Do you remember the first time you traveled? I do. Travel has truly been the most transformational experiences of my life.
Okay, to be fair, I likely don’t remember my first travel experience. I mean, after all, I was one of the blessed ones who’s family enjoyed traveling and did it as often as possible. My mom and dad were road trip travelers. Every summer we would pack up the car (or van or camper) and hit the road to explore some new part of Canada or the USA.
I remember having this forest green van that was my favorite. It had a bed overtop the driver’s area, a fold-out couch, a simple cooktop and in my eyes was ready-made for adventure. Even the mice that took up residence became part of the experience. I hiked mountains, fished streams, ate wild game, sang songs around campfires and challenged myself with every hiking trail I could find.
Traveling stirred something inside of my soul.
In my late teens and twenties, my adventurous spirit only grew. I went to Europe on an art tour with friends. I crossed continents in search of fine food, new friendships, and unseen places. I devoured National Geographic, atlas’ and books’ like they were my lifeblood. I was, as it turned out, hooked.
For me, my mid-late twenties were wrapped up in chronic illness. Denoted as terminally ill no less than 3 times, I didn’t stop traveling but it got much more strategic. I would explore anywhere the sun shone and people smiled. I wanted happiness and joy. So, I traveled… and found it.
In 2008, I began spending Canadian winters in sunny Australia recovering from treatments and just allowing myself to breathe. I was terminal after all, spending months in the sunshine – how could it hurt?
Every single time I would return home to positive scans, wonderful blood test results and a cancer negative outcome. I was getting healthier by traveling. Whenever I lost myself to the world, my health found itself again.
Travel was transformational.
In 2011, during the worst part of my terminal illness, I decided to do one last “bucket list” trip. I would go to New Zealand and do every “dumb” thing I could do. Bungee jump, skydive, zorb, jet boat… all of it. If I was going to die – why not?
I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand only 3 days after the major earthquakes that destroyed the garden city. It was mass destruction. Earthquakes were still happening all around me. Yet, there was this sense of pride. A palpable “we will rebuild” and “we are stronger together” that persisted. I was transfixed.
I spent a measly 10 days immersing myself in both islands on whirlwind travel tours both in small group and solo. I took in as many sights, sounds, tastes and Kiwiana as I could muster.
The highlight of the trip was Kaikoura, where I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 14,000 ft and while screaming heard this voice in my head say “enough now! It is time to choose to live!” so I did. In that split second, I made the decision to live.
Flash-forward about 3 dozen trips and I’ve been blessed to have seen much of the globe in group travel, special event travel, business travel, and solo travel. It has been the source of achievement, compassion, growth, and kindness inside of myself.
Most recently, I returned to Christchurch to explore where it truly all “began” for me. I spent 4 months living in Quake City as it’s now known. I didn’t travel as much. I stayed still. I wanted to live and explore local life. To find out what made them so resilient and strong.
Three days after my departure, the Christchurch mosque shootings occurred. Less than a block from the home I lived in for four months. I walked past that mosque daily. I had met some of the people, presumably, who had passed exchanging pleasantries as they waited for prayer to begin. These weren’t strangers anymore. They were real-life people in my life. They had made my experience without even knowing my name.
I remember the first reports seen on Facebook and the terror I felt inside my soul for my loved ones and those friendly faces. This didn’t happen on the other side of the world. There was now ownership here. I had been there. I had walked that street. I had said hello to those victims. They weren’t nameless or faceless. It wasn’t something I could disconnect from.
Travel is a transformational experience because it reminds us just how human and connected we all are. It isn’t what’s different that matters; it’s whats the same. Humanity.
In traveling to third world nations, I came to appreciate with deeper gratitude what I take for granted. In traveling to New Zealand, I found my courage to live and the tenacity and strength it takes to build a true community. In traveling to the Caribbean, I learned of the healing power of the ocean and the blessing of sunshine on my skin. In Ohio and Colorado, I learned what love and tribe can mean and create.
Don’t travel for a passport stamp. Travel because it will reveal your humanity. You will never ever again look at a news story without feeling deeply for the people and places you have crossed paths with. You will never ever again be able to throw a blind eye to the world. You will change it. Something will shift inside of your soul that you are powerless to turn off. Travel, dear ones, will change you and you will change the world with it.
Where is your next transformational experience going to take you? xo