Life lessons my recent travels taught me

Categories Featured, Personal, Travel

If you’ve spent any time on the internet at all over the past few years, you’re probably quite familiar with those motivational travel quotes sprawled across majestic landscapes.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – JRR Tolkien

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Well, this post is not like that.

My aim is not to motivate anyone to travel, to ‘find themselves’ or to see the world. Some of us have that desire and will act upon it in one way or another. Others don’t, and will live perfectly fulfilled lives without ever setting foot outside of their home town. It’s really none of anyone else’s business.

Instead, this post is just a collection of things I found useful, clever, heart-warming and enriching in the various elsewheres I’ve found myself recently.

So, here you go:

Leave your shoes at the door

In Taipei and Bangkok everyone leaves their shoes at the door, before entering the house. And do you know how ridiculously difficult it was for me to remember to do this? So hard!

Almost every time we’d return after adventures, I’d find myself stomping around the apartment in street slops, while Nikola and Kelly, Jana and George pad around on their bare feet or ‘house shoes’, graciously leaving me to discover my own faux pas. On the Camino, too, pilgrims are asked to take off their boots and place them in a communal shoe shelf before entering the albergue dorms.

It’s so practical! When you leave your shoes at the door, you minimise the chances of transferring any rogue outside dust, mud, grass or dog poo into your living space. Your floors and carpets stay cleaner for so much longer!

Well, eventually I got the hang of it and am trying to implement this newfound habit in my own flat. It’s going pretty well, but think I should make it more official by setting up a little shoe stand at the door.

Greet your fellow humans

travel, camino portugues, gypsified,

A remarkable thing I noticed while doing the Camino Portugues, was how easy it is to greet people when you’re walking in a foreign country.

Fellow pilgrims would heartily wish each other “Buen Camino!” in passing and I never hesitated to say “Bom dia” to the Portuguese folk we met along the way and “Buenos Dias” to the Spanish. It felt good. Making eye contact, being acknowledged, finding a moment of connection with people who I would most certainly lose in any further attempts at conversation.

It’s strange how I don’t really do the same here at home. Saying “good morning” to the people I encounter en route to Pick n Pay or while strolling along the promenade seems almost absurd. It’s easier just to avert our gazes and get on with our days.

Of the two, which is more absurd though?

Now you’re here, soon you’ll be elsewhere… don’t waste time

airplane window, travel, gypsified

This sounds so obvious, but lately I’ve actually had to catch my breath at the way in which moments really do pass far too quickly.

Sitting at my kitchen counter now, writing this, it’s hard to believe I was walking through Galician forests just a bit more than a month ago, and basking in the buzz of two of Asia’s biggest cities just a month before that.

I had gone on both these big trips without Guillaume and missed him terribly all the time. I second-guessed my choice to set off alone ever so often and wished with all my heart he was there to experience everything with me. When you’re in a situation like this, it’s easy to get lost in longing and not be fully present.

Somewhere halfway through both trips, it felt like we would never be reunited… but then time went its course and soon he was there holding me tight and kissing my gross just-got-off-the-plane travel face at arrivals.

The point is – this too shall pass. Good and bad. Mundane and magnificent. The wisest thing we can do is shift our ambitions, yearnings and striving aside at least once a day and savour where we’re at. If that’s too painful, then at least just acknowledge it and know that a month or two from now everything may be so very different. Plus, no amount of wishing things could have been different will be able to transport you back in time.

You can’t put a price tag on sharing experiences with precious people

Doing two big trips in rapid succession of one another is expensive. There’s no point in trying to play it down – I spent A LOT of money on airplane tickets, on food, on souvenirs, on experiences. But you know what? I don’t regret it for a single moment and there are two main reasons for this:

    1. I used that money for the exact purpose I had set it aside – I wanted to travel, I saved and I did it! Which makes me feel kind of proud.
    2. I got to share these experiences with people I love and cherish deeply.

travel, taipei, gypsified, friendship

In Taipei, it was Jana – former flat mate, older sister from another mister, a woman with whom I’ve cried many tears, but laughed just as many belly laughs. We’ve prayed each other through some tough times, and share a reverence for God’s good creation. Seeing her temporary-home city through the loving gaze she casts upon it was special beyond words and something we’ll always be able to refer back to in future conversations.

bangkok, cousins, gypsified, travel

In Bangkok, it was Nikola – my cousin, my first friend, my long-time ally and partner in crime. With only seven months between us, we know each other better than we even realise and can trace the fine nuances of each other’s lives even across the oceans. We’re so very different, yet share a bond based on mutual respect and admiration that grows stronger as we grow older. Getting to see her flourish in her calling as a teacher and a citizen-of-the world from such close proximity made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I can’t wait for many more visits in many more locations.

travel, gypsified, camino, mom

On the Camino, it was my mom. The lady who gave me life, my biggest fan and my kindest critic. So similar in some ways and so different in others, walking 240km side-by-side, sleeping in bunk beds with snorers disturbing the light sleep we share, turning over cents because of our damn exchange rate, has a special way of testing a relationship, but blessing it too. We argued often and cried no small amount of tears, but also offered each other glimpses into the dusty corners of our hearts, finding new connection and compassion as mother-and-daughter, but more importantly as women.

