The highs and lows of travel

We don’t always post the struggles of travelling. It’s easy to share the beauty we behold in front of us.  The images are breathtaking and we want to ensure others are jealous of what our eyes are absorbing.  But the reality is to capture only sunshine and glamour shots is a falsehood.

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My recent trip to Amsterdam was in 33 degrees weather (96 plus Fahrenheit), which is quite grueling if you choose to walk around the city.  Temporary leisure exists in a sixty minute boat ride, but an idealized pleasant stroll along the shaded side of the canals can turn excruciating under a cloudless sunny sky.

Despite this, there is hope in the cooldown.  As I ate in this fancy floating Chinese restaurant, I observed locals seeking refuge from the opposing window.  Not only were they dressed in swimsuits in the center of the city, but they were hopping off the dock and into the river.  I stared at them longingly, wishing I had brought a bathing suit. There was nothing I wanted more than a refreshing dip in the river.  Travels are made of snapshot moments exactly like this, and I knew if I didn’t take the chance I would regret it.  I embraced the courage of the moment as I charged into the river in my makeshift bikini of bra and underwear.  This childlike jump into the river was perhaps the most memorable part of the journey: a simplistic pleasure.

Yet, when I returned to my hotel seeking more rejuvenation, I found my room had no air conditioning.  It was a hipster hotel in a 900 year old building on the top floor, with a tight staircase. Luckily my carryon luggage was a backpack and not a rollie, as it would be difficult to navigate the four flights of tiny stairs.  Two fans did not suffice in cooling me down.  I hated to be the privileged American expat complaining of a lack of air conditioning, but when you pay for hipster you expect some luxury.   Instead, I chose creativity as a solution, as I placed a cold towel under my legs during the evening to keep me cool, just as a mother would put on her child’s forehead if they had a fever. It worked.

The second day of my journey consisted of a war wound. For some reason on the previous scorching hot day, I unknowingly wore a skirt around the city.  My thighs burned against each other.  The next day I thought wearing a pair of white shorts under my dress would ameliorate the chafing.    Nope not at all, but I didn’t notice the pure damage while at the Van Gogh Museum, local parks, or on the stuffy bus ride.  I noticed it as I tried to seek relief at the river for a dip for a second time.  When I looked down I saw a skin tag/mole had been opened and was falling off.  I had been bleeding for an entire day as I walked around the city.   Luckily I caught myself before infecting the wound in the river.  The shorts were ruined to the point of needing to be thrown into the trash.  Prior to the return to my hotel, I opted to visit the pharmacy at the train station. I swallowed my pride as I showed my bloody souvenir to the staff to ensure proper treatment.  She asked if I was on my period, “nope just a pure half pulled off mole.”  They encouraged me to buy two ointments for healing to be applied twice a day.  It worked.

I opted for sensibility as I purchased new pants that would not aggravate my wound to open up again.  Trying on pants while you are soaked in sweat in a non air-conditioned clothing store with a semi bloody leg, is quite a challenge.  Clothes want to cling, while your body wants to breathe. The successful purchase of pants were worn the next day as I took the five hour journey from Amsterdam to Wildervank for a long awaited wellness retreat.  Two trains, followed by a bus transfer and a long haul walk of 2.5 miles to a wellness retreat with my backpack was quite an adventure.  No taxis or uber were available in this secluded area.  The only way through it was I imagined it as a resourceful ruck march, purpose driven.  I rewarded myself 40 minutes into the walk with a delicious Kinder Bueno chocolate.  As the retreat ended, I asked a fellow attendee to ride with her to Amsterdam for our two hour car ride.  It worked.

And as I prepared to return back to the UK, I face a 14 day quarantine.  The Netherlands turned into a red territory 1½days into my journey due to Covid scars.  My holiday was five days long, but if I cut it short by one day, no quarantine would ensue.  I have chosen to reframe it as a blessing.  As the wellness retreat was so full of reflection that I incurred minimal sleep for two nights.

How is it that less than one week away from home can feel like a month long journey?   It’s like I returned to my 25 year old European backpacker summer in a span of several days.  It was full of highs, lows, exuberance, stress, endurance, and exhaustion.  Many friendly strangers along the way who assisted me on the journey, along with the travel gods.  The metaphors of life were squeezed into one trip.

There is always beauty with struggle.  I would like to honor the wanderlusters that exist within us all, may we find courage in the unknown, peace in the serenity, gratitude in the gift of foreign lands, and strength in the temporary  setbacks that are placed in our path.

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 “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

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