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Travel Lifestyle - Lesson Learned

I have always loved to travel. As a child growing up in Ohio, I Ioved to collect those little souvenir spoons with the names of the 50 states on them you got at Stuckey’s roadside stores. They were badges of my journeys in the back seat of my parent’s car traversing the Midwest with occasional trips to Florida and Canada.

As an adult, my love affair with travel continued. Africa, India, and Southeast Asia were just a few of the amazing places I have been incredibly fortunate to experience. My vacations became more curated with 5-star hotels, private drivers, and customized tours. Passport stamps and SkyMiles were my new travel badges.

I had become an accomplished tourist.

Despite my adventures, I still had a deep yearning for a different relationship with travel. Something beyond the whirlwind of bucket-list checkmarks. I wanted to wander down random paths and see where they would lead. I craved to have meaningful conversations with people who actually lived in a place their entire lives.

I didn’t want to casually date travel anymore. I wanted a deeper, long-term commitment. So in early 2022, after many months of thoughtful planning, my husband and I divested of our businesses, sold our home in Atlanta, Georgia, and the vast majority of our possessions said goodbye to family and friends, and set off to experience a traveler lifestyle beyond that of a whirlwind tourist.

We dove into our new life with the exuberance of two college freshmen. Our first adventure was ten weeks in Spain and Portugal. And just like college freshmen who think they have it all figured out, despite all our careful planning and past tourist experience, we quickly realized we had much to learn about living our new travel lifestyle.

Where to begin?

As a wise friend, said to me about retirement.” Every day is like a Saturday, but you need to eat and drink like it’s a Tuesday”. The same principle applied to our initial days traveling. Your first instinct is to live like you are on a fabulous two-week vacation; visit all the great restaurants, drink wine at lunch, and see as many sights as possible every day. We were definitely living our best life. Or were we?

After 10 weeks of unfettered exuberance, we needed a significant change in our new daily routine. Just because wine is cheaper than water, does not make wine the obvious choice at every meal. And yes, churros are delicious, but let’s not forget they are fried dough dipped in chocolate! You can have lots of Saturdays, but you need some Tuesdays as well! You must pace yourself and make choices.

We discovered that walking as much as possible was not only a great way to balance some of the great culinary delights but also immerse ourselves into the local culture as we popped into cafes and fish markets and peaked through generic doorways for glimpses of enchanting courtyards. Many of our best days were long hikes to stunning vistas where the beauty was so mesmerizing you never thought of it as exercise. Looking back, I now understand the quizzical looks that people would give us when we would inquire about purchasing a short-term gym membership during our first few weeks along the coast in southern Spain. “Why would we stand on a treadmill staring at a wall when we could be walking next to a beautiful ocean” was clearly the thought bubble above their heads. American habits are hard to break sometimes.

From our past experiences, we learned that you can likely travel anywhere in the world as a tourist, not knowing any of the local languages, and get by just fine. Hotel and restaurant staff all over the world speak English very well. Google Translate works great for basic questions and answers and can definitely get you through in a pinch.

But I wanted to do more than "just get by”. I wanted to wander down random paths and see where they lead. Paths often take you to places where only locals live and may not speak English.

The need to know a second language became very apparent when we were hiking through a large park on the outskirts of Lisbon and didn’t realize that we had wandered off the trail. As we meandered down a dusty, unpaved road lined with small homes with increasingly larger fences and more menacing dogs, we stopped to assess our situation. As we stared at Google Maps on our phone to no avail, a well-built man wearing a tight-fitting black tee-shirt with the letters GISP on it and a holstered sidearm appeared. As we were trying to process why a man with a firearm was approaching us, he said something to us in Portuguese. With blank stares, we said to him, “Do you speak English?” “No. Parlez-vous Francais?” he replied. (Did we look French, I pondered later?) “No. Habla Espanol?” we asked? “Si!”, said the man with a relieved smile. He proceeded to tell us in Spanish we were heading straight toward a prison, and we were definitely not on the "Blue Trail" anymore. (Well, that explains so much I thought. We also learned later that the initials on his tee-shirt of GISP stood for Corpo da Guarda Prisonal, or Prison Guard.) Thank goodness for my husband's excellent Spanish to be able to have this conversation as I’m not sure how that situation would have ended otherwise!

By far, the biggest lesson we learned was the need to maintain a sense of community.

Traveling can frankly be isolating at times. Exploring amazing places rich with history or seeing beautiful landscapes that are beyond your wildest thoughts feeds your intellect, but connecting with other people feeds your soul. My husband and I travel well together, but for two people that are very social, our social circle of two felt a little small towards the end of our initial journey. We committed to finding creative ways to connect with old and new friends in our future travels. See our lessons learned in my Creating Meaningful Connections While Traveling post.

Am I still committed to being more than a tourist? Absolutely! I am excited for our future adventures and the things we will learn about the world and ourselves in our future journeys.


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