What I Learned From Traveling to Places Where I Never Wanted to Go - This American Girl

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When the opportunity was first presented to me, there was no way in hell I was going to trade in my bikini for snow pants and head to Europe in the winter. Laying under a palm tree on one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, I didn’t have much motivation to go anywhere at all. Let alone to the North Pole in January.


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But on a quest to constantly push myself beyond my comfort zone and see what I can discover on the other side, I went anyway. That, and because a deck of tarot cards told me to go. Still with me? Alright.




If you’ve been following for a while, you already know how I went on husky safaris, dipped into ice lakes, ate reindeer, and slept in igloos in the Arctic Circle. Jetsetted to Berlin and partied in Cologne for Carnival. Skied my way through Austria, the Dolomites in Italy, and ended my winter journey in Switzerland. And it was all totally awesome, but I really missed being a beach bumming backpacker yogi. (Read more about that in my post: What I Learned From Enduring Winter in Europe.)


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Despite my intense desire to hop the first flight to a tropical island in Southeast Asia, I went to ease myself into Spring in Spain. Once again, not because I wanted to, but because I thought I was supposed to. Because I had six separate people present reasons why I should. I took that as a sign that I was meant to go.


Costa Blanca Spain


I road tripped down the Costa Blanca, swam naked in lakes in Andalucia, and watched the eerie Semana Santa processions in Granada. It was beautiful but I didn’t fully enjoy it because well, it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted to be home in Costa Rica or on the road in Southeast Asia.


Despite following the signs, I felt like I had gotten completely lost.


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After sticking it out for nearly a month, I hopped the ferry down to Morocco. I knew Morocco was anything but “pura vida,” but at least I could get my feet dirty again. Morocco was the first place that I traveled to that no signs led me to. In fact, all the signs told me not to go there.


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The train taking me to the South of Spain broke down and when I finally got there, the ferries weren’t even running to Morocco because of the wind. But eventually I made it, because despite the “signs” telling me not to, I wanted to. Once I did, everything made sense again. I found myself again.


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While I had some seriously phenomenal experiences, and I live with no regrets, I hope I learned enough this time, to never need to go on such a long detour again.


This is what I learned from traveling to places where I never wanted to go:




New Experiences Can Challenge Who You Think You Are


Something that was so healing about the first time I went to Costa Rica, was how it opened me up to new possibilities for myself. Prior to that trip I considered myself a city girl. Though Costa Rica showed me how happy I could be barefoot on beaches and living on little in the jungle.


In the same way, traveling through Europe in the winter showed me that I didn’t need hot weather or the ocean or vibrant colorful cultures to be happy. I actually fell in love with the snow and everything it involved. I went snow shoeing in the woods, took husky and reindeer safaris, found out that I adore skiing, went ice fishing, and even swam naked in frozen lakes. I loved every moment of it and still consider Lapland to be one of the most magical places on Earth.


To me there is no greater freedom than learning how to find joy and happiness, no matter where I am.


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…They Can Also Remind You of Who You Really Are


While unfamiliar environments can show us aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed, they can also confirm things we already believed. Last year in Southeast Asia, I recall writing these words: “the more you travel, the more you discover where it is you truly belong.” I still believe this to be true.


I tried an experiment this trip, in doing absolutely everything differently from how I normally do it. I ate bread and meat and cheese and desserts. I barely ever practiced yoga. I traveled through sponsorships and stayed in fancy hotels with champagne at breakfast. Yes, I learned that first class train rides and comfortable beds can be really nice. But I also realized, even further, that I don’t need any of that to be happy.


The best moments I had were in the company of open hearted people who taught me about their culture. The women I sat naked in saunas with in Finland and the men who I drank mint tea with in Morocco. The best moments were when I felt the spontaneous magic in nature. In the snow covered forests in Lapland and the rugged desert mountains in Morocco.


Those moments reminded me that what I really love is the real, rough, rugged road of adventure.


Penan d'Ilfach


I’m a Beach Bum Health Nut Backpacking Yogi For a Reason


I recall the night of my birthday, also the night before I flew from Finland to Berlin, declaring to my friends in a bar that this was the year where I was going to like everything. My goal was genuinely to feel good about every single experience and every single opportunity in life.


While it’s a nice sentiment, I now realize that it’s pretty insane.


There is incredible freedom in not being particular or picky, and really, it’s a necessity on the road. However there’s usually a reason why you like what you like: because it feels good.


