Thursday, June 20, 2013

How traveling can make you happier

photo courtesy of S. Holland Smith

In my 34 years of life, I've discovered that only one thing really helps me to unwind and rejuvenate in a healthy way - traveling.  I'm very much a home body and a creature of habit and routine.  Routine can easily become mundane and turn into boredom and stress without me even knowing.

We live on a fairly tight budget, so there's not a lot of extravagant travel happening in our household.  Occasionally we get to venture farther abroad, but adventures are usually contained inside the state of Washington.  Lucky for me, Washington just happens to be one of the most amazing place to explore in the entire U.S. - from the San Juan Islands to the rugged coast to sunny Wenatchee and the majestic evergreen Cascade forests, Washington is a rich and varied landscape full of exciting places within a few hours drive of our front door.

I can drive two hours in any direction, get out of my car and I will be in a new landscape with new people (if there are any people) and having an experience I've never had before.  If I drive three hours or more, look out!  It's suddenly a Lewis & Clark expedition.  But I don't have to think about it too hard - I just pack up the car with some food and water for the day, throw in the camera, coats, a blanket and a few activities for the kids and go.  

It's kind of my zen practice of living in the moment and being present instead of thinking about my future, my past.  No worries for the day, just actively engaged and enjoying the moment.  Smiling as we greet others on the trail or chat with locals in their small town store, seeing deer pop out of the forest, seeing the sun set over a new vista, listening to the quiet (the QUIET) outside the city - these are all reasons we keep going.  

Our family travels have certainly had their ups and downs - days where it poured rain, so we sat in the car and listened to the radio and laughed before giving up and driving home.  Nights where I didn't sleep and alternated napping and weeping as I longed for my bed.  When we camp, it can be way too hot, way too cold, way too many mosquitoes, our tent blows away, but we keep at it.  We keep adventuring.  Besides, these experiences build our rugged character and make for great stories around the next camp fire, so there's always a bright side.

Traveling is the only part of my life that's unpredictable, and that brings me a kind of reckless joy.  When I get behind the wheel for one of our road trips, I am brave and utterly optimistic and hopefully when I walk out the door.  Even my kids sense the difference in me.  It's a breath of fresh air and a break from the norm, and it's definitely cheaper than therapy.  I highly recommend it.

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