“Being wealthy is having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” – Mark Manson
I’m currently writing this blog from a bedroom in Barcelona, Spain – we’re on a business trip for Jason’s employer, Automattic, and I’m here too on a “working vacation” of sorts, thanks to their generous policy to let me stay in the apartment with him and his coworkers after paying for my other travel expenses. In addition to enjoying all that Barcelona has to offer (and feeling extra inspired to blog while surrounded by all these WordPress employees!), the change in scenery and removal from the familiar sights of our home country has led to some great opportunities for personal reflection, specifically on what it means to travel, and what we hoped – and still hope – to achieve by shaping our lives around it.
Since September 2013, we haven’t had a fixed home. We’ve moved city to city, state to state (and starting this year, even between countries) as often as we want, while bringing everything we own with us. We have no plans to stop anytime soon – or ever! For now we’re in a home on wheels, but someday we may be under sail, backpacking, or house sitting/renting around the world. We realize that most people don’t (or can’t) take travel to this extreme, but the lessons learned carry over – no matter how long or short your travels will be.
For us (and many other travelers we’ve talked to about this), the essence of travel is far more than just casual sightseeing, buying those perfectly-packaged tourist experiences, and checking places and activities off a bucket list. Our style of travel involves immersion into the local culture, and that usually means avoiding the typical tourist activities and finding ourselves in some rather unusual, off-the-beaten-path situations instead.
The kind of activities we specifically look for are those that push us out of our comfort zones, ranging from a little to a lot, spurring greater personal development and adding valuable life experiences. Sometimes these scenarios backfire, but we’re almost always rewarded with that special kind of self-validation and satisfaction that comes with facing down a fear or achieving a personal goal. Sure, we sometimes learn things we didn’t want to learn or see things we wish we could un-see, but they’re the hard truths of the world we live in, and always worthwhile for the perspective they provide.
You’ll be in a constant state of upheaval when you travel, unless you stay in one location long enough to really settle in. Nothing is familiar, routine, or expected. On as little as a second-by-second basis, you can never know what might happen or where you’ll end up. You have no choice but to accept what develops and go with the flow. For control freaks this may sound like a living nightmare, but it’s actually the best way we’ve found to either avoid becoming a control freak, or break yourself of an existing habit of such. We used to over-plan everything on trips, but now find that we are happiest and grow and evolve the most through serendipitous occurrences. We aim to remain receptive to change, playful, inquisitive, alert, non-judgmental, and are constantly learning.
If you really want to speed up your personal development, travel somewhere that seems completely foreign to you. I’m not going to lie, I was and still am a little intimidated by the language barrier and cultural differences while visiting Spain. I know just enough Spanish to fumble my way through a simple conversation or order food, but it was the first time in my life spending a significant amount of time in a location where mine wasn’t the primary language, or even a secondary one for most people. What I learned during our time here, though, is that most people are kind, patient, and willing to meet you halfway with their own knowledge of your mother tongue – at whatever level of proficiency that may be. Hand signals and facial expressions (especially a big smile!) go a long way as well.
We’ve learned that language is a very small part of overall human communication, yet we tend to forget that until we push ourselves to communicate with someone who speaks another language – or doesn’t speak at all. The increase in online correspondence, while convenient and necessary, also removes a very important element of communication that can’t be replaced with emoticons. Even the telephone allows for more expression of emotion than words on a screen.
Travel has taught us that at our core and regardless of geographic location, everyone really wants the same things and we can all relate to one another very well if we can just get past our preconceived notions and superficial differences. Additionally, spending time with people of other backgrounds who don’t agree with you on everything challenges you and enriches your life far more than only spending time with those who see the world through the same lens as you. It’s also a necessary reminder that our home country isn’t as important to the rest of the world as we’d like to think it is.
In our travels, we’ve learned that the little things don’t matter as much as we tend to think they do – which is a bad habit we start to slide into again when we’re too comfortable and complacent somewhere. Having a set routine, visiting the same few places every day, and talking to the same people all the time leads you to dwell on the insignificant details of those things – minor annoyances with your family or friends, traffic, the barista messing up your coffee order, office politics, or what your neighbor is doing that bothers you. Go out and see how big the world is for a while, how many wonderful people are in it, how beautiful it is. Realize that the stuff you’re worried about just doesn’t matter in the bigger picture, then go home and examine if the minutiae of your daily life is really so important. Doing the same things in the same places all the time leads to a false feeling of that locale being all there is to life, and it creates a very small, and sterile bubble to live in. We like to keep that bubble as big as possible to maintain a wider perspective.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, we’ve learned that putting off our happiness until someday is not good enough, and that we feel far richer having seen so much more than the walls of a cubicle, even if we make less money and don’t have lots of tangible things to point at as “proof” of our success. It’s so important to make it a priority to end up with your life feeling rich – not just your bank account.
There’s no reason not to be who you want to be, where you want to be, and with the people you want to spend it with. What are you waiting for? Get out there and see some new things, if only for the day!