It feels good for me to be on sunny beaches with warm water and lush jungle. It feels good for me to stretch my body and breathe deeply and quiet my mind in meditation. It feels good for me to eat whole foods and lots of vegetables. It feels good for me to travel independently and to have my freedom.


I’ve decided it’s time to stop challenging that and to start owning it instead.


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Signs are Opportunities, Not Answers


Let’s come back to what sent me on a trip that I didn’t really want to do in the first place. It was the fact that when I made my decision, I was completely lost. I guess because, I didn’t really want to go anywhere. Rather than sit with that and consider how I wanted to move forward, I ditched the responsibility. How? By asking a deck of tarot cards to tell me the answers.


From then on I gave up most of my decisions to the universe. I allowed the road and the signs to lead me instead of forging my own direction. Which, I’m not saying is necessarily a bad thing. I’ve received plenty of support and wisdom that has truly helped me by consulting cards and asking for signs from the universe.


But I also believe that ultimately the weight of my choices rests on me.


Through this experience, I’ve come to realize that signs and synchronicities are not the answers. Rather, they’re the universe asking us to pay attention and look around. They’re doorways that lead us to opportunities that we may be consciously or subconsciously seeking. But we’ll get completely lost if we open them without a clear vision of what it is that matters most. This is why, when presented with these options, each one of us must fearlessly look within our own hearts to know the way.


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You Can Never Make the Wrong Decision


The good news is, no matter what you choose, it will always be the right decision.


I cannot tell you how freeing it was the moment I realized this. I remember how much I had stressed over where I was going next when I first decided to go to Europe. Then, in Europe, I remember how many times I stressed over where I was going next. It reached critical mass my first night in Morocco where I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. I actually considered getting back on the boat the next day and trying to sneak into Spain even though my visa had expired.


Then, four days in, sitting up in the mountains overlooking the town of Chefchaoeun, I had an “aha” moment. I had placed so much emphasis on where I was meant to go and in that moment I realized that it didn’t actually matter. It never actually matters.


Whatever decision I made, and whatever decisions I will make throughout the rest of my life, will lead me to whatever experience I need to evolve my consciousness. Therefore, I can never make the wrong choice.


How do I know this to be true?


Because in every single experience in every single place in the world, there always lies an opportunity for miracles. There always lies an opportunity to choose compassion, to choose happiness, and to choose love. That, after all, is what life is all about.


The moment I made a decision I felt an immediate relief. It was the indecision, the inability to move forward, that actually caused my struggle. Once I took a step forward I instantly became unstuck.


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Just Because It’s Someone Else’s Dream, Doesn’t Mean it Has to Be Your Dream


One of the greatest sources of confusion for me throughout this trip, was that I kept being presented with opportunities that sounded spectacular.


How could being offered carte blanche at any summer festival in Europe ever be a problem? Or a free camper van to use for a month long road trip through Spain and Portugal? Or a free place to stay in Greece or London or France or, or, or, or.


(Bear with me if that sounds totally annoying and ungrateful, there is a point to all of this.)


Here I was presented with so many trips that would be someone’s absolute dream. The thing was, I was tired and I just wanted to go home. I wanted to write poetry from within my heart instead of a hotel review. I wanted the freedom of the open road not the responsibility of working with a sponsor.


Maybe to some people those opportunities sound like a dream, but none of them were MY dream.


All of us have so many talents, so many opportunities, and so many possibilities for how we can spend our lives. So why do we discredit ourselves in thinking that we have to choose whatever comes easily?


What is your dream? What do you really want? Focus on that and decline with deep gratitude that which does not support the way that you want to channel your energy into this world. In doing so, you create space for what you do want.


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Happiness is Who You Are, Not Where You Are


This one was inspired by a song that my Dad sent me when I told him I was feeling lost and confused in Spain. The song goes, “Wise men, don’t you know, the Christ is who you are not where you go. Wise men, follow your star within.”


The places where we feel disconnected, where we fail to feel the magic, where we don’t feel like we belong, these are the places that give us the greatest opportunity to remember who we really are. Those are the opportunities to look inside and remember that no matter what’s outside of us, we have happiness inside of us. We have happiness inside of us because happiness is not what we are. It is who we are.


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It’s Ok to Peace Out


Sometimes a detour is nothing more than a road that brings us back to the one we actually belong on. As soon as you realize what road that is, feel free to take the exit.


Now I’m turning it over to you. Have you ever traveled to places where you didn’t want to go? What did you learn about yourself in the process?

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