Often when we are young, say just out of college, European travel with a pack on our back is very desirable: an adventure, a rite of passage. Once we get involved in work and family, we often have little time, and R & R travel closer to home looks really good. But when we finally have a little more time — when we aren’t simply desperate for R & R, what does travel really mean to us? How can we get the most out of our travels?
I have traveled much of my adult life and many trips have been mandated by work or family. But in the last several years, more travel has occurred because it’s what I really want to do.
When I was 25, I traveled to Europe for the first time — on my honeymoon! So I had a double dose of adventure: a new husband and my first experience in overseas travel. Everything was new: trying to survive in languages other than English, food other than the Midwest diet I had grown up on, incredible art, and even the camping we chose to do.
As my career progressed, and the hours got longer, all I longed to do with my vacation time was to sit on a warm Mexican beach under an umbrella, with a good book and a cold beer at my side.
For about the last ten years, however, I have chosen to work less than full time. Neil, my husband – the same man I traveled with on that first trip to Europe – and I took a hard look at our values and decided that travel was more important to us than a little more comfortable retirement. So, we started working less and taking longer trips.
Learning and intellectual stimulation, adventure, friendship (often with people from different cultures), and the creativity of sharing what we have learned are high on our list of values. These same values have driven our trip planning. For example, one trip came about because we wanted to brush up on our Spanish and knowledge of Mexican culture. We traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, went to class eight hours a day, and lived with a local family. Another trip to Mexico, this time to Guanajuato, was precipitated by a desire to do some community service. We tried out teaching English as a second language.
We’ve traveled all over Western Europe because of our interest in art, history, and architecture. When we are not on the road, we are armchair traveling through books and lectures, or enjoying international cooking with friends. Travel has permeated our entire lives.
In other words, we have been doing what is important to us. We have been living our values. Values are what drive us all, what’s important to us, what provides a source of strength. Values are the “what I really want to do” factors that will help determine whether travel is a success or failure.
The first step towards values based travel is to think about what’s really important to you in your life. Sit back and do some daydreaming. Think about how travel might tie in to these values. For example, if family, learning about the history of France, and physical adventure are all really important to you, a way to bring those values together might be to rent a boat in France and spend a week navigating the canals with your kids and/or grand-kids on board.
Another approach to clarifying what is important to you is to consider what would make your trip a success? Or do you have a particular goal, such as hiking a Spanish pilgrimage route or expanding your learning about the French Impressionists? Is community service important to you? Traveling with a group such as Global Volunteers or Habitat for Humanity might be the answer.
Be sure to check in with the other person(s) you might be traveling with. Talk about what is most important to each of you. A good exercise for everyone traveling together is to write down individually, and then discuss with each other, what activities or places are important to each person.
Now you are really ready to start all the normal travel planning activities: itinerary building, budgeting, making reservations and arrangements. But don’t stop asking yourself: What’s most important to me? What do I really want to do? What will make this trip a success?
Written by Joan Malling for EuropeUpClose.com