Not everyone can take an extended leave from work, but with a little creativity, some budgeting skills and an appetite for adventure, many of us can. What may seem like a frivolous time to shirk responsibility can actually teach you a great deal about how to strike a happier balance in life back in the real world.
Long-term travel (beyond the standard 2-3 weeks of vacation a year) is an eye-opening experience - especially when your means of travel is a 25-foot (150 square foot) travel trailer.
The first thing I took away from the experience was how to let go. We all have expectations, and many of us like to plan every little thing out for ourselves. This doesn’t quite work when you’re driving across the country with a one-year-old. Plans are good, but they have to be flexible. Maybe your scheduled destination has a flash flood warning. Where can you take a detour? For us, this meant we got to see Guadalupe National Park, right along the U.S.-Mexico border and the least-visited National Park. It was beautiful and eye opening to drive along the Rio Grande, and we were grateful to get the chance to experience the park. We would never have gotten that experience if the weather in Austin had cooperated with our plans.
As John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, "We do not take a trip; a trip takes us... In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it." Once we let go of "sticking to the plan," our enjoyment of our trip increased exponentially.
2 - Mindfulness. What do you really need? When you have just one drawer for your clothes, one cabinet for your baby’s clothes and a small cabinet for toiletries, you think differently about what are really necessities and what’s nice to have. You realize you can subsist on very little, and you don’t need much living space when the world is your backyard.
The other side of being more mindful of what we bring into our lives is noticing what feelings we are allowing control over our psyche. There are infinite things to do in a new place, but you can't "do all of the things." Be happy living in the moment: getting to that new place (with a one year old, no less) is an achievement in and of itself. Appreciate where you are and how far you've come to get there.
3 - Resourcefulness. Don't have a funnel to refill your water tank? Dig through your supplies. You may have what you need after all (in our case, a knife, an empty water bottle and some duct tape). You can’t carry every little thing you might need, so we found clever ways to use what we had. Get outside your comfort zone -- way outside-- and you learn to see the world differently, making you more adept at solving problems.
4 - How to dig deep. I would be lying through my teeth if I didn't say the trip was, at times, challenging. You have the same two people to interact with for months and cabin fever can set in. You might get lost. You might get hungry with no food for miles. It might pour for days in the middle of a National Park in Utah, confining you to the tin can. In times like these you have to look inside of yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make the best of your situation.
Traveling brought me peace and acceptance. I got to know myself on a whole new level; I learned to love my strengths and obsess a little bit less about my weaknesses. I learned to conserve resources, to do more with less, and appreciate the journey.