The Gift of Travel: Bursting Your Bubble
By Bryan Salyer, ARCC Regional Director, Intrepid Traveler
I’m sitting in a tiny Costa Rican open-air cafe, drinking a well-needed, semi-cold Sprite. My large backpack filled with months worth of my personal belongings beside me. I’ve just ordered something off a laminated menu. I think chicken and rice, but honestly, I’m not quite sure, as I hardly speak any Spanish at all. Internally I’m kicking myself for the eight years of German I studied in school – Spanish would be pretty handy right about now.
Outside the wooden, hand-built cafe and its five wooden tables covered by colorful plastic tablecloths, life is twirling and whirling about. People walk down the dirt roads, stopping here and there to greet each other with large smiles speaking rapid-fire Spanish. Every once in a while, a noisy, old American school bus rolls through the tiny town kicking up dirt into the humid air. The townspeople stream into empty doorways to take cover. Once the dust settles and the air clears, the people in the streets go back to their life without any thought to the momentary pause in life.
I sip my drink and look down at my watch. Just hours ago I had landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. Since then, I made my way to this tiny, foreign town via public transportation. I’ve never even traveled outside of America and now I’m on my way to a remote village to assist on a volunteer project for several months. I can’t help asking myself what I’ve gotten into.
As the time passes, slowly I realize how different, yet similar this new environment feels. It is still everyday life, but one I’m not familiar with.. It is the same but somehow different, it has an undyingly unique cadence. So I sit and wait for my food and take in a world of different sights and sounds.
With a twinge of anxiety, which if I’m being honest is probably more than a twinge, and a body reverberating with excitement I think of the adventure that awaits. A new world, a new experience, a new adventure!
Neale Donald Walsch once proclaimed, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
This couldn’t be more true. I didn’t know it then, while sitting in that café in a small town in Costa Rica, but I sure know it now. I can look back and see the person I once was and how each stop along this crazy path we call life has affected me.
Growing up in small, rural Indiana town of about 6,000 people I grew up in what I now realize was a very small, yet beautiful bubble. My life was full of spending time in the town square, driving down country roads surrounded by cornfields, and the occasional foray into the closest metropolitan areas, Cincinnati or Indianapolis, for clothes shopping or a nice dinner with my family. I grew up with the same people around me all my life. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school we all grew together. I grew up across the street from the person who I still consider one of my best friends even to this day. Our experiences growing up were largely the same, they shaped our teenage years. Very rarely was there anything that shook our world or challenged our way of thinking. The O.J. trial, Columbine, even 9/11 seemed so far away. I was content and didn’t know or care much about the outside world. My daily life, my bubble, consumed my teenage existence.
It wasn’t until I started to travel that I began to realize the interconnectedness of all things. When I started to travel I really started to grow. I started to see that my little bubble was beginning to expand exponentially.
I quit my job as a classroom teacher and moved to the mountains of California to teach at an outdoor science school. My friends and family supported me, but they also thought I was a little crazy. I knew nobody in California and nothing about California except what I had seen and heard on the internet or television. Armed with this little information I packed all my belongings in a car and set off on the 2,000 plus mile drive across America.
During my drive, I really realized the diversity of America for the first time. Not only the landscapes, from the great plains through the Rocky Mountains and into the arid Mojave Desert, but the people I met and the vast array of experiences they had.
I spent three years in California and befriended people from all over America. Each and every one of these people “stretched my skin” and brought different perspectives and life experiences to my life. I traveled and experienced places that were nothing short of breathtaking. I looked out over the unfathomably vast Grand Canyon at sunrise, watched the sunset over the waves of the Pacific Ocean, and experienced the majestic limestone bluffs of Yosemite. I explored places that I have only dreamed of prior to experiencing them.
I had ups and downs, good times and difficult times. Even though I was still in the USA, I gained a wider world perspective by just being away from home. I grew in my independence and realized that life was an endless list of options. Best of all, I realized that I had power to choose what was next. That I had control to leave my mark on the world as I saw fit.
After three years expanding my horizons in California I decided it was time to see more of the world at large, to push myself out of my comfort zone and travel abroad. For the next 10 months, I traveled through Central America volunteering at sustainable farms and teaching English to local communities. I found myself in the middle of so many new experiences (like sitting at that café in Costa Rica) having to figure out how to order food and get where I needed to go. I learned so much about the world and myself during those ten months abroad. I learned that language is a barrier, but it is easily overcome with a little persistence, effort and a genuine smile. I learned that buses don’t always show up on time (or at all) and how to be flexible and creative in finding solutions to life’s problems. I learned how to trust my instincts and how to open up to others. I stepped out of my comfort zone and I grew, I learned, and with each challenge I met I become more confident in myself.
Ten months after I left California I came back from Central America and informed my friends and family I had accepted a job in China. Again, they supported me but this time thought I was absolutely crazy. “China?!”
The world was calling! I told them I had to go, and a week later I was on a plane to China.
For two years, I worked and traveled in Asia. I learned more than I can possibly put down on paper. In fact, I’m still learning and digesting my entire experience.
I learned about the importance of how you present yourself and how you treat others in mainland China. A first impression is always important. In Cambodia and Vietnam I learned how to rise from the ashes and about true forgiveness. In Nepal I learned about genuine, heart-felt kindness and the peaceful merging of spiritual beliefs. I learned about the duality of modern life, the haves and have-nots, and the items that are truly necessary for happiness. In all these places, I learned about love and respect, and how to recognize our differences yet celebrate our similarities (mostly over tea or delicious, hand-made cuisine).
But above all else I learned about myself and who I wanted to become. I learned who I wanted to be in this world. Travel has truly opened my eyes to a new world, has stretched my skin, and has burst my own bubble again and again. Travel has given me the greatest gift I could have asked for… a better, more aware and confident me!
Traveling is the greatest gift because unlike anything else it bursts your bubble and it gives you wings.
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