A Year of Travel: How It Changed Me

I take a deep breathe and launch down a black diamond run at Killington, heart pounding, and I remember how much I love to ski!

When a friend first invited me to come to Vermont for New Year’s I didn’t really consider it. At Christmas when I was in Hawaii she reminded me and I decided to go, even though it would mean an 18 hour turnaround in Victoria.

For decades, I was the serious one, the organizer, the one who made sure that the increase in net worth each year was on track for our retirement plans. I made spreadsheets and every decision was backed by research. I lived by books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Now, I have rediscovered spontaneity.

How much of my changes over the last year are due to my travels, and how much just to the passage of time and the remaking of my life? I think that, by selling my house and putting my belongings in storage, by traveling so much (A Year of Travel FAQ, A Year of Travel: What I Learned about the World), I made the most of the changes that were thrust upon me. I could have clung to the past and what was familiar, I could have tried to stay in my comfort zone, but once I was dislodged I chose to embrace it.

Thinking about who I was before– I spent too much damn time making sure I got the very last bit out of the tube of toothpaste. When I stayed at home for the first few years with our first baby, when we had just bought our first house, it made sense to cut coupons, buy second-hand, and do without. But I kept that mindset much too long. Time is the one thing you cannot get back.

I still economize– when I’m at home I plan my menus by what is on sale. I look for the best prices on flights, tours and hotels. I google discount codes. But when the only way to get an experience is to spend the money, I spend the money. Because at the end of the day, if I have raised my children right, they will not be waiting for their inheritance. Although the money for my year of travel came from my mother’s estate, I would have much rather (and told her for decades) that she had spent it on things she enjoyed, rather than saving it for her children.

In the last year, I rediscovered joy. In the aftermath of my husband’s sudden, unexpected departure, I fell apart, and ended up in a psychologist’s office. That first visit, she asked me what gave me joy– and, despite her rephrasing, explaining and prompting, I could not come up with a single thing that did not involve my husband. Yet now, if you asked my new friends (or perhaps even my old ones) what defines me, they would say my sense of joy, my energy, my openness. It is all connected.

A year ago, almost all my friends were relatives or part of couples that looked like us: professionals with similar income levels and lifestyles, and most we had known since our children were in grade school together. Today, the people I count as friends include some of the old but also new ones who are much more varied in age, location and lifestyle. Travel has expanded my world.

A year ago, still fresh from the shock of my husband’s betrayal, I wasn’t sure if I would ever have a romantic relationship again. I mourned the loss of not just my husband, but the concept of a “significant other,” the idea that I was part of a couple. Then when I started to consider the possibility, it was stressful. Dating had changed a lot in 30 years. I went into it with my baggage and my wounds, attracted to those who were the opposite of my ex, forgetting that for me to be in a relationship for 30 years there must have been a lot of positives. I said I wasn’t looking for “the one,” having made peace with sleeping alone, but I didn’t realize how much I was used to having one person to touch base with, to debrief my day, every day. The internet allowed me to make a connection where I overlooked all the incompatibilities of life situations and physical distance, just to have someone to regularly “talk” to, the way I was used to. It took a long time before I realized what I was doing, and was able to let it go.

Having let go of expectations, I have now discovered that there are many positives to relationships late in life! It’s like being a teenager again, with all the roller coaster thrills. When you take off the table all the young person worries about whether your potential partner will be: faithful, reliable, a good parent; get along with family and friends; have compatible values; financially contribute; not get boring; stay attractive; agree on where we will live, who we will be friends with, what colour we will paint the living room… All that matters at this stage in life is whether we enjoy doing things in each other’s company.

Although I threw everything up in the air, some parts have settled in familiar territory. I toyed with the idea of living in Finland or southern India, of heading to Greece in the long term, but I have bought a condo in Victoria, close to my children and sisters. I am not going to teach overseas or live off-grid in the back county. I did not start smoking or doing drugs and I didn’t find religion.

I have changed, though, and permanently. I appreciate the moment, whether it be joyful or sad. I am more relaxed, but will not compromise on what really matters to me. I will not return to an organized, insular life of secrets. I may not travel as much as in the last year, but I will go forward into new experiences and I hope to continue to make new friends.

Last week when I went to visit my sister, I drove by the house I had lived in for 18 years. This time, instead of crying, I noticed the leaves on the lawn and the shrubs that needed pruning. It occurred to me how much easier it was to clean a new, 800 sq ft condo than an old, 3000 sq ft house. My heart may not be fully healed, but it is getting there.

Here’s to the next year of brave travels!

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