I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. For a lot of things, but the area most recently and most often coming to mind is the time I spent in South America with my family; and what a treasure that was in so many ways. Everyone knows about the gifts of travel. New sights, new foods, new adventures, time away from your routine and time with the ones you love. Travel widens the lens of our perspective and offers up new angles to approach things from. There is so much to see, and the seeing is often crazy fun. Variety, adventure, relaxation, education, laughter, fun—those are the obvious gifts of travel and in doing extended travel you get them all multiplied by, well, by however many days you stay gone. It’s fantastic.
This summertime season though, as I field both blessed rest from a busy school year and itchy restlessness of time spent sans schedule, it is the non-obvious gifts of travel that my mind wanders back to. I want so badly to hold onto them, these lesser-known gifts. To hold onto them for myself, and to share them with you. And so in the spirit of giving, here are some underrated gifts I’ve been reminiscing about from my time in travel that I wish for us all these hot summer days:
I wish us Boredom. It is not just boring people who get bored. Sometimes it’s really interesting people who happen to be stuck on a chicken bus for to 10 to 15+ hours. Or stuck inside for what feels like forever while the downpours outside rage on and on for weeks. Or played with the same four toys for eight months and became completely sick of them.
Boredom turned out to be my favorite surprise gift because it provided the setting and springboard for our imaginations to ignite. Conversations that don’t happen until you’ve had all your normal ones and still want to visit your way through a series of days where nothing is planned. When that happens, you suddenly find yourself in the midst of discourse that is brimming with energy and enthusiasm and creative thought.
The other side of boring playtimes found my children creating unbelievably unique structures, games, and songs that were specific and brilliant and all their own. A rainy Buenos Aires day yielded an entire train washing station made out of kitchen chairs, bath mats, folded socks, breakfast trays and a coffee press. Boredom rocks.
I wish us Loneliness. Yes. Loneliness.
Not far removed from boredom, loneliness emerges in many of the same circumstances when you’re traveling for an extended period of time, but instead of taking you to rocketing creativity, you find yourself immersed in introspection and evaluation.
We all want to be good people, but how much time do our normally busy lives allow for the intentional evaluation of who we are, what we believe, and how we want to live?
For me, those areas of my life had mostly grown out of reacting to what was happening around me. My loneliest traveling times gave me the social distance I needed to really consider, choose, and aim more intentionally toward who I am, what I believe, and how I want to live.
It’s not a foolproof method, I am still amazingly proficient at sticking my foot in my mouth, varsity level social awkwardness—and don’t get me started on how I internally react to political Facebook posts. But now I have a blueprint to look back on, a map that was drawn up from my times with loneliness. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that Loneliness rocks, but it doesn’t, um, not-rock.
I wish you Friendlessness. Spending so much time with one’s nuclear family, getting to know each other more intimately than you could have ever imagined is the most precious of all gifts and hands-down the best part of what we did.
That said, family togetherness does not inoculate you from feeling friendless. When a friend moved away a couple years ago, another friend of mine remarked, “I’m going to miss her. And I’m going to miss what she brings out in each of us.” There are important parts of ourselves that are formed and defined by the broader relationships in our lives. Empathy and compassion are a must within a family, but they are honed in the participation of the world around you, of being engaged in relationships that are born not just out of birth but also out of choice. I didn’t realize the full value of being accountable and known by a larger community, by friends and extended family, until I had that period of time without them. I wish it wasn’t always necessary to live without something in order to appreciate it but, for me at least, that is often the case. Friendlessness gifts profound appreciation for friends.
And finally, I wish us the gift of Embarrassment. I have too long and too often passed up things from a new challenge to a bustling dinner party out of fear of embarrassment. Our extended travel provided so many opportunities to be embarrassed that I soon became at home with it. Granted it’s more fun within the safety net of knowing you’ll not likely see these people again, which is why this gift is the easiest to come by when you are in the world of travel, to be sure. In addition to anonymity, travel situations highlight the truth that it is more important to use whatever charade’s movements or broken language tools you have to get from point A to point B, than it is to act like you already know how to get from point A to point B.
Embracing embarrassment turned out to be the most freeing of gifts for me. Total abandonment to an activity or project or task at hand created an abundance of blush-worthy moments, but even more laughter and knowledge and peace of mind. Making friends with Embarrassment gifted me the joy in having the freedom to fail. More than that, the freedom to try.
Creativity, Introspection, Profound Appreciation, and the Freedom to Try. These gifts are easier to spot when traveling, I know, but they are here too. I catch glimpses sometimes. They are here and so worth the seeking.
And so, as we each go forward today looking for the best ways to soak up those extra hours of summer sunshine, I want to pause and share my personal wish list with you. I want you to know that I wish you all a Boring, Lonely, Friendless, Embarrassing rest of your summer. From the bottom of my heart.