I Am Going So Fast and Getting Nowhere Faster

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How often have you heard the aphorism that “The journey is more important than the destination?”  A related wisdom was one that we used in my consulting firm when I was working for Process Management International.  I believe we stole it from some of Dr. W. E. Deming’s writings.  It was that “The process was more important than the outcome or results.”

Throughout my life I have tried to live by each of these.  It is not always easy to follow something that you know is true and that will make your life better and happier.  As the saying goes “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip.”  Knowing is not necessarily doing.  So, let’s look at how we can make our vacations and trips more fun and more meaningful.

“The journey is more important than the destination.”  As simple as this sounds, do you know what it means?  If we really knew the meaning not just in our heads but in our hearts, it would be difficult to ignore.  However, that is what most of us start off doing.  We plan a vacation or trip, and we talk more about where we are going than how we are getting there.  My father used to measure the success of a vacation by how quickly he could get to our endpoint.  He had no time to stop and see any attractions along the way.  He tried to avoid even stopping at a motel.  Most of the time, he would drive all night and let us sleep in the car along the way.  He would brag about how fast he could get someplace.  I hated trips with my father.  They lacked any semblance of fun.

When I started canoeing, I was obsessed with paddling as fast and as far as I could on each of my trips.  A good canoe mentor named Joe Conrad cautioned me that I should stop and smell the roses more often.  Once I heeded his advice, my canoeing became more fun.  Even along a lazy winding rural river, there are so many sights to see along the way.

I am sure that you have often heard that “I need a vacation from my vacation.”  Whenever, I hear this, I think of my first trip to Europe.  We rented a car and tried to see every European country (Almost) in a week.  A friend of mine warned be about this “American” tendency but I did not heed his advice.  It was not until Karen and I returned, burnt out, unhappy, and unsmiling, that the wisdom of his words hit home.  I resolved to spend more time in only one country and never try to do the “grand tour” of the world again.  Since then, my vacations have been fun and each one of our trips has only gotten better.

huangshan-sunrise-1140-2Somedays when we are on vacation, we do not go anywhere.  We stay in a small apartment in some recently found village or town and cook meals, talk, and take walks around the area.  No great jaunts to see any “Seven Wonders of the World.”  Most of our trips are not cruises so we have few schedules.  We get up when we want to.  We go out when we want to.  We see what we want to, and we come back when we want to.  Often the sights that we see along the way are unscheduled and not in any travel guides.  We became friends with a Swiss couple at a soccer match we happened to stop and watch one night.  We traveled in China to a mountain where we spent the day climbing with a couple whom we met in China.  The next morning all of us watched the sun rise over the mountain tops.

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In a little taverna in Naxos, we would sit every evening on the beach and eat fried squid, drink a local liquor, and watch the sunset.  We did this every evening for two weeks and never got bored.  Our one side trip to Santorini was a waste of a day.  We followed the advice that “EVERYONE” gave us when they said, “You must see Santorini!’  We spent two hours in a smelly boat getting there and it was one big tourist trap.  As for the beauty of the bay, it was undeniable, but we had the same and many more beautiful sights on our little island.

What are the obstacles to “smelling the roses?”   I would list the three major obstacles as follows:

  • Missing events in favor of things
  • Bragging rights
  • Time traps

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Missing events:

There are always many sights to see on any trip.  Many of these sights are famous and well worth seeing.  Many of them can also be very touristy.  However, you would not want to go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or Louvre.  But there are also many events that are always happening in small and large towns.  Unfortunately, you cannot find most of these events on tourist guides because they are usually local events that may happen yearly or only occasionally.  I am thinking of the flea market at Portobello Road where Karen and I spend a day just wondering around looking at the things for sale.  I am also thinking of the Tokyo Fish Market when I got up at 5:30 AM to go see the hundreds of fish vendors and how they sell the widest assortment of fresh seafood that I have ever seen in my life.  I might forget the Louvre, but I will never forget the Tokyo Fish Market.

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Rule 1:  Take time to seek out events on a trip. 

Bragging rights:

So, who doesn’t want some bragging rights.  Yes, I saw the Tower of London and the crown jewels.  Yes, I saw the Sistine Chapel.  Yes, I saw the Acropolis.  But you know what, none of my friends or parthenon-facts-thumbnailrelatives cared.  There are things you are told that you must see.  Ask yourself why?  Then make a list of the things that YOU really want to see.  I went to a Baptist Revival Meeting once when I was in Birmingham, Alabama.  It was a three-hour old-fashioned tent revival meeting complete with an altar call.  Being a devout Atheist, I thought I would be lynched when the service was over.  Instead, many people came up to Karen and I and after some brief chit chat invited us to a large pot-luck dinner.  We declined but were touched at the hospitality and friendliness of the church goers.  I wondered if I was Black would I have received the same invitation?