While solo adventures are great, I believe loads of joy and unexpected personal growth can be found in a shared travel experience.

The friendships we thought had died, may just be waiting for rekindling

travel, porto, portugal, friendship, gypsified

Okay, that sounds kind of dramatic, but it’s true! Every now and then I go into an intense bout of mourning over all the friendships I’ve allowed to slip through my fingers through the years. I’m so bad at keeping in touch and tend to get so overly consumed by my own life that I often feel like I don’t even deserve the few friends I have close by, let alone the ones who live far away.

So, when Rachael – one of my varsity besties – sent a message on Instagram (of all platforms) to ask if we could meet up somewhere in Portugal/Spain while my mom and I did the Camino, I almost burst with gratitude.

During my undergrad years at UCT, Rach was an almost constant companion. We saw each other through broken hearts and bruised egos, last minute test prep and big nights out on town. As our circumstances changed, however – I moved to Stellenbosch and later she moved to London – our involvement in each other’s lives became less prevalent. Eventually, our contact dwindled to mainly birthday messages and quick “hellos” in between.

The last time we saw each other was four years ago and in the meantime SO much has changed for both of us that I thought we’d never be able to catch up again.

But, then our Camino travels worked out just so, that my mom and I had three days to spare in Porto before returning to Cape Town, which offered the perfect window of opportunity for Rachael to pop over and hang out. (Can we just quickly take a moment to be jealous of how easy travel is in Europe).

Turns out, while our lives have changed entirely, our interests and passions have never been more similar. As we strolled along the cobbled streets, we talked for hours about sustainability, tiny houses, vanlife, travel and living more simply, in between the standard deep conversations about the state of our hearts and such.

What a miracle friendship is. Let’s never take it for granted, shall we? But also, let’s not go into the doldrums of despair when we aren’t surrounded by our gang of true friends 24/7. They’re there. They love us. And we’ll reconnect in unexpected ways and places if we just give it some time.

Carry only what you REALLY need

travel, flat lay, gypsified, packing
My flat lay at the start of the camino…

It was on day 5 or 6 of the Camino that my mom and I just decided we weren’t going to battle on with backpacks that way exceeded the suggested 10%-of-your-body weight limit. Fortunately, there was an option to send luggage ahead – either to the next albergue or all the way to Santiago – and we opted for the latter. We bought a big blanket bag, into which we systematically started unloading our excess baggage. I got rid of a couple of toiletries, a large tube of after-sun lotion and a few redundant pieces of clothing. My mom did the same and even set her sleeping bag aside!

And you know what? Everything was so much better after this. I didn’t feel like dying within the first hour of walking every day and actually started enjoying the surroundings even more.

But that’s how it is in life sometimes, isn’t it? We carry these things around, because we think we might need them somewhere along the way. But hey – when last did you put that lingering hurt or anger or jealousy to good use?

So, let. That. Stuff. Go. Pack it in a blanket bag and ship it off. Only difference is, we went to pick up our precious belongings at the end of the walk. Don’t do that. Throw away the final destination address and just leave it be.

Keeping things light is always the better option.

The more you move your body, the quieter your mind will be

camino, travel, walking, gypsified

I talk about this relatively often, but it’s soooo true!

As an introvert, I’m in my head more than I’m anywhere else. Which is emotionally draining, exhausting and not at all conducive to being a healthy human.

But it’s also difficult to change your life-long pattern of being.

On the Camino, I experienced an incredible unfolding, an opening up, a softening. It’s like my thoughts found an outlet in my feet. Instead of whirling around my head endlessly, they came and they went. Exactly the way thoughts should.

So, what I suspected for so long was true – the best way to get out of your head, is into your body. And that’s what I’ve started doing – walking, hiking, yoga every damn day! That’s what keeps me sane.

Moon-bags are the bomdiggedy!

Spot the moon-bag!

Seriously. I carried all my personal stuff in a blue-and-purple moon-bag I bought for 5 Euros at Flying Tiger Copenhagen in Porto (go figure) and I have never had a more convenient handbag. I miss it. (It’s in my cupboard, but I can’t bring myself to wear it here in Cape Town).

There are many other things, I noticed while travelling, which I may or may not share as I go, but these are the ones I’ve been mulling over mostly.

What have your travels taught you?

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