If I were to hold up before and after images of myself from the 6-month trip, aside from my hair being a little longer, bleached by sun, and being a lot more tanned, I would see so much more of, well, so much more.
It’s not the postcards, the photographs, the odd souvenir or book picked up along the way. It’s (surprisingly) not even just the memories.
For the sake of giving these elusive, intangible “things” a name, let’s call them rewards. (I actually prefer the term XP, but unless you’re a raging nerd, that one might slip by you).
These “rewards” (*coughXPcough*) are the things that stimulate growth. I’m not talking about “growth” that fills out your shorts after a few too many (if that’s possible) gelaterias, though that type of growth is perfectly satisfactory as well; I’m talking about the growth that you feel. The growth that makes you feel like you’ve gained new life skills, new powers, new perspective, like you’ve evolved.
This is why I want to say XP – because it is. Experience Points, right? Totally!
So what are these “magical XP” that can turn a regular “sheri” into a fire-breathing “sherizard”? (Too much?) Well, here’s a few off the top of my head.
- Confidence. When I landed in Antananarivo after 27 hours of transit, I’m pretty sure, in addition to a shower and a clean shirt, a diaper would have been of benefit. But you know? When you navigate your way through places so different than anything you’ve ever experienced, you start to realize how much chutzpah you’ve actually got going for you when you need it. You learn what you’re made of, and how well you actually would survive even a zombie apocolypse. K, maybe that’s a little extreme… Maybe it’s cuz you have no choice, but I’d like to look at it like cannonballing into the pool and figuring out how to swim. And then once you’ve, say, navigated through the narrow, winding, maze-like walkways in the Marrakech Medina in the middle of the night with everything you possess on your back and all your faith in the dude you can barely converse with in either language you know best, suddenly “life” means something other than you thought. Which brings me to:
- Perspective. You have no idea. Until you experience life in a so-called “third world” country, you have no idea. Seriously. Book a summer getaway to some place where you’ve been hesitant to go or can’t speak the language and just have fun. Roll with it. You will come back evolved. (XP, remember?)
- The realization that you will almost always find allies when you need them. People come and go from your life all the time. If you stay in one spot, it’s hard to see the big picture. But travelling helps you actually see and understand that there are hundreds and thousands and millions of people all over the world, and most of them are more giving, generous, and hospitable than you might think. Oh, and that whole “plenty of fish” mantra? It’s so true. When you realize this, it also makes letting go of dead weight soooo much easier.
- Independence. You might think this is the opposite of #3, mais au contraire. By traveling (especially alone), you liberate yourself from the shackles of what you think other people think about you. You learn how to be complete, however you like, without a need for approval from anyone but yourself. When it comes down to it, that’s what matters.
- In some cases, beards.
This almost makes me sad I can’t grow a beard. Armpit hair? *cringe* Definitely not. I take that one back.
- I was mostly kidding on that last one, but I really wanted an excuse to share that video and I guess it works as a metaphor for this one: a new face. This is different than “perspective” wherein perspective is inside looking out, this is outside looking in. You will come back different. All those experiences will open your mind so much, your friends’ll think you’ve gone Lebowski or Zen Master or something. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be walking around in a housecoat or a robe (although……… pants were a difficult habit to get back into), but you might find that trivial life details don’t get to you as much. It’s not that you’re “above” it; it’s just that you can see a bigger picture.
And, y’know…. I think I’ll leave it at that.
Except for this. Because it’s a lemur. And it makes me laugh a little.