As I type this, my 77 year old father is on Day 29 of a month long, solo trip through Asia. His destinations, prior to leaving, were mostly unknown. He has created his itinerary as he goes, based on the people he meets and the experiences that he is enjoying the most. My childhood was a lot like this. While my first travel abroad did not happen until I was 19, many days of my childhood were spent on thousands of mile long family road trips with no particular destination in mind. There, in the backseat of our car, I learned so many things. I learned to love the adventure of finding new things, meeting people very different from myself and wondering what else might be out there to explore, so it's no wonder that the idea of taking the leap to live and study in Finland was appealing to me.
The idea of moving to another country is exciting and overwhelming all mixed into one. There are days that I wake up and find it hard to believe that this move will soon be the reality for our little family. In those moments, I think back to the life lessons my dad has been instilling in me since I was the little girl in the backseat of the car and on the trips that I have been lucky enough to take with him in my adult life. In any of the ten lessons below, you could easily replace the word “travel” with “life.” As I set off on this adventure with my husband and baby daughter, here’s what I'll remember:
1. The Best Plan is No Plan- Ok...well not exactly. Traveling with my dad is hard to explain. We've been known to book an international flight 4 days before we leave. Absolutely everything is open ended, with the exception of our flights to and from home. No hotel reservations, no itinerary, no transportation in between locations. The beauty of this kind of travel is that if you find something that you love, you can stay and explore as long as you like, or conversely move on more quickly if something doesn’t suit your fancy. But when I say he has “no plan” that isn’t exactly true. The fact is, he has multiple plans. His general world knowledge paired with extensive research ahead of time allows him to wing it. My dad can tell you every budget airline (including where they fly), location of bus/train terminals in major cities, and the best websites to book tickets online. By picking a geographical region to focus on, it starts to become easier to figure out where you might end up. I won’t lie…in some ways this type of travel requires that you do more research than a traditional “planned” trip. Instead of having one set plan, you have multiple options. But discovery and exploration are the fun of travel (and life) anyway. Do the work. Be flexible. Then enjoy.
2. Talk to Strangers- My dad has a gift. He can strike up a conversation and make friends with just about anyone that crosses his path. Seat mate on a bus? Bachelorette party at a bar? College student on campus? Yep…we’ll talk to you. You’ll become part of our story, and we’ll remember you and where you’re from and the little bit of your life that you shared with us. Yes, we’ll learn something about your city…a restaurant to try, a hidden sight to see. But more importantly we’ll learn about people, and that’s a gift.
3. Pay Attention to the World Around You- It’s easier to connect with the people and places that you go if you know a little bit about them. Read the news. Brush up on your history. It will make a huge difference in your travels.
4. Appreciate the Little Things- There are lots of capital “B” BIG things to love when you travel. The Food! The Monuments! The Museums! The Night Life! But there are lots of little things too. Appreciating the small moments can help to make a trip. One of my favorite things about my dad is that any time we passed someone playing music, he took a few dance steps and then kept on moving. Take the time to appreciate the music. Play in the fountain. Enjoy the garden. Always.
6. Learn to Read a Map- Yep. I know…it’s 2015. We have the internet, and GPS, and Google Maps. But you still really need to know how to read a map. Your internet might not work. Your phone’s battery could die. If you can read a map, you can take on any city. This includes figuring out metro maps….which leads me to point number seven.
9. Expect a Few Setbacks- Mistakes happen everywhere in life. They’re bound to happen on the road, especially when you’re tired and don’t have a plan set in stone. (In fact, mistakes even happen when you DO have a plan.) The important part of setbacks is how you deal with them. Is it true that I almost got stuck in Lithuania because of an error to my name on a plane ticket? Yes. But we worked it out, laughed about it, and here I am today (not in Lithuania.) Laugh about it, fix the problem and keep on going. If you can’t laugh about it in the moment, just remind yourself it will probably make a really good story later on.
10. It's Not Where You Go, It's Who You're With- When I was younger, I thought that more places meant more excitement. Yes…it’s nice to experience new places. But the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to realize it’s the people that you surround yourself with that matter the most. It’s the little moments that you share with the people that you’re with that make an experience incredible.