the gifts of travel

Everyone knows about the gifts of travel. New sights, new foods, new adventures, time away from your routine and time with the ones you love. Travel widens the lens of our perspective and offers up new angles to approach things from. There is so much to see, and the seeing is often crazy fun. Variety, adventure, relaxation, education, laughter, fun—those are the obvious gifts of travel and in doing extended travel you get them all multiplied by, well, by however many days you stay gone. It’s fantastic.

This Christmas season though, as I shop for the perfect match of person and present, it is the non-obvious gifts of travel that my mind wanders back to. I want so badly to hold onto them, these lesser-known gifts. To hold onto them for myself, and to share them with you. And so in the spirit of giving, here are some underrated gifts of our extended travel that I wish for you:
I wish you Boredom. It is not just boring people who get bored. Sometimes it’s really interesting people who happen to be stuck on a bus for eight to 10 to 15+ hours. Or stuck inside for what feels like forever while the downpours outside rage on and on for weeks. Or played with the same four toys for eight months and became completely sick of them.
Boredom turned out to be my favorite surprise gift because it provided the setting and springboard for our imaginations to ignite. Conversations that don’t happen until you’ve had all your normal ones and still want to visit your way through a series of days where nothing is planned. When that happens, you suddenly find yourself in the midst of discourse that is brimming with energy and enthusiasm and creativity of thought.
The other side of boring playtimes found our children creating unbelievably unique structures, games, and songs that were specific and brilliant and all their own. A rainy Buenos Aires day yielded an entire train washing station made out of kitchen chairs, bath mats, folded socks, breakfast trays and a coffee press. Boredom rocks.
I wish you Loneliness. Yes. Loneliness. Not far removed from boredom, loneliness emerges in many of the same circumstances when you’re traveling for an extended period of time, but instead of taking you to rocketing creativity, you find yourself immersed in introspection and evaluation. We all want to be good people, but how much time do our normally busy lives allow for the intentional evaluation of who we are, what we believe, and how we want to live?
For me, those areas of my life had mostly grown out of reacting to what was happening around me. My loneliest sabbatical times gave me the social distance I needed to really consider, choose, and aim more intentionally toward who I am, what I believe, and how I want to live.
It’s not a fool-proof method, I am still amazingly proficient at sticking my foot in my mouth, ending up over-committed, and general bad behavior. But now I have a blueprint to look back on, a map that my times with loneliness made room for me to draw up. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that Loneliness rocks, but it doesn’t, um, not-rock.

I wish you Friendlessness. Spending so much time with one’s nuclear family, getting to know each other more intimately than you could have ever imagined is the most precious of all gifts and hands-down the best part of what we did.
That said, just because we can now spend all our time together and enjoy it doesn’t mean we should. As a friend moved away a couple years ago, another friend of mine remarked, “I’m going to miss her. And I’m going to miss what she brings out in each of us.” There are important parts of ourselves that are formed and defined by the broader relationships in our lives. Empathy and compassion are a must within a family, but they are honed in the participation of the world around you, of being engaged in relationships that are not born not just out of birth but also out of choice. I didn’t realize the full value of being accountable and known by a larger community, by friends and extended family, until we had this period of time without them. I wish it wasn’t always necessary to live without something in order to appreciate it but, for me at least, that is often the case. Friendlessness gifts profound appreciation for friends.
And finally, I wish you the gift of Embarrassment. I have too long and too often passed up things from a new challenge to a bustling dinner party out of fear of embarrassment. Our extended travel provided so many opportunities to be embarrassed that I soon became at home with it. Granted it’s more fun within the safety net of knowing you’ll not likely see these people again, which is why this gift is the easiest to come by when you are in the world of travel, to be sure. In addition to anonymity, travel situations highlight the truth that it is more important to use whatever charade’s movements or broken language tools you have to get from point A to point B, than it is to act like you already know how to get from point A to point B.
Embracing embarrassment turned out to be the most freeing of gifts for me. Total abandonment to an activity or project or task at hand created an abundance of blush-worthy moments, but even more laughter and knowledge and peace of mind. Making friends with Embarrassment gifted me the joy in having the freedom to fail. More than that, the freedom to try.
Creativity, Introspection, Profound Appreciation, and the Freedom to Try. These gifts are easier to spot when traveling, I know, but they are here too. I catch glimpses sometimes. They are here and so worth the seeking.
I wish you all a hearty Merry Christmas and a Boring, Lonely, Friendless, Embarrassing year ahead. From the bottom of my heart.

(Jamie Stambaugh, her husband, Bo, and children Vaughn and Luke left their jobs in Crested Butte to spend an eight-month family sabbatical traveling in South America.)


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