Travel: Lessons in Flexibility

Everyone collectively lets out a deep moan of frustration as the airline’s gate agent comes on the loudspeaker with the update.   Our 12pm flight to San Francisco, originally delayed until 2:30pm because of mechanical repair issues, is now delayed until 4pm.  Which, means that most of us will be in transit for about 14 hours today for a domestic flight: 2 or so to get to the airport, 6 at the airport and another 6 for the flight, not to mention missed connections and travel time once we get to San Francisco.

View from a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio, Brazil on my around-the-world trip

View from a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio, Brazil on my around-the-world trip

Travel has taught me many things in life—perhaps one of the reasons why I love it most.  I would not exist as the same person without these experiences that have stretched me, made me more patient and taught me that everything always works out, even if that means I am detoured, re-routed, bumped or even (temporarily) lost.

It has taught me immense amounts of flexibility... literally.

It has taught me immense amounts of flexibility… literally.

(Picture in front of Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland).

These lessons began as early as family road trips, where my sister and I were woken up against our will, it still dark outside, and placed gently into the back of our grandparents oversized van, onto the brown velveteen seats that converted into a bed.  I always fought it when my mom came for me and disrupted my sleep, but when I awoke to the sunrise cruising the Texas highways, it felt like a magical adventure every time, and I loved our road trips for that.

The lessons really began during the summer I spent abroad traveling through Europe in college.  From the onset of being there, I was already put into a situation of feeling lost and panicked, where I had to calm myself down and figure things out.  And, I did.  That instance and that entire summer instilled a confidence in me that has grown with the years and each experience that has followed.  My travels have taught me that I can do anything—and even if there is something that I am not sure of, I can work it out.

There was the time in Paris when I learned that I needed a special kind of adapter that not only allowed my plug to fit in to the socket, but that converted the level of electricity from 220 Volts to 110 Volts.  I discovered this when my curling iron singed off and entire chunk of my hair.    I didn’t get upset or start crying (men, you may not understand that potential reaction, but any woman would).  Travel had relaxed me enough that I giggled with my friend Karen and chalked it up to learning something new.

On that trip to Paris-- I lost some hair but had a fabulous time!

On that trip to Paris– I lost some hair but had a fabulous time!

Karen and me in Paris

Karen and me in Paris

There was the time in Montreaux, Switzerland on that first backpacking trip in college, where a friend and I had broken off from the group to explore this unbelievably gorgeous city that is known as the ‘post card of Europe’.  We happened to be there during the legendary Montreaux Jazz Festival, and we happened to meet people who gave us free front row tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club, as well as a free place to stay (all the hotels and hostels were booked).  I learned that sometimes when you let go of your plans and let them unfold how they will, something beyond what you could have ever planned pops up and right into your lap.  When you travel, you never know who you will meet and what opportunities will come to you.  This has taught me to go with the flow and to be open to new possibilities in life.

Then, there was the time that I was traveling in India for a month with my friend Stacie.  We had had an amazing trip, but India had stretched me in ways that I had never been stretched before.  Although it was one of the most impactful experiences of my life, it was time to go home—and I was very ready.  Through a series of events, mostly having to do with an Indian flight from Calcutta to Delhi (on an airline called Kingfisher that is now out of business), we missed our connecting flight home on Air France from Delhi to Houston via Paris.

Very dirty, very tired and yet, very happy.  Three adjectives that describe my India experiences, amongst many others.

Very dirty, very tired and yet, very happy. Three adjectives that describe my India experiences, amongst many others.

Things in India work differently than they do in America.  There were no gate agents, no one there to help us re-book a flight.  We were told to exit the airport, and I held firm on my stance that I was not leaving until I had another flight booked to Houston.  A security guard directed us to go outside, through a door and down the hall to wait for someone to come. We waited five hours, until 4 in the morning.  After a couple of hours of negotiation, a change fee that was almost more expensive than what I had spent while in India for an entire month and a flight that didn’t leave for 5 more days, we shrugged our shoulders-exhausted- and looked at each other with tired smiles that said, “What do you do?”  We just found a hotel and hung around in India for several more days.

Some cows hanging out with us in the narrow streets of Varanasi.

Some cows hanging out with us in the narrow streets of Varanasi.

Series of events like that, although not all as dramatic, have given me the ability to stay calm.  I love to have control in my life, and travel has gifted me with the lesson of learning to let go and trust that things will always work out, even if differently than planned.  I will always get home—it may just take longer. 

These lessons impact my life on a daily basis.  When the line wraps around Trader Joes grocery store in my Chelsea neighborhood (only New Yorkers would understand this), I don’t get upset- I just put in my headphones and enjoy some good music.  When the waiter is taking an especially long time to take my order, I picture myself in Rome or Paris, where service is much slower and a meal is more of a process, and it allows me to chill out and not be so impatient.  When a tourist stops me on the street and asks for directions or to take a picture of them, I always stop- even when I’m in a hurry- because I know I appreciate kindness from someone when I’m in their country and on the receiving end.

There are so many ways that travel has changed me and enriched my life.  When you can go with the flow and take whatever comes your way, it makes each day feel like an adventure.

Carpe Diem.

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