The wind is blowing hard off of Lake Ontario, and our island is bound in ice. Deep drifts of snow have gathered in the lane way, a result of the cow fence and a wide open field, and we’re once again hiking the quarter of a mile or so between the house and where the truck can be parked out by the road. The honey colored logs of our house exude warmth, even as she pulls her winter blanket up around her shoulders. I am sitting in the sunroom next to my Dad’s vanilla orchid that climbs the interior wall, watching birds peck at seeds: four blue jays balanced on the perches of a blue and grey ceramic feeder, a nuthatch hanging upside down on the seed ring my mother made the birds for Christmas. Five doves picking up the scatterings in in the snow. A black squirrel hanging from the eaves of the pergola by his back feet, nibbling alongside the nuthatch. I have a cup of Earl Grey tea. I take a deep breath and contemplate the possibilities: A, S, J, D, E, I, T; I am in the process of beating my mother at Scrabble. It feels a long way from British Columbia, where I was six weeks ago, or Hawaii, where I was eight weeks ago, to say nothing of the Great Barrier Reef, where I was ten weeks ago.
It is easy, when this is all we know, to think that there must be more, better, or different out there. Somewhere is sexier than here. We dream of postcards from Paris or Koh Samui. We long for beach walks and mountain tops. We make bucket lists. We pour over travel blogs. We plan relentlessly for what’s next, all the while missing the journey, missing the now.
We plan relentlessly for what’s next, all the while missing the journey, missing the now.
It takes a while, months, maybe years even, to realize that travel has almost nothing to do with geography. It take a little longer, sometimes, to come to grips with the concept that pleasure isn’t something we seek out there in the more exotic places, but instead is something we discover here in the simple moments. At the risk of offending some of the newer and more enthusiastic travelers, I’d take it a step further and assert that if you haven’t come to grips with that yet, then you’re still chasing windmills, and no matter how much you travel, you won’t find what you’re looking for.
The deepest pleasures are found in the simplest things
When planning big trips, we dream of seeing the famous sites, visiting the renowned museums, and ticking items off our bucket lists. But it’s often not those big moments that become etched in our memories. Many times it’s the simple things that become most memorable:
- Watching the sunrise behind the Sydney Opera House, wrapped in a bathrobe on the roof of a hotel.
- A shout from a mountaintop after a hard climb.
- The way snow turns from white, to blue, to lavender as the sun sets.
- A Ka’chiquel lesson taught by a laughing gardener.
- Patting tortillas with a friend.
- Pulling rice plants and bundling them with smiles to communicate instead of words.
- Counting paper lanterns in the darkness as they lift off of the beach.
- Guitar music in the shade of Uluru.
- Constellations on a Saharan winter’s night.
- Drums in the darkness.
- Strangers who become family around a dinner table.
- The joy of baking the same loaf of bread on every continent.
- Swing dancing, however badly, with a longtime love.
- Salsa dancing with a hot, sweaty stranger.
- Walking beneath rubber trees.
- The scent of a eucalypt forest.
- Tea and Scrabble with your mother.
It’s not a contest
I assume you’ve seen the checklists making the rounds on social media. The ones asking you to check off how many states, countries, monuments, World Heritage sites, or whatever you’ve visited and then see how you stack up against your friends. You scored 84 out of 100? Congratulations. But that’s not what really matters.
Instead of bucket list items and milestones, let’s measure moments.
How many moments of your life have you truly lived? Serious question. Stop. Breathe. Think. How many have you truly lived? Or are you in the habit of letting them rush by in the flood of life?
Instead of bucket list items and milestones, let’s measure moments.
Let me tell you a secret: If you aren’t living your moments now, at home, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed by travel because there’s no magic wand that changes you, and there’s no shortcut around doing your own heart work. Sure, travel will stretch you, she’ll provide moments and opportunities, but you have to be present enough in your own soul to slow the heck down and step into those moments and find the true pleasures of life there. It’s entirely possible to take a year and travel the globe and completely miss the point. I know people who have. You probably do, too.
If you aren’t living your moments now, at home, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed by travel because there’s no magic wand that changes you, and there’s no shortcut around doing your own heart work.
How does that happen? We let life, and travel, be about the checklist instead of about the experience.
The Indie Travel Manifesto encourages us to find pleasure in simple moments. This seems a good goal, to me, regardless of whether you travel back and forth to your village to buy milk and a baguette or whether you get your “big trip” off the ground this year.
Let’s take the time to cultivate pleasure in simple moments, at home and abroad.
What does that look like at home?
Many people want to leave their chaotic lives behind for the open road, which we encourage and hope you do. But it is possible to slow down and live in the now while you’re home waiting for that next big trip.
- Slowing down the pace of life.
- Creating breathing room around the busyness.
- Prioritizing what makes you happy.
- Working a little less.
- Laughing a little more.
- Choosing to live below your means.
- Cultivating freedom: of time and place.
- Trading the trendy for the deeply satisfying.
- Learning something new every day.
- Developing a new skill.
- Giving yourself the gift of time.
- Cultivating peace.
- Considering what you can do with less of in order to create more of something else.
- Practicing saying Yes.
- Giving yourself permission to say No.
Simplicity and pleasure, once cultivated at home, will travel with you wherever you go. You’ll find yourself watching sunrises with no sense of rush, and sipping coffee at a leisurely pace in Rome. You’ll enjoy sitting with a stranger as much as checking the Eiffel Tower off of your list in Paris.
Simplicity and pleasure, once cultivated at home, will travel with you wherever you go.
Before long you’ll realize that, while you’re scoring higher on those checklists than anyone you know, what really makes your travels memorable and your life meaningful is found in the moments.
Finding pleasure in simple moments: it’s the secret to life, and travel.
Life can be crazy, and it’s difficult to live in the moment, regardless of whether or not you’re at home or on the road. What do you do to remain present? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Check out the following articles to inspire you:
- How to Build a Passion Drive Life
- Facing Death: Why One Man Travels to Embrace Life
- 10 Things I’ve Learned from Life and Travel
- Challenge Yourself and Do Hard Things
- Searching for Summer