I’ve always loved to travel.
Every time we went on a family vacation I would say, Someday I’m going to live here. After a while, it became impossible to choose my one favorite place that I’d want to live, so I thought maybe I’d just keep moving, going from place to place and discovering what I could along the way. I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit the past few years, and I’ve found that as I get to know a new place, I start to fall in love.
I fall in love with the way travel highlights all the things I still have to learn, and how small and insignificant I am in comparison to the world. It melts away all my petty, little troubles and shakes some perspective into me. It makes me appreciate what I have, and shows me what I’ve been taking for granted. Travel opens me up in new ways, and creates more space for growth through uncomfortable, scary and unpredictable moments.
It also breaks the mold. Travel has taught me that there is so much I don’t know, even about myself. All of my expectations have been broken, and all of my beliefs called into question.
It is easy to get caught up in my own life. Schedules get busy and the things we once loved become burdens on our time. We have meetings to attend, people to please, and oh-so-important tasks to check off our to-do lists. I find that I get easily consumed by this small world of mine.
But none of it actually matters, and travel has shown me that.
What matters are the little, seemingly inconsequential moments that change us in small ways. The moments that make us feel, not just think. The moments that make us laugh so hard that soda comes out of our noses, the moments that bring tears to our eyes that we can’t hold back, the songs and smells that bring about a pang of nostalgia for a cherished memory.
As we rush from task to task, and one filled calendar week to the next, we forget that life is here, now. It is happening while we eagerly plan for what comes next. And it is the unplanned moments that usually leave a treasured mark on our memories.
As I traveled home to Connecticut from Ecuador for the holidays, I noticed that time seemed to have stood still the past few months. I still remember the night my plane first landed in Quito, and I felt a mix of excitement and nerves for what lay ahead. A whole year abroad was a dream come true, but it was also daunting.
What would Ecuador be like? Since then five months have rapidly passed, and I’ve found myself slowing down, at least a little bit. I don’t know how it is already the beginning of a new year, but I feel different. I am not the same girl that timidly got on the plane on September third. I have outgrown her, and Ecuador has picked me apart and remodeled me into a new and, I like to think, improved version of myself.
In those five months when I was forced to let go of my expectations and worries, I really lived. I had to go blindly forward, hoping for the best and learning to be flexible. The truth is, there are plenty of things I like better about Ecuador, and there are also a lot of things I prefer about the U.S.
Neither place is perfect, but each country has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own values. The more time I spend in Ecuador, the more I see the differences, but neither culture is “wrong.” Just two different ways of seeing the world. And I’m caught in the middle, trying to figure out where I stand, while creating the person I want to be.
Travel is a wake-up call. It pulls apart all that we know and challenges us to see through a new lens. It asks the difficult question—Why?
It pushes us to the edge of our limits and lets us discover the potential we have lying just beneath the surface.
Now, I am taking my time, learning to pause and appreciate each day before another five months is gone in the blink of an eye. There is so much here, in this moment that is worth noticing. We are given only so much time on this earth, and it is fleeting.
In the end, everything will be taken from us. Our humanity, our finite time here is a great equalizer. We will all grow older and eventually life will be a collection of memories we look back on.
Create a life that makes you proud. Create a life filled with experiences that make you grow, that challenge you, that teach you something and show you how much more you still have yet to learn.
Take your time with each day that is gifted to you. None of us can know what tomorrow will bring; the present is all we have, if only for a fleeting moment. Stop over-thinking. Stop worrying. Stop living in the past or wishing for the future. Just be here. Notice everything you have in this moment, because this moment is pretty darn great.
I don’t know how long I will stay in Ecuador, but I am here now, and now is what matters. I plan to make these moments count. I will notice moments like this one, where I am perfectly content, sipping my coffee and reflecting on the abundant life I have been blessed with.
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Editorial Assistant: Tifany Lee/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Vagabond Journey/elephant archives