I'm sitting in a small cafe in a Chicago neighbourhood and I thought I'd spend a few minutes reflecting on the last few months of travel, since I haven't blogged about it in a while.
We turned around after a few weeks in Mexico and made our way up the coast. As I said in my previous post, there were many reasons why we made this choice - work opportunities and education opportunities being a few of the limiting factors. However, one of the biggest reasons was our pace of travel. On our trip through the US, we realized how slowly we like to travel. In order to fully explore some of these amazing parks, you have to be willing to spend time camping, hiking, climbing... We have no problem putting time towards these things.
When we originally planned the trip, we'd given ourselves 6 weeks to get to Mexico. It took us 17 weeks.
We didn't know it while planning, but this turned out to be perfect. It was a pace of travel that worked well for all three of us, taught us to slow down and enjoy wherever we found ourselves. Being three people in a relatively small van, we had to relearn how to do everything more slowly. Want to get ready for bed? Only one person can at a time. Need something? There's probably someone in the way so you'll have to cooperate with them to get it.
We learned to be more patient in our personal lives, and this translated to being more patient in our joint life on the road.
Moving slowly means seeing less physical land, but does it mean seeing less?
I think traveling slowly pointed to the one thing we found you miss on the road: working on real connection with new people. When you travel fast, you don't meet many people.
Traveling slowly allowed us to join the culture of a given city for a few days, make friends, many of which we hope to see again someday. These connections, at least for me personally, are one of the things I cherish most from this adventure.
I don't really know where I'm going with this - usually I figure it out halfway through writing but this time I can't manage to. Maybe it's that traveling slowly has been nice. Maybe it's that meeting people is also nice. Maybe it's when you travel its hard to work on meaningful and lasting relationships - travellers minimize this aspect of travel. Maybe I don't have a point.
When you travel you trade any semblance of stability for unpredictable change. When I left, I may have said that unpredictable change was the way to live. I've learned that there is beauty in experiencing this much change, but there's also so much beauty in your daily existence at home, wherever that is.
Ah! There it is. Learn to appreciate what you're currently experiencing because it always seems better elsewhere. In your daily life, the idea of travel lights a fire inside you. But while traveling, you begin to notice areas you didn't appreciate enough, like the stability of daily life, relationships, and working towards something beyond yourself.
Change teaches appreciation. When I was at home all I wished for was travel, but eventually while traveling you miss some stability. It taught me to appreciate what I have now, what is happening to me right now, because it will all be gone soon.
We've met such amazing people, people I would love to have with me in my life for a long time moving forward, but the nature of traveling is that I may never see them again. Instead of being sad, it has helped me appreciate these moments and these people so much more.
Most importantly, however, I've come to realize that it isn't traveling itself that is amazing, it's these lessons of appreciation and impermanence. We trick ourselves into believing that it is traveling itself that we want. But eventually we normalize any situation and when we are not appreciative, we learn to find problems with everything and anything. The grass always seems greener elsewhere.
Whether you're traveling or at home, your joy comes from the way you see the world. Traveling is a great tool to push us towards appreciation, but you don't need to leave your life in order to learn.
As I wrap this up, I realized that I wrote about this before leaving. Funny how we often learn the same lessons over and over again. Travel is a great way to learn to appreciate each moment, but traveling in itself is no better than not traveling. The way we see the world is supremely important and is something we can work on whether we're on the road or not. This trip taught me to enjoy each interaction because it won't last, and this is a lesson I'm excited to bring back to my non-traveling and more stable life in Montreal.
If you've read up to here, thanks for sticking with me. In my last post I mentioned that I write in order to think better. These posts are written as a "streams of consciousness" or "flow", meaning I don't typically have a clue what I'll write about, and instead let myself write the whole thing more or less in one go without stopping. Sometimes it leads to a piece of writing that seems like it was thought out, and sometimes (like today) I'm a bit more jumbled and it takes me a while to figure out where I'm going. I do this because it shows me my mental state, as well as allows me to learn to trust myself. I see my mental state, for example at the start of this post I realized that I missed working on friendships, and that since I haven't slept well this week my consciousness is less streamlined. It is also like a form of improv where you have to accept what you just said and keep moving, trusting that it will come full circle in the end.
