Location: Charles DeGaulle airport – Paris, France
I’m tired, my feet are sore and I’m filled with gratitude for the opportunity to backpack western and central Europe for the past 24 days. I’ve backpacked miles-and-miles of major cities in 9 countries, I’ve made friends in places previously unknown to me and have acquired basic conversational capabilities in four languages. So here I lay, nested between two rows of chairs at the airport gate, having just awakened from a timely nap while I wait for the plane. Ironically, all I want to do is sleep in my own bed, lay in the floor and play with my dogs (Mommy & Fatty), mow my yard and get back to my job. In fact, for the past week, this is just about all I can think about.
It’s funny! When I first landed in Paris, I backpacked the city streets for 6-11 hours every day for five days. Now that I’m back in Paris preparing to head home, everything is different – my entire mentality has shifted. For the past few days I’ve been here in Paris impatiently waiting for the day to come when I can fly back to Tulsa, Oklahoma and get back to “normal” life. What are the odds of foreseeing that situation? Paris, France vs. Tulsa, Oklahoma – I don’t have a poll of people to go by, but I would assume very few people would select the latter as the place they would prefer to be. But, here I am, missing home and wanting just one thing and that is to see Tulsa outside of my airplane window. Just three weeks ago, all I wanted to do was have a break from the day-to-day and feel the liberation of wandering around Europe doing absolutely whatever I want. Well, thanks be to God, I was given that opportunity and it was amazing. So why in the world do I want to be home doing the things I no more than a month ago found mundane, boring and unsatisfying?
Perspective! As the excitement of being in another country without a schedule and going just about anywhere I wanted to go began to feel normal, my perspective began to change. The purpose of this article is simply to share this pearl of newly found wisdom with you, so that perhaps you too can replicate this and gain new appreciation for your day-to-day life as I have. I don’t know about you, but I plan on replicating this exact situation at least two times each year so that I love and enjoy everything about my “normal” everyday life. So what’s the key to all of this? The answer is simple and one that just about everyone I know wants for their lives anyway.
The answer is simple – it’s travel. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and to feel like a stranger. It is essential to force yourself into situations where you are in the minority and have to rely on the kindness of strangers to do simple things like find a restroom or locate a place to eat. Rest assured, you will fall upon the kindness the world has to give and you will be just fine – people are good, people are generous and people love knowing that you find them and their culture interesting. Being away from home in a new place where you are a minority and have no sense of belonging is such an amazing experience. But, perhaps the best thing about this comes at the end. As the novelty of being somewhere new begins to wear off, you begin to think of little aspects of your life you never previously gave a second thought to. You begin to miss those conference calls at work, you begin to crave the opportunity to vacuum your house and you repeatedly think about how much you miss even the most annoying people in your life.
Perspective is a crazy and cool thing and it can be controlled. You can control your perspective simply by indulging in things (like travel) that you probably want to do but just don’t make time for. After this experience, I consider it non-negotiable. Extended travel, international travel, and solo travel is something I am absolutely committed to as a regular part of my life. The weird thing is that my excitement to see new places is no longer centered only around the experience it provides me, but is mainly focused on the great feeling that comes from being content and fulfilled when getting back to everyday life.
Travel is a cure-all for the “my life is boring” blues. I highly recommend you consider and commit to taking at least 10 days to travel your heart out in a place where you have no safety net, no family, no friends, and preferably a language barrier. These are guaranteed circumstances to ensure you have the time of your life and also a tremendous appreciation for all of the things in your life when you return. You’ll even miss picking up your dog’s poop at the dog park. Seriously! It’s that effective. Give it some thought, set a basic plan and go! Just do it!
Here are a few tips that have helped me be able to travel for weeks at a time without too much debt or lifestyle interruption:
- buy transportation tickets and passes (plane and train typically) about 6 months in advance – this will allow you to pay them off, in full, before you leave on your trip and will give you financial peace of mind.
- use hostelworld.com or AirBnB.com to find inexpensive lodging in advance – this will also allow you to meet more people and make friends.
- buy the city “pass” in advance if you are going to a major city like Barcelona, London Pass, Rome or Paris (article for Paris Pass) – this will save you so much money on entry to museums, events, tours and public transportation
- pack light – you simply do not need much luggage. A few changes of clothes, toiletries, a money belt, and a quality backpack (this is my favorite backpack), these USB international travel adapters and a rain jacket – literally that is it!
The goal is to have as much as possible paid for before leaving. If you can make that a goal and achieve it, you’ll have zero financial stress on your trip and you’ll come home and hit the ground running with a sincere appreciation of the life you have, the town you live in and the people you know. I sincerely hope you will give this a real effort to become a reality. Travel does not have to be expensive and it does not have to be complicated. Traveling will help you gain perspective of the many blessings and wonderful aspects of the life you already have and will allow you to tap into the appreciation that you so seldom give to yourself and the wonderful life you lead.