Last Wednesday, I crossed the border heading north into Mississippi on I-55 and, in so doing, officially began my vacation in the 50th state I have visited in the US. Vacationing in all 50 states was a dream of mine hatched when I was younger, the exact year escaping me at the moment. Airport visits and drive-throughs were not going to count; I was determined to put in at least one overnight stay with time spent in at least one attraction. Admittedly, some states required more creativity and planning to pull this off.
I had plenty of time to think on the drive up to Jackson, capitol of Mississippi. Rather than cobble together a highlight reel of the trip (see the pictures below if you are interested in that), I decided to give here a brief list of what I have learned in my odyssey:
1. You travel to enhance your life, not escape it.
I don’t hide the fact that when I was much younger, I battled low self-esteem and insecurity. In an effort to offset this, I traveled in a doomed attempt to find happiness. The trouble with this strategy is wherever you go, there you are. If you are unhappy, travel will not solve this and will actually make you feel worse. Nowadays, while I don’t travel as much, I get so much more out of the experience because I am at a peace with myself and have reached a place of authentic happiness, and from this place of inner strength, I can really enjoy and enrich my life through travel.
2. It’s nice to travel and it’s also nice to come home.
I love to travel but I know that wherever I go, I have a place, a basecamp, a home that I can call my own. This provides me comfort and security. Being at home, reading, relaxing, sipping coffee, playing my guitar, reenergizes me and allows me a period of internal dialogue and reflection where I can think about what I learned on the last trip. In various ways, I thankfully now enjoy my time at home as much as I do traveling.
3. Beauty is everywhere you look.
Every state has features and places of extraordinary beauty if you open your eyes and heart and will choose to receive it.
4. It is the quality of travel that counts, not the quantity.
I used to travel like a whirling dervish, with every hour of my vacation parsed and accounted for. Oftentimes, I spent so much time in the car that I wasn’t really seeing all that much and I would arrive back home exhausted. I now prefer to pick one or two things in any given day, live in the moment, and truly learn about the place and culture I am visiting.
5. Don’t be afraid to travel solo.
Of course, if you can travel with a great partner or some great friends, then it’s 1 + 1 = 4. However, if the people you are traveling with don’t somehow make you and the experience better, then, honestly, you are much better off being alone. Also, in looking back over my life, if had based all my plans contingent on someone else doing it with me, then I would have gotten nothing done. Traveling solo pushed me forward in ways previously unimaginable to me. In testing myself and trusting in the Universe, I grew strong, I grew independent, and learned to believe in myself.
6. Live in your element.
Be yourself, and march to your own drummer. If you don’t like crowds and revelry, then it makes no sense to spend your time in Las Vegas. Don’t do something or visit someplace because everyone else tells you that you have to do it when you know in advance that you will be out of your element. Be true to who and what you are. If you don’t like sitting in a bar down in the French Quarter of New Orleans, then don’t do it. Go hiking, kayaking, try to find the perfect beignet or whatever it is that constitutes living in your element.
7. Some people don’t like to travel and that’s ok.
I know this is hard to believe, but it’s true 🙂 Really! People have different personalities and different strengths. I have personally met some highly intelligent, self-aware people who have optimized their lives right where they are at and are able to continue their mental and spiritual growth in ways that don’t require the external stimulus we know as travel. I don’t judge people who do not like to travel as somehow being less worldly or not as consciously evolved as those that do like to travel.
8. People share some similar values regardless of where they are from.
It doesn’t matter which state or country you live in; there is a unifying set of core basic human values we all share. We all want to be listened to, to be respected, to love and be loved, to embrace the hopeful quest for happiness. You can have different cultures but this does not mean there has to be cultural differences …
9. Experiences are far more precious than possessions.
The greatest gift you will ever have is your time so I think quite carefully about how I am going to spend it. Going above and beyond money, I choose to spend my time traveling rather than getting caught up in a nuclear arms race to acquire and accrue more “stuff”. When I look back on my life, the memories I have, the people I met along the way that contributed to those memories, and the effect on my soul, make me one of the wealthiest people on the earth.
10. Travel gave me an intense appreciation of life.
Travel gives me wisdom, and it gives me knowledge. It breaks chains of ignorance and intolerance. It has exposed to me, with full clarity, the breadth of life and has blessed me with a better understanding of compassion and gratitude.