That night, sitting in the library of a skilled care center, I marked six weeks since I began the adventure. Nothing could have prepared me more completely than traveling alone in foreign countries – unknown languages, new cultures, obscure rules, and constant self-management.
In one lunchtime decision, this traveler went from a quick run to the taco truck to a life-changing ride in an ambulance, from planning to cook Blue Apron tonight to not seeing the inside of my house for seven weeks. From a fast walker to a broken femur.
I’ve written about how the benefits of preparing a grand adventure can change your entire year. Life is changed even before you even depart – and after your return, you have new skills and confidence.
Traveling on your own, facing challenges, learning about yourself, and testing your boundaries can prepare you for very unexpected adventures – those you make without reservations or luggage. I am grateful for every lesson. There are five lessons from the road that saved my soul.
- Stop, listen, and build relationships. What’s happening, who is in charge, who can help me, who can I help, what do I need, and what options are available? In a health emergency, you are dropped into a country for which your passport has not been stamped. The people I met first in the hospital ER and later in rehab were my guides and saviors. Night nurses and techs were the most important people for my welfare. I couldn’t survive if they were just staff – we had to be in it together.
- How to come back from a bad day matters. Can you start over? What can you do? Would timing yourself wheeling down the dark hall at least give you a goal? (By the way – yes.) Anything can turn it around. Is there someone you can help? The day isn’t over until you say it’s over.
- Connect and disconnect. When you travel, there is a balance between the reassuring connections with your real life at home and the ability to experience and attend to the present moment. Rehab is not Paris but it requires your whole heart. Holding on too tightly to the old normal brings pain and frustration. I can be involved with my work but I can’t full engage. I must fully engage here.
- Use all your resources to solve the problem as if it were not your own. The ability to be alone and problem solve, as if you were an advocate for another person, has reworked a lot of hotel mishaps and delayed flights. Learning to acknowledge your emotions while working with perspective for yourself is like having a team mate. For the middle weeks of this journey, I cried once every day – big gulping, “I want to go home”, hauls. But I scheduled them. Therapy first, conversations with the doctor and the nurses, then lose it before your mom comes.
- Lonely is lonely. Once you have sat with a deep sense of isolation and distance, you know its face and its moods. It can be expected alone in a foreign place – even if being there was your heart’s dream. I didn’t expect to feel that same sense of extreme distance in my own town, with family and friends ready to help, but this is a foreign country. Familiarity with the face of lonely helps.
So that night, I rolled down to a lovely spot, with its dark bookcases and lamplit corners, to try make something of the rest of my day, to find a way to be me in that place.
I put myself in the position to receive something different.
The best surprise came when my favorite nurse from my old unit came in. A friendly face drove away the feeling of being alone. We talked about new babies, family hopes, and faith. And we decided to start over tomorrow.
Travel, push yourself, move out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for the unexpected adventures to come.