How Travel can change your life by Regina Tingle

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

“The journey is my home.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Back in 2000, the first few months I studied abroad in Italy, Mad Cow Disease was spreading rapidly. Beef, something that anchored my every meal back home in Texas, was suddenly dangerous. I'd been studying at the local language school, but while I was starting to understand Italian, I hadn't yet dared to speak. I was afraid of sounding ridiculous. Then one day I got hungry for something other than pasta. Because 'hanger' trumps my fear of sounding ridiculous, I went to my local grocery store and shyly approached the butcher counter. Four men in white coats, white paper hats and lots of knives greeted me politely and asked if I needed help. Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I just didn't know how to say it.

What I did know how to say was, "Today I would like to eat meat, please." As soon as I said it I laughed, waiting for them to burst into hysterics but they didn't. They smiled kindly and showed me what was available: pork, chicken, liver and all kinds of things I didn't really know how to translate. I chose 'pollo' and felt proud. But my pride only lasted a fleeting moment, disappearing again when they asked quanto? How much? Numbers, weight, much less in metric, eluded me. Still, I did my best and that night I had chicken for dinner. A welcome reprieve to all the pasta I'd been eating. The next time I went to the butcher it was easier. They knew me, l'americana, and I knew more or less what to say. All because I'd taken the first step: I'd gotten over myself.

In my experience, getting over myself is largely what travel requires. A willingness to surrender the known world, to go from what and where you know and journey towards what you don't. To do this you have to be somewhat okay in becoming, on occasion, defenseless and vulnerable. In my case, I had to be willing to eat what I assumed was chicken.

I have traveled for years, leading groups of people around the world. It's my job to help the people I'm leading NOT find themselves utterly defenseless or feeling too terribly vulnerable. I won't say I know the ropes but I know a lot of them. And yet when I travel, even now -- especially now in this Covid world, I still find myself needing help. Like most people, I'm not a huge fan of needing help, much less asking for it. But, again, this is one of the many things travel does. It opens you (or in some cases forces you) towards new, sometimes uncomfortable and unexpected experiences. Those unexpected moments and experiences often turn out to be the most memorable. And possibly the most comical. It's also where growth happens.

I can't think of a better metaphor for our lives than travel. When we travel, we get to experience what it means to journey. As Hans Christian Anderson said, "To travel is to live." And if we combine that with what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Life is a journey, not a destination," then, when we travel, we get to experience first hand what it is we are doing as we live out our days, months, years. In other words, through the lens of travel we gain insight and perspective; of ourselves, our lives, our choices and habits. Our country, our neighborhood, community and family. We also see that we aren't the center of the universe. In fact, if we travel long and far enough, we learn that no one and nowhere is. Isn't that refreshing?

Twenty-one years later, I confidently order my meat in Italiano. I tell the men in white coats and white hats exactly what I want and how much, and even how I'd like it sliced. But getting here has often been sloppy and embarrassing. Over the years I've learned to be okay with messing up. And possibly even failing. (Maybe that's less to do with practicing vulnerability and more to do with being nearly 42. ) What I can tell you is that for the most part messing up at least provides a laugh. Possibly even creates a connection that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

Much in the way that hanger trumps fear of feeling ridiculous, for me, discovery trumps being left to wonder 'what if.' Despite my embarrassment, or maybe even because of it, I've found comfort in the kindness of strangers. Small, random acts have been enough to bring me to tears of gratitude in my moments of need.

That's another thing travel does -- it pulls everything up close. When you're traveling you're out of your norm, so you might be functioning with an acute sense of urgency, one which you don't quite experience amid the comforts of your regular daily life. With that heightened sense of urgency comes unparalleled emotions. Often I experience intense gratitude; when I get the words right, when I get the order right, when I get where I'm going safely. Experiencing those intense emotions are, for me, one of travel's most influential superpowers: it allows you to feel/see/hear/experience everything in high definition. It distances you, and pulls everything close at once, placing time and space between yourself and your life as you know it so that somehow you can see everything more vividly. It blasts you far enough out of the stratosphere of your routine so that when you come home, you land in a different space. Home, but not quite where you started. With any luck when you return you'll find yourself emboldened, refreshed and renewed. You'll have a new, steadied sense of self, ready to begin the next part of life's journey.

Post by Regina Tingle, Founder of Duende Retreats.

Duende Retreats offers soul-nourishing retreats for the curious, creative spirit. It's our mission to provide safe, transformational experiences surrounded by kindred spirits immersed in stunning, inspiring landscapes. Click here for availability for 2022 retreats.