feel prepared. However, I have learned to loosen my grip a bit. On this trip I gave up total control and let the tour group plan all aspects of my trip. I just paid and showed up. Everything else was taken care of! While I had some moments of anxiousness not be able to dictate my own schedule or order my own meal at a restaurant, overall it was a great experience just sitting back and letting the details be handled by someone else. I saw areas of Europe I wouldn't have even thought of, I tried food I definitely wouldn't have tried if left to my own devices, and put myself in a position to meet a bunch of new people who were amazing travel partners and now friends. Applying this to my life, I plan to try and relax and just let life unfold for me without trying to control all of the details. I will put my energy in the direction of things and people that interest me, but I will try not to be attached to a particular outcome. Go with the flow and see what happens!

Keep an Open Mind and Try New Things

As I mentioned above, by letting go of control I was forced to try new food and experience things I might not have been inclined to do if it were up to me. But I promised myself at the beginning of the trip that I would try whatever was presented to me, including food that didn't look that appetizing or was not something I normally enjoy. In all honesty, there were several meals where I took a few bites and decided it was not my thing so I didn't finish it. Good thing I had snacks back in my hotel room so I didn't go hungry! However, there were many things I tried that I was surprised to find I enjoyed. The meal in Innsbruck with a fried egg on top of a mixture of salted beef, onions and potatoes comes to mind as well as an authentic German meal with Flädlsuppe (a rich broth soup with thin strips of flädle pancakes) and German bread dumplings. And of course there is the Tartiflette that I talked about in my Annecy blog that I thoroughly enjoyed! The life lesson is that it is important to be open to new things in order to discover more about yourself. Pushing your limits either confirms what you thought to be true or shows you that self-limiting beliefs may be keeping you from making your life bigger and more interesting. This goes beyond just trying food. It also applies to being open minded about experiences, people and places. You never know what you might discover!

Stay Curious

In order to find new things to be open to try when traveling, you need to stay curious. What is the history of the area and how has it evolved, what is the area known for, what do the locals like to do, what is it like to live in the area, what is the traditional food to be tried? As you find out more information about a place you are visiting, it gives you a new perspective on the area, the people who live there and their experience. You can see how it is different from your experience and how you live your life. You can see how the area and its' history has impacted how people live and what they believe and value. Learning about this impact can make you grateful for the advantages or blessings you have, or it may make you question your belief system and how you live your life. In any event, in life, it is important to stay curious and continue learning as long as you live. The more you learn, the more you know and ALSO the more you learn how much you don't really know. Staying curious keeps you engaged, keeps you learning and keeps you open.

Respect the Differences

One thing I love about traveling is the ability to see how different places are and how differently people live. Especially when traveling abroad, things can be very different from the US. From simple things like the type of currency used and the type of plug to use for electricity to the language spoken and the values of the country. I don't travel to a new place expecting to do things exactly as I do them at home. And why would I want to? I am going to have a new experience. If I am going to another country, it is only courteous to try to assimilate into their culture as much as possible. Even though I do not speak any other language besides English and it is fortunate that most people in other cultures know English, I still try to respect the area and the culture by at least attempting some basic communication in the country's language. Generally I observe an appreciation by the locals for this effort. The uniqueness that each place and person brings to this world is what makes it interesting and beautiful. It is important to appreciate and respect these differences whether we observe them abroad or in our own back yard. We don't all need to believe the same things, live the same way or have the same values. Giving people the space to be different and respecting those differences makes the world a better place to live.

Appreciate the Backstory

I always find that when I do some research or take a tour of an area I am visiting and learn the history and how the place has developed and evolved over the years, I have such a deeper appreciation for everything I am seeing and experiencing. Some of the areas I visited on my trip, specifically Munich and Innsbruck, had been directly impacted by WWII. Many of the buildings had been damaged or destroyed by bombing, many of the citizens of those areas had been forced to flee to nearby countries and rebuilding had influenced the development of the city. Looking at the cities through this lens allowed me to more deeply connect with what had happened in these places and realize the extreme price paid by the people who lived through that time. We also toured the Dachau Concentration Camp that sits just outside Munich which serves as a constant reminder of that horrific time. Even though both cities are now thriving and bustling, there is still the memory and the impact of what happened that influences many aspects of their culture. Failing to appreciate the backstory of these places would have made the visit one-dimensional and superficial. This can be true of people as well. How many times in your life have you had an unpleasant experience with someone only to find out that something awful had happened to them or they were having a bad day before they crossed paths with you. Appreciating someone's backstory gives you greater understanding of why people act they way they do, feel the way they do about certain things or why they overreact to something that seems minor. It doesn't mean we have to like or accept bad behavior, but it gives us a better understanding of the person and may influence how we respond in a situation.

Travel Light

In full disclosure, I am an AWFUL packer. I like to have outfit choices and I have a tiny obsession with shoes so like to bring several different pairs to go with the various outfit choices. The silly thing is, I never wear all of the clothes and I end up wearing the same one or two pairs of shoes because they are most practical and comfortable for the walking I will be doing while sightseeing. This problem was particularly annoying on my Alps trip as I was trying to move my large suitcase from place to place as we followed along our tour. And even if my suitcase was primarily taken care of by porters at each hotel, I still had to lug my overpacked carry on from place to place and through the airport (and the hassle of customs). I was cursing myself on many occasions during this trip and vowing to become a better packer so I could travel lighter in the future. Why do I need to bring so much stuff? Especially when I didn't use or need most of it? Do I feel more comfortable and secure knowing I am prepared for anything...even though generally nothing out of the ordinary happens? I load up with snacks like I think I won't have access to grocery stores or restaurants along the way. Although having some snacks on hand was definitely needed when I didn't like the local fare as I mentioned above! This life lesson can translate to trying to keep life simple on a day to day basis too. Do I need to fill my space with so much stuff? Why do I need one more pair or shoes or one more piece of clothing when my closet is filled with plenty of perfectly good stuff? Why do I buy so much "back stock" of certain food items when I have limited space and can easily go back to the store when I am getting low? I can also apply this principle to my mind and my mental state. Do I need to stress about so many things that never happen or oren't really my concern? If I really think about it, there are only a limited number of things that run through my mind that really matter, are in my control or that directly impact me. If I kept my thoughts focused on only those things, my mind would be a lot quieter and more calm. Easier said than done and something I am working on every day. If you figure out a way to do that, please share! Traveling light by keeping things simple, whether on trips or day to day living, makes things so much easier and enjoyable.

Be In The Moment

When traveling I like to be fully engaged and take in all the sights and sounds. I fully immerse myself in the experience. Sometimes while riding on the tour bus through the countryside, I had the urge to pull out my phone and mindlessly scroll. I resisted that urge most of the time and made sure to pay attention to the beautiful views out the window. I saw some amazing scenery that I would have missed if I was looking down. I will admit the white noise of the bus engine and the cozy seat did cause me to drift off occasionally. I don't want to think about what I missed when my eyes were closed! I would touch base with the girls or my parents at night while I was getting ready for bed, but during the day I tried to keep myself in the moment of the epic experience I was having. Generally there is nothing from back home that needs my attention while I am on vacation. This can also be applied to daily life. How much do I miss while looking down at my phone or engulfed by the thoughts in my head. Worrying about something that happened in the past that can't be changed or something that may or may not happen in the future prevents me from being present in the moment and engaging with the people and experiences that are happening RIGHT NOW! Being in the moment is essential for authentic connections with friends and loved ones as well as for creating vibrant memories.

I hope these lessons can be of use to you to fully enjoy your next trip as well as every valuable life moment in between.


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