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The Best Trip I Ever Took Was the One I Never Planned on Taking

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

I’m a travel junkie. But it wasn’t always that way, or at least it wasn’t always consistently that way. Sure I studied abroad twice and took a couple trips to the UK and Australia. But like many of us finding our way after college, I spent much of my twenties and thirties trying to get settled in the big city. I worked really hard at my running, love life, and career. I worked so hard in these three areas that a trip to Cambodia to visit my sister seemed like the last thing to further any of those goals. But before my trip my sister got sick. She would go back to states and I already had a week reserved at a boutique hotel in Siem Reap. When I got the news I was sitting in my candlelit Seattle apartment looking at an exotic Nate Berkus for Target pouf that reminded me of the Far East. I knew the trip would be a life-changer. What I didn’t know was that it would take travelling halfway around the world to heal my body, heart, and mind.

Before Cambodia my body hurt. Like many runners, I’d tried to fix the pain in my knees, feet, and hips by going to weekly massage and physical therapy appointments. Before the trip I’d brought several pairs of shoes in to my appointment so my therapist could pick the best ones for a week of walking. He chose those highest from the ground, the “most supportive.” In his eyes, and much of western medicine’s, we need to be further from the ground to perform at our best.

Love life-wise, I was a little foggy. Still –just a bit—reeling from a guy I’d met on a previous vacation I was sure was the one. By now the texting had wound down. (He always took a little too long to text back). But my heart still flickered and flared up when I thought about what could have been. And so the hope lingered. Holding occupancy in the corner of my mind because nothing had taken its place yet.

In my career I was like a lot of thirty-somethings; not climbing the ladder, but trying to do well enough each day in hopes that it would show me what I should really be doing. Unfortunately we’re so used to our daily to-dos that we don’t always see the could-bes. Although I’d been an English teacher and written for the newspaper, I hadn’t found my voice. I could write the way someone wanted me to on topics I wasn’t passionate about, but didn’t know if someone would pay me to write the stories I wanted to tell.

Now, three years later, I finish the story with the understanding of why my trip to Cambodia was so important.

To heal our bodies we need to get closer to the natural world—in it and on it more hours of the day than not.

The last day in Cambodia after a yoga class was the first time I'd swapped my supportive sneakers for cushy flip flops. Shuffling through the dusty streets, I felt totally free. There was nothing glamorous about the moment. No golden temples or perfect palm fronds, simply the knowledge that the only things separating my feet from the earth were thin strips of foam. Yes, arch support and regular massages are valuable. So is walking every day, stepping out of those shoes, and getting closer to the ground.

To heal our hearts we need to experience beauty—and get out of our heads.

The only way to get out of my head was to be in a completely different place, literally. I had to get out of the country and into the jungle. I had to stop looking at my phone and start looking at ruins of the 12th century. I needed to have conversations that were just plain different from asking my girlfriends, “what do you think he wants?” Instead, I learned how my tour guide coped after his family was killed by the Khmer Rouge. The crumbling structures and tenderness of real loss made me forget about the tenderness of my heart.

To heal our minds we need to open them to possibility.

In Cambodia, each time I posted a picture on social media with a bit a narrative, people thanked me for sharing my story. It gave me a notion of a career I’d never really let in: maybe I could be a travel writer.

But what if you can’t get out of the country to heal what needs healing? I get that. Maybe if I’d tried new things at home, I could have healed my body, heart, and mind in another way. I could have tried yoga at a different studio and taken more walk breaks at work. On those walk breaks I could have looked for beauty in nature and in conversations with people outside of my circle. I could have found my voice simply by telling a story and asking someone to listen. I could have told this story.

Let go of the to-dos and look for the could-bes. The unexpected is waiting for you.

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