Tomorrow begins my epic journey to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Asheville, and Atlanta. During that time I’ll be participating in 2 incredible gatherings with beautiful people with beautiful dreams for the world, I’ll be sharing some of my own beautiful dreams for the world, and I’ll be having meals, chai dates, and sleepovers with some of the most big-hearted people I know. I am a lucky, lucky girl.
There was a time when my suitcase was much more well-used than it has been in the last couple of years. When I was in management in government and non-profit, I usually traveled at least six times a year, mostly in North America but sometimes to far away places like Africa or Southeast Asia. When I first started to travel for business, I traveled like almost every business traveler, but then I realized that that kind of travel was rather soul-sucking. So I adjusted and learned to be a more soulful traveler.
Here are some of the things I learned about being more soulful in my traveling:
- Choose your accommodation wisely. Trust your heart on this one. Big-box hotels on airport strips where there are no green spaces to wander in are soul-destroying places that make you feel more like a commodity than a human being. Find a Bed and Breakfast or classic Inn in a quaint neighbourhood, and you’ll feel more alive, healthy, and happy. The bonuses are that you meet the most interesting people over breakfast, you’ll have places to wander in the evenings, and you’ll be supporting local business. Plus B&B owners are usually passionate about their neighbourhoods and can recommend the best restaurants and shops.
- Learn to use public transit. When I worked for government, I took the taxi all of the time, because I was entitled to it and it seemed easier. When I worked in non-profit, I was more intentional about saving money for my employer, so I started taking public transit when I could. I soon discovered that it’s much easier to get to know the soul of a place when you are among the people on a city bus, subway or train. It’s a great place to people-watch, and you can strike up the most interesting conversations with local people. When I was in Dallas, I found out there was a vintage trolley car that would take me to the conference centre every day for free (or for a small donation). It was a great deal more fun than the big ugly bus the conference attenders were taking from the big-box hotel, and I met the most fascinating trolley car enthusiasts who were volunteer drivers and conductors.
- Bring a little comfort with you. I always travel with a portable candle (in a tin cup with a lid) in my toiletries bag. Sometimes it’s the best way to relax in the evening after a harried trip. Plus I usually travel with a light-weight silk shawl that’s wonderful to wrap around my shoulders when I get a little cool and/or sleepy on the plane. And when you’re dealing with jet lag, one of your best friends may be your music player – at least if you’re lying in a bed in Bangladesh in the middle of the night trying to sleep while geckos are having a conversation on your wall.
- Talk to strangers. When public transportation isn’t a very good option and I have to take a taxi, I usually end up having a great conversation with a taxi driver. Many of them are over-qualified immigrants with fascinating stories of their countries of origin and of the many people who’ve sat in the taxicab. Some of the wisest and most interesting people I’ve met in my travels are taxi drivers.
- Trust people. This is a biggy. I’m not saying you should be naive and let some strange man take you home in his car (you still have to use your discretion about who’s trustworthy and who’s not), but almost every single time I decided to trust the person who was willing to take me under his/her wing and help me navigate their city turned out to be a good thing. I have only once gotten scammed by a person (and really, it was pretty harmless – he just got a little more money out of me than I should have parted with for helping me get to the market in Addis Ababa, but I was never in any danger), and on the flip side, have had some truly exceptional experiences when I’ve chosen to trust. One of my favourite travel moments was when a family in Ethiopia didn’t want me to have to eat alone and invited me to eat at their table. They ended up taking me out on the town to see some great Ethiopian performers.
- Walk in the rain. I’ve discovered that one of my favourite ways to see popular tourist attractions is in the rain while fairweather travelers stay dry and warm in their hotels. One of my favourite experiences while at a conference in Chicago was a rainy evening when I wandered all over Millennium Park. My feet were soaking wet by the end, but I loved seeing all of the outdoor sculptures tourist-free from under my umbrella.
- Pack light. I made a few mistakes early on and packed way more than I needed, but now I just bring the bare essentials. You never know when your flight might be delayed and you have to run from one gate to the next. When you’ve got nothing more than a small roller bag and a backpack, you’ll be thanking me for the advice. Plus it’s a lot easier to take public transit when you’re not overloaded. I spent three weeks in Africa with a suitcase that was small enough to be a carry-on bag and I didn’t miss anything – trust me, it can be done.
- Learn to adapt. No matter how well you plan, now and then, things will fall apart. The best you can do is learn to roll with it. Sometimes the best surprises come when your plans fall apart. I flew to the other side of the world with a film crew minus a videographer (he’d jammed out at the last minute), and without a film permit or visas for India. I had to hire local videographers in both India and Bangladesh AND hope that the Indian consulate in Bangladesh would treat me better than the one in Canada had. In the end, I hired the most amazing videographers (who are both now my Facebook friends) with all kinds of local knowledge I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and my hosts helped us navigate the consulate and everything fell into place beautifully.
- Slow down. The pace of the world we live in is moving far too quickly and the ease of air travel is making that worse. Our souls long for a slower pace, so we have to be intentional about finding slowness where we can. When I was a business traveler, I used to feel the pressure of having to rush in and out of places, flying into a city the morning of a meeting and sometimes flying home the same day. It didn’t take long to figure out that didn’t work for me. Soon I began insisting that I needed at least one night after business was done to go for a long walk and relax in a hotel (or B&B) before I was ready to hop on a plane again. Now that I’m self-employed, I take that even further, taking the train instead of plane when I can, and building transition time whenever possible. It’s much healthier for me, my family, and the people I’m doing business with if I’m a little slower and more contemplative in how I move in the world.
- Practice gratitude and sink into joy. After all of the travel I’ve done, I still love it wholeheartedly. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new adventures. I love building community with people all over the world, and sitting in deep conversations with interesting new friends. Sometimes, though, I find the gremlins in my mind trying to tell me that “this is too good to be true” or “I don’t deserve this kind of joy”. Brene Brown talks about this “fear of joy” in her book Daring Greatly. She says that joy makes us feel vulnerable, so we protect ourselves against it by telling ourselves it won’t last. The antidote, she says, is to practice gratitude. (You can watch her talk about this in her interview with Oprah.)
Want to be more soulful in your whole life and not just your travel? Consider registering for the Fall offering of Lead with Your Wild Heart.