School has ended and the hustle and bustle that comes with all the juggling of schedules and activities has come to a halt. By now you’ve probably exclaimed, “I NEED A VACATION!!”
Somehow our bodies and minds seem to know when “we’re ready.” Hopefully you haven’t filled your vacation time with that same list of to-dos. So often we go against what our bodies are telling us and continue the same pattern of planning activity after activity – even on our vacation. As the years pass, our vacation or travel time has changed. Although my husband and I enjoy exploring and finding fun things to do in the communities we visit, we have also found that the travel process transforms us in our quest for self-discovery. Whether you are travelling abroad or simply taking day trips, the process of leaving the everyday routine and exploring new things can be a deep, spiritual experience.
Travel time, when done reflectively, can offer us new perspectives as well as being able to recognize harmful patterns in our life. By immersing ourselves in another culture or lifestyle, we can better understand our own beliefs and values. A few years ago, I found a small book at a local flea market called The Way Of The Traveler, by Joseph Dispenza. The book speaks of the process of how, with each new experience we encounter, we find out something new about ourselves. Although I couldn’t relate to everything in the book, I did find some of his thoughts and exercises helpful in transforming the way I view my time away, wherever that may be.
Sometimes we choose a destination, other times, a destination chooses us. Travel isn’t just about the destination, you’ve heard, it’s about the journey. Each facet of the journey is part of the experience, the preparation, the departure, the approach, the arrival, and the return. If you embrace the idea that travel can be a road to self-discovery then the goal is always to bring something back that becomes a new part of who God calls us to be.
As we prepare for travel, there are things we can include with the swimsuits and sunscreen. We can ask God to show us why we have been called to this place and bring an open mind to chance encounters, a joyful spirit (leave the negativity behind), and a great sense of adventure.
Next, there’s the departure from home. The simple act of stepping away from the same routine of everyday can be an act of willingness to change. Change can be so scary for people, but knowing that you have the roots of home to return to should empower you. Your home is a place of comfort, familiarity, and stability. Closing the door is temporary and you are opening the door to the mystery of adventure; an adventure that will bring an exciting change within you.
I was intrigued with Dispenza’s remarks on the approach to travel; getting to our destination. He references how “medieval cathedrals were designed with the concept of the approach foremost in the minds of the builder.” There have been times that the approach to travel has been crazy with my husband. His “let’s take a short-cut” proclamations make me cringe and hours later (and a few angry words shared), we finally arrive. Even though this isn’t always an ideal situation, he’s taught me to appreciate the approach – the sights along the way can be just as moving as the destination itself. The past few years we’ve done this a few times as we traveled to Vermont, upstate NY, and most especially back in 2015 when he announced that our vacation that year would be a College Road Trip.
My son was a junior in high school at the time and after a rough year, we hadn’t really made many college visits with him. We took a little over a week and incorporated three different visits. The most frightening part was when my husband said – we’re not making any reservations, we’ll find something along the way. Did I mention that I’m a Type A personality where checklists and back up plans are just a natural part of my nature? But, no reservations were made and we were off!
I’m thankful for a God that always surrounds us with His provisions. Surprisingly, there was only one overnight at a hotel. Otherwise, with a few short phone calls, we were invited to stay with friends as well as a great visit with my brother and his family. We saw the river life and superb hospitality in Massachusetts, wine tasting at a quaint vineyard in Rhode Island, and the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont (with all its twisty roads). We enjoyed the comforts of home with family while lounging in their pool, and ended with a scenic drive along the Finger Lakes which was filled with wineries, distilleries, and breweries tucked along a strip of road that shares the wonders of cascading falls and some of the most picturesque woodlands I’ve ever seen. Even the occasional wrong turn promised adventure. Remember even mishaps can turn into an encounter.
Along our journey there were several arrivals, each bringing something special and unique. The key was to embrace each encounter and search for the beauty in our surroundings, in people, in communities, and in ourselves. My husband and I are people watchers. We never seem to get bored while waiting – whether it’s for a flight, on line or anything else. Sometimes we watch people, other times we admire the architecture, breathtaking views, or sunsets. Sometimes we look at things that we never even knew existed. With each new experience, we are changed. A few years ago, I started talking to God in those moments and asking Him what he wanted me to notice about myself, someone else, or my surroundings. I often close my eyes and use my senses – to smell the aromas around me, or to taste foods of different cultures – it’s transforming.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
~ Walt Whitman – Song of the Open Road ~
On my last day of vacation, I usually wake with a little knot in my stomach knowing that my little respite is over. It’s time to return to a life that’s very different. I realize that it’s also a life of familiarity and safety and that I’m bringing this new experience back with me. When possible, I like to rise early on that last day and take one last deep breathe in of all that surrounds me. Last year, I woke early to catch the sunrise on the bay. As the sun began to rise and I took another sip of my coffee, the certainty that the same sun was rising and/or setting somewhere else in the world filled me. Same sun – different experience. In these moments, I know that I am a part of something so much bigger than I can ever imagine and there is a God watching over every tiny detail.
As I use these experiences to journey inward, I find many times that there’s another person that’s been hidden away. Sometimes, I forget that person and I’m thankful to find her again. The artist sees the creativity in sculpted gardens and art, the missionary spots someone less fortunate, and the little girl sees the joy and laughter in an ice cream cone. It awakens me. Transforms me.
There is a new balance when I return home. Its familiarity welcomes me, but something is different. I need to find a place for these new discoveries. As Mr. Dispenza tells us, upon our return, “There is the grace of self-knowledge, wisdom, and peace.”
Here’s a sampling of some reflection questions adapted from The Way Of The Traveler:
- The most surprising thing I am finding out about myself is?
- What I am learning about other people that I never knew before?
- If I had more time to spend at my destinations, what would I have done?
- Of the things I’m learning about myself, I may have to readjust my thinking on the following:
So as you zip that last suitcase and hear the click of the door behind you, remember to invite God to be your travel partner and get ready to discover the vacation transformation He has in store for you.
Linda is a Catholic wife to her childhood sweetheart, Mike and mother to four adult children, Nicole, Brooke, Kristin, and Michael. After studying computer technology in college, she had several careers that allowed her the opportunity to combine her passion for young people, her faith, and her knowledge of technology.
Linda enjoys gardening, cooking, and tending to her little parcel of land in NY’s scenic Hudson Valley region. She has been actively involved in numerous ministries at her parish of over 25 years. In her free time, she enjoys sharing life and the great outdoors with her family and friends. She blogs about family, gardening and the Master Gardener in her spiritual journey at www.gardenerstouch.net.