Rule 2:  Do not let ego overrule your own idea of what would be fun and interesting.

Time traps:

  • I would love to join you, but I must be at such and such a place!
  • Sounds like fun, but I really do not have the time!

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I have heard so many excuses from retired people in respect to not having the time to do things that it simply boggles my mind.  People dream to be retired so that they can have the time to do what they would like to do but instead weigh themselves down with to-do lists and schedules that would cross a rabbi’s eyes.  Some people like Tevye thought it was a matter of having enough money.

“If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall

And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day

And that would be the sweetest thing of all.”  — Fiddler on the Roof

In truth friends, it is neither time nor money which we lack, it is usually the will.  If you are retired or on vacation or have a day off, you probably have a choice over what you must do.  However, if you are governed by a should list or a must list, you will be a slave to time and money.  We can only free ourselves from these constraints by a power of the will.  Making a choice in our lives over what is important.

I am not saying that we don’t have schedules and that time and money are not important.  But we all know people that seem to accomplish so much more than we do.  We scratch our heads at the abilities of these people.  But do we ever stop to think that they have no more time and often no more money than we do?

When I say that it is a matter of will, I am talking about thinking about our real priorities and acting on them for the long term.  That good friend that invited you over for dinner might not be around next year.  That invitation to go on a trip might not be possible in the future.  Karen and I once went on a fantastic seven-day cruise on a 182-foot-tall ship named the Sir Francis Drake.  Thirty crew and eighteen passengers with a draft that allowed us to sail in the shallowest bays all added up to a trip that we will never forget.  We put off many times going on another trip with this vessel.  Then one day we read that the Sir Francis Drake was moored in a Honduran harbor when a hurricane hit.  The next morning the ship was gone.  It had washed out to sea and sank.  The old saying “never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” instantly came to my mind.”

Rule 3:  Get your priorities straight.  Life is short

As always, I welcome your comments and would love to hear your trip or vacation advice.  What are your favorites trips?  What made them fun?  What would you do different?

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Travel and Food

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Yesterday I had an argument with myself.  One of my key values is gratitude.  Years ago, I attended a Demontreville Retreat, and the Retreat Master gave us a sermon.  In the sermon, he told us that Saint Ignatius Loyola believed that ingratitude was the gateway to all sins and misbehaviors.  I thought about this and realized that I am often ungrateful for the joys and benefits that life has given me.  I take things for granted.  I ignore things.  I am simply unappreciative of things.  I compare myself to others and come up ungrateful and angry.  Wondering why or how these people got more than I did.  More money, more talent, more fame, more prestige.

When I started to think about writing this blog, I was confronted with a question.  Are gratitude and appreciation the same thing?  I discovered at a marriage retreat that Karen and I attended that tolerance and respect are not the same thing.  Once, I had thought that my goal in life should be to tolerate others.  I frequently used the quote that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority and the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”  I thought tolerance was the epitome of human behavior.  I learned at this retreat that respecting others is much different than simply tolerating them.

gratitudeappreciation2Thus, the question arose in my mind about the difference or relationship between appreciation and gratitude.  Perhaps this is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, but I thought the question deserved some reflection.  Is the relationship between gratitude and appreciation similar to the relationship between tolerance and respect?

After looking up the definition of both words, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude and appreciation are more symbiotic than tolerance and respect.  To have gratitude is to have an appreciation for something.  However, while gratitude is easily defined, the concept of appreciation presents more difficulty.  Websters Online Dictionary defines appreciation as: “Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”  I may be grateful for something and this is a heartfelt or emotional process.  Enjoying the good qualities of someone or something is more of a mental or cognitive process.  What exactly do I appreciate about my spouse?  I say every day that I am grateful for a wife like Karen but why?  What are her good qualities that I appreciate?  How often do I compliment her on these qualities?

