Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. ~ e. e. cummings
6 years ago today, we hopped on a plane (well, actually on three planes – with an overnight in Dallas) and flew to Ecuador. We had sold everything we owned. We had plans to travel for one year, and we were hoping to stretch it to two years. Today marks 6 years. That’s 2,191 days. We’ve spent half our marriage and a third of our relationship on this international adventure.
The past 6 years have felt so natural and normal in many ways, and when we look back at photos or share memories, we’re often shocked and awed by all the places we’ve been and all the things we have experienced. It seems surreal that we’ve been able to do all the things we have done, and visit all the places we’ve been – especially in just 6 years.
We left on this adventure in search of an extraordinary life – to see where we could find the best versions of ourselves, and then to make that place home. But instead, like the William Martin quote, we “found the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.” This adventure has taken us to so many places we dreamed about, and showed us amazing spots we never even knew existed, both close to home and in far flung places. We’ve seen and done some pretty cool things. People often want to focus on the grandeur and the privilege of our life – with pressure to “do something exciting” or “worthy of living vicariously through us.” But for us, the greatest pleasures, and the most formative moments, of this journey have always been the small seemingly ordinary moments. The ones that are easy to overlook or take for granted. Silently holding hands in a place of overwhelming grandeur. Sharing smiles and understanding with someone whose language we don’t speak – but with whom we still connect on some level. Experiencing a new smell or sound. Feeling the anticipation of newness, and the comfort of familiarity. Or the familiarity & comfort of newness. Forming new friendships with people who are different than us, but also profoundly the same. Learning the rhythm of a new place. Finding faith in all sorts of unexpected circumstances, from placing trust in strangers, to taking leaps into the unknown, and hoping it works out. It always has.
Even in extraordinary experiences, it is the small moments that make it memorable. What made our first visit to Machu Picchu so memorable wasn’t just seeing the place we had dreamed about for so long. It’s the memory of being so in awe of finally being there that I tripped up some steps and tore my pant leg (I still mourn those pants!). Or the hour that we spent sitting on the grass floor of a room on the edge of the complex, watching birds ride the thermals.
I have years of journal entries listing these tiny moments. Many photographed as well, but so many that live on in writing, and memories, and warm feelings, and stronger souls. Little ordinary moments that felt important at the time, and rise up to be significant as we look back. Travel has taught us the value of living in the moment, and the importance of letting go of the outcome, and of our expectations for a situation, a place, or a person. It has taught us to pause and be a part of whatever is happening. To let those moments take over. To participate, but at the very least to show up. To be present. Travel has shown us that the best versions of ourselves were there all along, and have been shaped and polished by all the challenges and adventures and moments on the road – both magical and everyday normal – like a stone in a riverbed. In our quest for an extraordinary life, it took us a while to realize that there is extraordinary in the ordinary – and that it is universal.
I suspect that many of us (myself included) often spend a lot of time focusing on happiness, when maybe we should be focusing on joy, which is a whole different animal altogether. And I feel like one of the most important things we’ve learned over the past 6 years is to seek out joy.
There is a passage from a book called, “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Remen. She works with terminally ill patients, & in this passage she is discussing the spirit of those with terminal illness who still choose to “show up for whatever life may offer”:
“From such people I have learned a new definition of the word ‘joy.’ I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional will to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning or losing.
The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than to happiness.”
This journey has definitely taught us that being willing to win or lose, and continuing to move forward, even if whatever situation we’re heading into might not meet our expectations, is worth it. We’ve been challenged over and over to let go of our expectations, and have faith that our journey is taking us in the right direction and unfolding exactly as it should. And we do believe that it is unfolding just as it should. We have never felt more alive, more joyful, or more content than we have on this journey.
This past year was a big one for us. It saw us really snuggling down into a new home for the first year in a while with not as much travel. It had its moments where we were challenged to decide if the life we have chosen, and the spot we’ve chosen to live it in, are the right choices. We’ve always said that we set out on this adventure to see if we could figure out where we fit in this world. Then we realized that home is not necessarily a place, but more of a feeling or a person. And then that maybe it is nice to have a home base after all, and that sense of community that comes with it. This next year, I am sure we’ll discover something new about what we want our life to look like. It’s an idea and a feeling that is constantly evolving and changing as we continue to be affected by this life we have chosen to live – a life in foreign places that, day by day, become more familiar and also more elusive and challenging – but also more rewarding. We’ve built our life on what we love – and a huge part of that was about slowing down and taking the time to soak up new experiences. To slow down and really take the time to experience a place is very different from stopping there quickly before heading off to someplace new. We’re happy with where we’ve landed, and we’re looking forward to seeing where we go from here.
It wouldn’t be our travelversary if we didn’t send out a huge hug and thank you to all of our amazing family, friends, and followers. You have loved us and supported us throughout this whole endeavor (even in the times when you would have rather had us safe at home in NM). Thanks so much for always supporting us and checking in with us. Thanks for all the amazing letters and texts and phone calls of support and love. We get to do what we love because of your love and support and guidance. Thank you for loving us even though we desert you regularly to go off on some new adventure in a faraway place.
The adventure continues, with one lingering question: Will there be a seven year itch?