Shannon and Sergio who write over at Screw the Average guest post today with a healthy dose of gratitude! Screw the Average is a pretty great blog name, but I like their tagline even better:
be an outlier.
Take it from here Shannon and Sergio!
Gratitude Found Through Perspective
Everything changed in the summer of 2016. We sold, donated, or discarded 95% of our belongings and stored the rest. We turned in our apartment keys and took off with just a 36-liter backpack for each of us. We had no apartment and no home-base. From then on, we were bound to nothing but each other. After years of hard work, determination, and living life differently than the ‘average Joe’, we were finally on our way to ‘independence’. We were one giant step closer to location, employment, financial, and a myriad of other independences.
We’d planned to spend a year abroad, and being the planners that we are, we knew even before we landed in Europe (Dublin was our first destination), that we’d need to start planning less and experiencing more. Lifestyle changes were expected, and we embraced them. In theory, we knew this year would be full of great adventures, but it was still going to be ‘life’, so challenges and roadblocks would no doubt happen along the way. However, this yearlong European adventure was a ‘bucket-list’ aspiration that had slowly grown to grandiose proportions in our minds. And, how could it not? We grew up in front of television shows and movies that glamorize European travel with 45-second montages that capture only the highlights and smiles of a vacation in an exotic and welcoming land.
So what happens when reality sets in? When you spend countless hours bored and uncomfortable on a plane. When it takes an entire day to work out the logistics of travel, house sitting, and sightseeing in a new city. When you’re lying on a terrible mattress and wishing you could get just one more hour of sleep. When you’re promised a fast and reliable internet connection, but it’s so bad that you can barely check your email, let alone do work. Or, when you go to the grocery store on a Sunday to buy dinner and are confronted with a locked entrance, because you didn’t realize that everything in town is closed on Sundays. The natural response is to let it define and sour your experience. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve let that happen a few times.
The harder thing to do was to change our perspective. It’s no doubt a challenge, but if we wanted to be happy, and not only survive but love the adventure we’d been aspiring to do for so long, we had to find a way to ‘look at the bright side’. So, when we retell the story of missing our train in a small town in England, it’s not defined by the train we missed. Instead, it’s about the kindest, most positive woman we’d ever encountered. A cab or bus would’ve never gotten us to our connecting train in time, so she graciously gave us, two strangers standing on the corner in front of her cafe, a ride to the next town to make our connecting train. Similarly, we were evacuated from a train station in London because of a strike on the ‘Tube’ (London’s underground subway), which had a domino effect in shutting down all the surface trains and over-crowding the city buses. We subsequently spent the day trying to navigate the almost non-existent public transportation to get to Windsor Castle. In the end, we never made it to our destination, but we didn’t let that ruin our day. Looking back, we’re thrilled by the adventure of it all.
We doubt anyone would blame us for being disappointed by the cold, cloudy, and rainy weather we endured in Ireland, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh. Our pictures and memories are filled with gray, gloomy skies. But again, that doesn’t define our time there. Instead, we’re grateful that we were able to visit during off-tourist-season, and had most places to ourselves. It’s rare to be able to stand on the Cliffs of Moher alone, or wait less than 2-minutes in line to enter Edinburgh Castle. Due to it being ‘off season’, we were able to take pictures of famous landmarks, architectural wonders, and monuments with very few, to no tourists in our photographs. At times, it was like having the city and countless natural wonders to ourselves.
And make no mistake, things will go wrong, no matter how thorough and detailed you are in your planning. Like when we booked plane tickets from Istanbul to Zurich for the wrong month and didn’t realize it until a day before we needed to leave. It cost us hundreds of dollars and an entire day of stressful problem solving. We should’ve been miserable. But hey, we were in Istanbul and on our way to Zurich! The mistake forced us to wake up at 2 am to catch a much earlier flight (five hours earlier to be exact), but we had an amazing sunrise from the airplane. So, in the end, how could we complain?
We spent a week in Cairo, and everything about our sightseeing seemed to go wrong. We’d planned to see a dozen things our first day out, and by mid-afternoon we felt like throwing in the towel after only seeing three tourist destinations. We felt deflated and defeated, so we stopped on a corner, in the middle of Cairo, and had a talk. Yes, the day was rough and the city wasn’t what we expected, but we’d been all over the city on foot. We’d been to places most tourists don’t see and we had some great stories to tell. We recovered the day when we realized that, while we hadn’t seen all of the tourist attractions we wanted to see, we’d seen an authentic, un-curated side of Cairo. That’s something we aspire to achieve in our travels, so why were we so disappointed?
Ultimately, it’s about perspective. Whether we’re traveling the world or are at home, inconveniences, mistakes, surprises, etc., will naturally happen. We can create a negative narrative around them, affecting our experience and our happiness, or we can accept whatever the situation is and look at the ‘bright side’. If we look hard enough, we can usually find at least one positive aspect. Sometimes, it may just be, ‘hey this is going to make for a great story’.
At the end of the day, positive or negative, we’re fortunate enough to have the personal freedom to choose our outlook. Therefore, we choose to be incredibly grateful for the experiences we’ve had and the life we’ve managed to create for ourselves!
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