In this blog, I am going to talk about appreciating travel and food.  Covid 19 has rendered both of these tasks more difficult.  One of the symptoms of the Covid virus is a loss of smell and taste.  Without smell and taste, you cannot tell the difference between a medium rare steak and roast chicken or between vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate brownie.  Until you lose these abilities, you may never realize how important smell and taste are to your life.  Food is never something to simply sustain life.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

The Covid virus has also made travel an onerous task.  Countries have closed their borders.  Many nations have instituted mandatory quarantines on travelers arriving in their countries.  Dangers exist in crowded places such as airports and airplanes.  Fools are out there in public insisting on their rights not to wear a mask.  Travel means to be in closed confined spaces with a multitude of people.  All situations which exaggerate the risk of getting the Covid virus.  Furthermore, who wants to come down with a deadly virus in a foreign country 5000 miles from home.  These facts have made travel truly frightful for many formerly adventurous people.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine

“Well, I’ve done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one’s soul. If anything at all, that’s probably the most important of what’s happened to me during the past five or six months.  — Malcom X, An Interview with Bernice Bass (December 27, 1964)

Travel and food go arm in arm and hand in hand.  You must eat if you are traveling.  Travel exposes you to mysteries every step of the way.  What will this new land be like?  What will the people be like in this foreign country?  Will they like Americans?  How will I communicate with them?  What do they eat?  Will their food make me sick?  What foods should I avoid?  How will I know what their food tastes like?

Belize Trip-035 (3)If you do not like to try new things, you should not travel.  One of my mottos is “I have never met a food I did not like.”  Karen and I eat at street vendors.  We often shop locally and pick out foods that we do not even know what they are.  When we were on Naxos, we found a meat market.  We entered and were greeted with a variety of skinned animals hanging from hooks.  There were no labels on these various creatures.  We assumed they sold the meat in kilos, so we asked for a ½ kilo of this and ½ kilo of that.  We decided that we would take the meats or whatever they were back to our little apartment and cook them.  We figured that once we did this, we might be able to guess what we were eating.  This was many years ago and I do not think we ever figured out what we were eating.  The food was good and twenty-five years later we are alive and kicking.  It was a great adventure.  One that we have replicated many times.

Karen and I avoid prearranged travel tours.  We have a formula that has worked for us over the years.  We rent a small apartment with cooking facilities.  We then take day trips by car to places that we want to visit, or we might take a train or plane.  We do not have to pack for more than an overnight stay and we have our own “home” to come back to.  Having kitchen facilities means we can eat out or in.  Days that we decide to eat in will find us at the local food markets.  It is always exciting going to these markets.  We buy things that we have never eaten before.  Another of my sayings is that, “I have never met a food that I did not like.”

Belize Trip-083 (2)I was forty years old before I had my first trip out of the USA.  I had always wanted to travel and my four years in the military had not provided me the opportunity to travel.  Later on, I became so busy with school and work that traveling seemed like a remote luxury.  One day I was on a plane coming back from Thompson, Manitoba.  (Canada does not count as foreign travel.)  I had been working with a mining client that week and was now headed home.  Next to me sat a young woman holding a travel guide to Spain.  It was May and schools were getting out for the summer.  I remarked “Are you going to Spain?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “Oh”, I said, “you must be very excited.”  She answered somewhat petulantly, “No, I went there last summer but my parents wanted me to go again since I am studying Spanish.”

Peru Trip 2007-334 (2)I did not say anymore to the young woman, but I thought “My, would I love to go to Spain or anyplace for that matter.”  Then and there in that moment, I made up my mind.  Karen and I were going to travel.  We were going to see the world.  When I arrived home, I shared my decision and determination with Karen.  She was delighted but wondered how we would manage it.  We have since been to 33 countries for a total of about 25 or more trips.  We like to go to one country and see various sections of it rather than trying to see the whole of Europe or Asia in one trip.  Usually we go for three weeks or so.  We are very budget oriented and try to behave like pilgrims rather than like tourists.  Our trips are usually a balancing act between being a pilgrim and being a tourist.

What have I learned from these trips about the world?  I would say my two greatest insights have been as follows:

  1. Americans are not exceptional.  We are privileged to have been brought up in a country with a great deal of natural and cultural advantages.  People the world over are as smart as we are.  People the world over work as hard or harder than Americans.  The inventiveness and level of development in many countries would astonish many Americans.
  2. People in other countries want the same things that we do.  People all want a successful life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Wherever we have been, we have seen people striving to live a good life surrounded by friends and relatives that they can share it with. 

We try to respect the cultures and people we visit.  We take some time to practice languages where we are going to travel.  We research cultural faux pas and expectations so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other people.  We are visitors in their countries, and we are always grateful for the help that people give us.  Many times we have been helped by people whom we have never met before and who have gone out of their way to befriend us.  We have always been treated with respect on our travels and not as outsiders.  We have made many friends during our journeys.

Conclusions:

Travel to another country may be as educational as a year in school.  A life lived without travel is not really a life lived.  Travel requires risk but the rewards are great.  You will meet people who can enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams.  And to top it all off, the icing on the cake, will be the new foods that will expand your palette of tastes and smells and provide a variety to your diet that will make your life infinitely more interesting.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

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