Living in the Tensions of Travel

Tension

A wise man once wrote: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

A time to settle down and a time to pick up roots. A time to laugh and a time to mourn. A time to feast and a time to fast. A time to hold ‘em and a time to fold ‘em, if you will.

We live in the tensions of these times. Our lives follow the circular seasons of creation, sometimes in the spring of new beginnings, sometimes in the barren brokenness of a deep winter. As travelers, these seasons are enunciated by the constant decision-making of our daily survival. Where to sleep, what to eat, how to spend this day, when to go to the next country. These decisions are guided by priorities and held in check by tensions felt and unseen.

If you’re a traveler, you are familiar with these tensions. I’ve found it is helpful to hear how others in similar situations have navigated through those waters.

Work/Rest/Play

I’m calling out the elephant: things cost money.

Plane tickets. Street food. Artisan crafts. Adrenaline thrills. Hostel beds. Bus tickets. Friday night drinks.

However you choose to travel, chances are some significant cash money is going out in order to fund your dreams. Working is a great way to tip the scales back in your favor. It can offer some peace of mind of not getting stuck in China without the Renminbi to make it back home. If you want authentic experiences of a country, travel slowly; work, live, pay taxes.

But remember why you’re in this foreign land. What brought you here initially? Work has a tendency to dominate our time, so we have to set aside periods of rest and play. Chances for us to explore without the pressure of time committing us elsewhere.

Work is good and necessary. We need it, as we need money. But neither work nor money are the end all. We were made for rest, for play, for adventure. We create the space to enjoy why we work.

Counting Pennies/Frivolity

There is a pizza place downtown above the cinema with an incredible atmosphere and the best traditional stone oven Margherita pizza you’ve ever had. I’m addicted. I could go in there every day and feed my greed, but then I remember I’m a traveler who is trying to save money alongside spending it.

Saving is important. It helps me continue this journey I’m on. Yet, if I give in to my uptight notions of never spending a penny deemed unnecessary, I would forever be robbed of the memory of my favorite pizzeria. The taste of that thin crust and melted cheese. The smell of Italy while movie stars smiled their approval from the posters on the wall. Sometimes, a little frivolity is just what we need.

Like that new shirt after a year of wearing the same wardrobe. Or your favorite gelato after a long, stressful day in a new place. Or the spelunking safari that isn’t within walking distance back home.

It’s on us to make priorities for our spending. If left unchecked, temptations are around every corner and our lunchtime Margherita pizza cravings will get the best of us. What’s worth our frivolity? Which purchases bring us to a greater experience of the world around us? And which ones can we do without – at least this time?

Predictability/Spontaneity

I don’t know how you feel about what if questions.

I find they are packed full of dangerous potential, like dynamite that failed to blow when you pushed the button.

What if is what got us into this travel story in the first place. She has taken us across the world, settled us in unlikely places, offered us gifts we couldn’t have imagined.

But she doesn’t play by the rules. She can be a danger to ‘life, just so.’ She sneaks into the desires of our hearts and refuses to stay silent. She offers us an often needed dose of crazy, if we take her seriously. What if leads us into spontaneous side paths we didn’t initially intend.

Life on the road can seem like a slave to spontaneity, always moving, always something new. Maybe we could do with a bit of settling, a bit of routine, a bit of predictability? Maybe that doesn’t have to be a bad thing?

Maybe there are valuable contributions to be made, but only if we stay still long enough to recognize them?

Utilizing/Wasting Time

Eight of us sat around the table in silence, as we had for the past two weeks. No idle chat. No catching up on the day. No small jokes. The silence allowed space for us to be mindful. Of the earth. Of each other. Of life. It’s how the Buddhists roll at this retreat center where we’ve been staying.

Mindfulness is a beautiful, if not challenging, way to live. I need more of it in my life.

But after two weeks, we came to our last night together in this hallowed space. And it was time to celebrate. Because mindlessness has her place, too. So we laughed and splurged and danced and played.

Our time is precious, isn’t it? Since we all find ourselves in the throes of the lives we choose, there is no one size fits all for what our days look like. Maybe we need to be better at spending our time wisely, seeking some discipline, being intentional? Or maybe we need to loosen up a bit, seek out a bit of mindlessness to keep us grounded and help us to take ourselves less seriously?

You guessed it; there’s a time for both.

Discernment of the Times

Travel or not, we live in the tensions of a world that doesn’t stop nor ask our opinion about plot twists. What you need at this time may be the opposite of what I need. I’m quite certain that we’ll both know how it feels to be on both sides of the coin.

That wise man goes on to say in a sort of reflective conclusion that, [The Creator] has made everything beautiful in its time.

We can trust that no matter what season we’re in, no matter what tensions pull at our lives in this moment, there is beauty there, there is seed planted and pushing through the soil, there is unlimited potential for good. We can trust it is what we need and we can seek to make the best decisions with the resources and wits at our disposal.

We can learn to mine the good out of each moment, even the seemingly bad ones, and come to enjoy the full spectrum of life’s diversity. Living in the tensions of travel: boundless discovery, friendships bright and bold and unlikely, unchecked beauty.

I’d hold ‘em if I were you.

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