The unknown, unfamiliar, unexpected – it often results in life’s most worthwhile experiences. Yet many people associate it with apprehension instead of with excitement and adventure. I understand – I was and, although to a lesser extent, am still one of them.
It’s only human. I still have moments when I breathe deeply, reminding myself to physically and mentally calm down. I tell myself I will make the best decision when the actual fork in the road presents itself – not one I’ve fabricated in my internal reality. The serendipitous quality of life happens when you open yourself up; it generally works out even when it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
Perhaps while you were wandering around lost in a city, you stumbled upon a glorious sight (like rows and rows of modern red rope hammocks near an art museum) you likely wouldn’t have seen and enjoyed otherwise. Maybe you learned something new about yourself, that you persevered in spite of multiple failed attempts and figured it out eventually – success! Perhaps you gained more confidence in your ability to handle situations that will come your way.
Traveling is one of the best ways to get yourself out of the familiar and into the areas and situations you are not familiar with. You’re navigating unknown streets and public transport systems, trying out new foods, experiencing sights and sounds that are different from places you’ve been. It’s not always comfortable; in fact, many times you’re uncomfortable, hesitant, perhaps desperately trying different things and that’s the whole point. You’re broadening your horizons and comfort zone every time you travel to a new place, guaranteed, even if it’s only a little bit, even if it’s just 2 hours away from your home.
Traveling during my sabbatical has only reinforced the key realizations (the importance of time, your body, and enjoying the process and experience) gained by unbinding myself from an unknown trajectory and replacing it with an unknown one. It also has contributed additional ones:
- Have a general idea of where you’d like to go, and don’t worry about the details.
- If it seems difficult or there are many obstacles, it may not be meant to be. If you keep your plans flexible and are open to other possibilities, you may find the result was better than your original idea!
- If in doubt, you can always ask a friendly face. People generally like to be regarded as an expert, so feel free to ask their advice. You don’t need to know everything or figure it all out yourself. It’s often beneficial to use your network and the good people around you.
In times of uncertainty, worry, and in some cases, urgency, it’s always worked out for the best in the end. It may not seem like the best when you’re in the midst of the fray. Hindsight is always clearer. Yes, even when my assumed lodging plans fell through and I had to spend a lot more money while scrambling for new accommodations. Even when I took the wrong tram, heading in the opposite direction, only to realize I didn’t really feel like going to where I had planned anyway. And also when I missed the main route and took the road less traveled, enjoying the sights without the crowds on the way.
Just remember to be smart. Pay attention to what’s going on and if you don’t feel safe, trust your instincts, get out of the situation quickly and into a safer one. Your primitive brain (amygdala) has evolved over the years to be great at recognizing danger. The primitive response is so savvy, it often goes overboard and into the realm of over-analyzing and over-preparing. It’s important to do research, ask questions, and have a back-up plan (sometimes it’s important for your safety), but there is a threshold when you’ll miss out on what’s going on right in front of you as you’re speculating out scenarios that are likely not going to happen or spending countless hours staring at your computer.
It’s definitely a balance, and the balance does swing from side to side with the traveling wind. There’s a lulling comfort in knowing that taking in the unfamiliar winds will only enhance your overall experience.