The Greatest Lesson I've Learned From Traveling

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If this past month of adventuring into the unknown has taught me anything, it’s how to gracefully let things go and truly live in the present moment.

As much as I’d like to say I’m a “go-with-the-flow” kind of person, the truth is I’m the type who plans and usually overthinks everything. If there were guidelines and a how-to lesson for every single step in life, I would most likely use it.

Before embarking on my trip to Bali, I had carefully planned and studied everything well in advance. From booking flights and accommodations, to reading all the tips from travel blogs and articles I could find. On paper, my plan appeared flawless. We would arrive in Bali, Kuta to be exact, two weeks before the retreat in order to get familiar with the new area. Then, we would travel to Tejakula in Northern Bali for our retreat, where we would spend a week and an additional two days exploring the coast doing all the “touristy” things. After that, we would travel to Ubud, stay there for a week and eventually settle in Canggu for a month before having to do a visa run. I had the airbnbs and villas booked and the activities all mapped out. I thought that without copious planning I would be totally lost and I wanted to feel as “prepared” as possible.

Well, it turns out that I felt totally lost regardless… All of my planning and micromanagement didn’t matter once we got here. I quickly realized that navigating your travels in real life is completely different than what you imagine sitting in front of a computer screen.

During my time here I’ve ran into situations that hadn’t even crossed my mind when originally planning for this trip. For instance, when we went to get our visas extended at the immigration office in Denpasar, we ended up waiting for about 6 hours because the machines weren’t properly working. When the machines finally were up and running again, it took us about 3 minutes to get through the interview and fingerprints. To say that was a frustrating day would be a big understatement.

Another example, is when we finally arrived in Canggu, the area we planned on staying at for a month. It turned out that the airbnb host had given the room we booked to someone else! Luckily, we were able to get things sorted out and found a different villa in Ubud (an area we actually liked even better than Canggu). In the end, I felt grateful and relieved. But at the time, I remember feeling stressed and anxious about finding a new place in such short notice.

I could give you so many more examples of situations like this — situations that didn’t go nearly as smoothly or “perfect” as I had wanted them to. But the point is, no matter how hard you try to plan ahead, life is always going to throw surprises your way.

A certain bit of planning is usually necessary and good— prepare enough. But risk enough too. Risk will teach you far more than over-thinking anything ever will. Have a plan. A flexible plan. Yes, do the research on visas, health insurance, safety and what to pack. But you probably don’t need to spend hours each day researching like I did.

So here are my top 5 tips and reminders I’ve used throughout my trip to help deal with unpredictable situations. Maybe they will come in handy for you:

  1. Realize that you can’t control everything. No one can plan for every potential problem that might come up. The important thing is that you understand that you have the ability to problem solve in the moment. Part of this is accepting that problems will arise. Going with the flow is having the confidence that you will be able to handle the unexpected.

  2. Accept that you can’t control others. Going with the flow means sometimes giving up control, not only of the situation, but of other people. A situation might become more stressful because of the behavior of another person. For example, you might be hanging out and talking with a group of friends when suddenly someone says something that goes against your core beliefs and upsets you. Remember that in situations like this you can’t control someone else, but you can control your own actions, feelings and attitudes.

    • Try to empathize with the other person. Is what the other person said only hurtful to you or also to others around you? Why might they be acting the way they are acting?

    • Give them the benefit of the doubt. Most people are just trying to do their best and might not know that their behavior is being perceived as disruptive.

    • If these harmful actions continue to happen from the same person, it may be time to let that person go from your life.

    “Letting go doesn’t mean you have given up and it does not mean you no longer care. It just means that you are releasing the attachments of the past that keep getting in the way of your happiness and mental clarity. Letting go is the unbinding and disentangling of old behavior patterns that keep pulling you into unnecessary mental tension and worry.” - Yung Pueblo

  3. Live in the moment + honor how you feel. Dwelling on things you could have or should have done in the past will only make it more difficult for you to enjoy what is actually happening in your present. Accept that what is happening in this moment is your reality and that beating yourself up or spending your time searching for someone to blame is not going to change anything.

    • Sit with each emotion you feel and honor whatever is showing up. Give yourself some time (if possible) to process the situation and get down to the root cause of your feelings.

  4. Practice exposing yourself to the unknown. Get out of your comfort zone. It sounds cliché, but it works. Try doing a small unpredictable thing each day. Walk or drive a new way home from work without planning it. Go to a new place for lunch. Order something new you’re not sure you will like. Start a conversation with someone you don’t know very well. The more comfortable you get at putting yourself in situations that are unpredictable, the more easily you will be able to go with the flow no matter where you are.

  5. Let go of the idea that things need to be perfect. Practice Aparigraha, or non-attachment, which is one of the 5 Yamas from Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. In this state of acceptance you learn to release expected outcomes. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself that things are never going to be perfect. You may set up an idea of how you want things to go, but rarely do they work out exactly that way. Striving for perfection is striving for something that ultimately does not exist. You don’t need to completely let go of your goals or ideas, just be sure to make room for the fact that things don’t always happen precisely the way you would like them to.

    • Focus more on the experience than the outcome. Whether you are cooking a new meal for the first time or trying a new workout routine, expecting that you’ll get it perfect the first time is only going to distract you from the joy of learning how to do something new. Instead, focus on the method and the joy of each moment, rather than obsessing about the outcome.

    • Avoid seeing yourself as a set of accomplishments. The things we achieve in life can give us confidence and make us feel good, but it becomes dangerous when we lean too much on them for all our happiness. Think about the other things that make you happy like a hobby you have, or a friendship/relationship you cherish.

I hope these tips help you to navigate through the next unpredictable situation that pops up in your life. And when all else fails, remember to take a deep breath and breathe. It can be difficult going with the flow if you are feeling overhwhelmed or anxious. Trust in the process and have faith that everything will work itself out in the end, because I can promise you, it truly will.