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Three Unexpected Life Lessons I Learned Traveling - Living Forward
Adventurer,  Midlife Women,  The Nine Facets

Three Unexpected Life Lessons I Learned Traveling

“Travel is rich with learning opportunities and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.”
—Rick Steves

I rolled my red carry-on up the steps into the house after our two-week vacation in Portugal and Barcelona. I walked through the house, opened up doors and windows to clear out the stale air, plopped the suitcase on the bed, and promptly unpacked. Dirty clothes in the hamper, shoes in the closet, toiletries in the bathroom, and the suitcase put away ready for the next trip. Years of travel and my return ritual is much the same. Tired but hyped up from the long flight, I always believe using energy when it shows up.

In my next morning meditation and reflection time, I journaled about my trip. Not just the day-to-day activities, more about how I felt about the trip, personal insights and random details.

We had a great trip. Advance planning paid off—the places we stayed exceeded our expectations, the people friendly, the tours interesting, our friends in Barcelona were great fun, and we had no unpleasant surprises.

I learned a few new things about myself on this trip.

1.  New, unfamiliar situations require us to re-balance our needs.

We rented a car outside Lisbon and drove throughout the country for 10 days. The upsides of having our own car included independence from train schedules and we could explore charming country roads and towns more easily. We had no major issues, but the stress of driving a rental car on unfamiliar roads; the high cost of gas; endless, expensive toll roads, parking in cramped city garages and unfamiliar towns; and those narrow streets (pulling in side mirrors to avoid walls is real and scary!)–often outweighed the benefits. Even with GPS, we got lost more than once. I don’t know how I ever managed years ago with just a map!

I’ve always felt comfortable driving in any foreign country, but that’s not true for me anymore. I will look at alternatives to make my trip easier, without sacrificing what I want to see and do.

Life Lesson: Some things I thought were so important just aren’t worth it anymore, so let them go.

2. Decision fatigue is a real thing.

The pre-trip planning decisions, followed by making many choices every day, as well as non-routine activities in new places, all lead to fatigue. The steps I took to avoid this fatigue paid off.

While planning our trip, I asked friends who’d been to Portugal for their suggestions, and I heard several great ideas. One friend suggested we stay in the beautiful Hotel Palace Bussaco in the Portugal countryside, built for the country’s last king. It was definitely a highlight of our trip—a step back to a time of majestic splendor.

I also worked with a wonderful travel advisor who suggested and booked several hotels and activities beyond what I’d found. She brought us some amazing new ideas which enhanced our trip.

Years ago, I loved to spend hours planning trips, I was exhilarated by the new and different. Today, I still enjoy making these decisions, but in much smaller quantities. I want them to be a spice in my life, not a regular diet.

Life Lesson: Too many decisions can exhaust me.
Better to learn from (and pay for) others’ experiences and knowledge—it is definitely worth it.

3. Allow for more open space between activities and in daily life.

Claude DeBussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes”. This applies equally to travel and to life. Far too often, rookie travelers attempt to pack as much as possible in each day to make sure they don’t miss anything.

I’ve learned over the years to appreciate the simple, unplanned, open days of travel where we allow the day to unfold and the country to show up to us in its own way in its own time. Enjoying a cup of coffee in an outdoor cafe in the morning or sitting with a glass of wine on the town square while people pass by allowed us to pause and appreciate the silent moments between the doing. Travel is filled with serendipity and memorable surprises.

Lesson lesson: It is in the quiet moments of simple unplanned days where the magic shows up.

The highlights of the trip weren’t the places we visited, but how I experienced them. My reflections and stories were of the people we met, the new foods and beverages we savored, and many surprising, spontaneous, and heartwarming moments.

My most valuable souvenirs (besides a couple little treats for my grand-kids) were my memories and broader perspectives and a few life lessons. Priceless.


  • Sharon Root

    Cherryll, I always enjoy your wonderful perspectives – what a great article! I’ve opted to use Uber in foreigh countries – often hiring an Uber driver for an entire day or more – and have had the best (informal tour guide) experiences as a result. As I age, letting go of some of my need to control all those many travel decisions really does help me avoid the overwhelm and fatigue. I need to start recalling that lesson sooner in the planning process. Love your lesson on the value of space. These are valuable souvenirs indeed – thank you for sharing! – Sharon

    • Cherryll Sevy

      Sharon, thanks for your comments. Definitely more of Uber in my future, both here and when traveling. Letting go of control sooner will definitely help. I appreciate your insights. Thanks.

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