That said, thank you for reading and thank you to those who have messaged me to encourage me to keep writing. I don't talk about it a lot, but there is a raw and vulnerable feeling that comes from posting yourself on the web like this. I write for myself, but I share and put myself out here in hopes that we can learn together.
Perhaps the wrong morning to post about a change of plans - who's to believes me. Years ago I was told I was going to be a father on April fools, my gullible self panicking for hours before checking the date. Yes, today is April Fools, but this is not a prank: The Geese are flying North.
There were many reasons that went into making this choice. However, I won't go into them here. The short truth is that life was pointing to us to turn around. It feels like we were supposed to turn around.
Let's put it this way. When you were choosing which university to attend, perhaps you made a list of pro's and con's. Personally, I had multiple such lists going. Benefits of each city, each school, living situations, future benefits of each city (like job opportunities down the road), the costs of making each decision, etc. etc. etc... Maybe I'm a little neurotic, but I assume most of you had at least a few factors go into your choice.
But in the end, how did you pick? Did you pick the school that came out the highest in each category?
As you were making your decision matrix and you thought: "What are the pro's of McGill? or UofT? of Queens or UNB?" where did your reasons come from? Some reasons might have been backed my research, such as the ranking of each university. But what about qualitative factors, such as liking a particular city? Sure, you could look at how Montreal ranks according to some online magazine for student living, but in reality a large part of our decision process comes from the void (or unconscious, deeper self, whatever you want to label it).
What's the void? Let's try something. I'm sure there's a grocery store or corner store nearby. Think of as many reasons as you can as to why you should get up, right now, and get a chocolate bar.
Now lets do the same thing, but this time ask yourself for reasons why you shouldn't get a chocolate bar.
Now unless you didn't feel like humouring me, you probably came up with at least a few reasons to get one, and a few not to. I think you'll find that you can do this with anything you encounter - ask for justification and you will receive it. You want to buy that new coat? Ask for reasons, you will get them. You want to, but feel you probably shouldn't? Et voila, reasons why you shouldn't get it.
My assumption is that most of you didn't jump up to get a chocolate after reading this, and that most of you probably felt that the reasons not to get one immediately were more compelling than the reasons to hop out of your chair. However, I didn't ask you to rank your reasons, to ascribe value to each, count them up... Somehow you intuitively knew whether you wanted chocolate now or not, and this same intuitive force is what provided the justifications in the first place.
As I'm writing this I realize that was a silly example, but what I'm trying to illustrate is that we have the impression that we know why we make most choices. Because we tell ourselves that we're making them! We sometimes sit down for hours, dwell upon all the reasons, rate them, all so we can feel that we made the right choice. But ultimately, under a bit of scrutiny, I think you'll notice that there is something deeper than your surface level analysis that guides you. Even when you're being analytical, the justifications you come up with come from a place beyond you - why do you feel that Montreal has a "good vibe for students" or that students at UNB are really kind? Sure, you can come up with reasons to justify both statements, but those justifications, too, come from this place beyond us which we can't directly scrutinize.
All this to say that we've turned around. We're going North. And though we have a lot of reasons, they're not so important. What is important is that it feels right to us.
While getting ready for the trip, the primary question we received was where we were going.
We wanted to answer: "to discover ourselves" but friends and family were looking for a geographical location. As a culture we've unconsciously agreed that external journeys are more interesting than internal ones. I am often asked the favourite place we've visited, but rarely the most important thing I've learned about myself.
So we picked somewhere far. Like really far.
Our true goal, however, wasn't geographical. Argentina seems appealing, but it was much more about the personal journey than any physical destination.
So we left Mexico a last month and slowly started heading North. Funny enough, we actually started seeing geese migrating North again, so we follow them, once more, this time up the West coast.
I'll be home soon, Montreal. The adventure continues.
PS. I wrote a little poem about being alone together here.
I write because I believe that learning to articulate your thoughts and feelings allows you to get in touch with your deeper self or void. Learning to write clearly helps us think clearly. When we think clearly we think less, and we can simplify our lives. We are free to enjoy each moment more deeply.