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5 Reasons Why Travel is the Best Teacher

Written by on 04 Mar 2014

I believe that stories about traveling are the best allegories for the journey of life and travel is the best teacher of life lessons.

Think about it.

Both traveling and life involve making a plan.

When you travel, you have to decide where you’d like to go and how you’d like to get there.

Just like life.

Both traveling and life involve changes to that plan.

When you travel, you will inevitably hit roadblocks that could keep you from reaching your desired destination, and you have to decide whether you will press on, or make an entirely new plan.

Just like life.

Both traveling and life involve other people.

When you travel, you quickly realize that you can’t get anywhere completely by yourself.

Just like life.

Both traveling and life involve incredible amounts of faith.

When you travel, you have to trust that your plan will get you were you’d like to go, or that where you end up is where you’re meant to be.

Just like life.

Both traveling and life involve acceptance of the unknown.

When you travel, the only thing certain is inevitable uncertainty, and one day you just have to accept that. Or, as my friend Lucy says, ‘you gotta be cool with the chaos.’

Just like life.

While I was backpacking in France, I learned all five of these valuable life lessons.

In one day.

Yes, France just seems to be the place where major life lessons are delivered in majorly short amounts of time. But it’s a great story that taught me a great deal, so I’m not gonna fight it.

Here we go!

That morning, I woke up in Marseilles, France with three of my friends from Semester at Sea. By morning, I mean early afternoon, because we had just arrived the previous day, after navigating nearly 10 hours-worth of trains. Despite near exhaustion, I had planned on meeting other friends in the mountains in Chamonix later that day. Mont Blanc was calling my name, literally.

So, in True Tracy Form, I wildly over-planned.

But somehow, also in True Tracy Form, I had managed to massively under-plan

Here’s how:

Chamonix is a bit off the beaten Eurail train path, so that morning when I woke up, I still wasn’t entirely sure how I would get there. I suspected buses might be involved. I also had yet to confirm exactly where my friends were staying, so I was without a bed to sleep in that night. And, for the first time in Europe, I was planning on traveling alone.

Thus, I proceeded to freak out.

Also in True Tracy Form.

So I ran to the train station from our AirBNB rental to commence with life lesson number one:

Make a plan.

After my less than leisurely sprint to the station, I had to wait anxiously in a line as the seconds until the last train to Lyon ticked away. I knew that the Eurail went from Marseilles to Lyon to St. Gervais, but getting the extra 15ish miles to Chamonix was still a mystery to me. During peak ski season, there are buses on buses, but I was there in May which made me think I would have markedly fewer options.

I was right.

But the ticket agent saved me from my hysteria. She calmly explained that while I would have very tight turnarounds at both Lyon and St. Gervais, there was at least one bus that could take me to Chamonix. At this point, it was early enough in the trip for me to naively believe that 2 trains and a bus was a bullet-proof plan.

So I took it.

I convinced myself that all the freaking out from earlier was totally unwarranted. I managed to relax in my train car, do some writing, take a nap, and enjoy the French countryside while I made my way to Lyon.

But then, my trip presented me with life lesson number two:

Be willing to change the plan.

Because while we were indeed approaching our arrival time, I quickly noticed that we were not approaching something else… something very, very, very important…

The train station.

In fact, we weren’t even slowing down!

Shit.

As you can already imagine, the train arrived late enough for me to miss my connection. I found yet another friendly ticket agent (shocker LINK) who explained to my then frantic face that I could still make it to Chamonix, but the plans would have to change. I now had to take a separate train to Bellegarde, make a 5 minute transfer, arrive in St. Gervais, wait 1.5 hours, and take the last bus to Chamonix.

If that bus didn’t show up, I’d be alone, in St. Gervais, at midnight, with no phone, and with no ability to speak French.

Not ideal.

Thus, freak out number two.

I walked outside to take a quick photo in the not-so-off chance that someone would need a picture of my ‘last known whereabouts.’ I found a random spot with free wifi, and received a Facebook update from friend from high school whose name I hadn’t seen in over 7 years. Her status read:

“Every time you can find the humor in a difficult situation—you win.”

I love winning.

So I laughed!

I decided that God was playing one of his better jokes to teach me to chill out, so I vowed to keep that quote in the back of my mind for the rest of my trip.

I boarded my next train to Bellegarde, and something completely NOT hilarious happened.

Despite my best planning efforts, it looked like we were going to be late… again!

In the vain hopes that waiting anxiously by the train door would get us there faster, I packed up my stuff and scrambled to the exit. At the very least, I could be the first one out and maybe chase a train down. I knew that I was flirting with missing yet another train, so I let out a loud, obviously agitated, sigh.

And so did the man behind me.

I wheeled around to see a giant man, looming behind me, who appeared even more anxious than I was.

And that’s when my trip handed me life lesson number three:

Share the plan with others.

One look and one sigh and we instantly became weary travel besties.

Turns out, he had experienced a very similar travel day, and was about to miss the same exact train I was gunning for. So, once our train finally stopped, we decided to run together to find the next one. Luckily, the train was one track away.

But something was wrong…

David was yelling in French to the train conductors and running back and forth between two specific train cars. I was completely lost, but had decided to hitch my wagon to his horse and go wherever he did. I figured, at the very least, I wouldn’t be alone.

Turns out, I would have been much more than alone had I not done this.

When we finally boarded the train and the doors closed, David explained his concern.

Apparently, the trains in Europe attach and detach from each other very easily. Sometimes, depending on the route, the front of a train will be separated from the back of the train mid-trip and be sent in a completely different direction. A well-meaning, but totally unsuspecting, traveler could potentially choose the wrong half of the train without even realizing it.

In short, I could have ended up in Switzerland.

And without my friend David, I very well would have.

An hour and an amazing conversation later, David was gone, and I was alone in St. Gervais.

That’s when my trip bestowed me with the next life lesson of the day:

Keep faith in the plan.

There were plenty of issues standing squarely in the way of this faith. For starters, it was 10pm at night, and the last train to Chamonix was not supposed to arrive until 11:30pm. St. Gervais is a teeny, tiny town that receives next to no tourists, so everything but one local bar was closed. Oh and there’s that pesky little fact I’m incredibly impatient and prone to worrying.

So there I was, once again, freaking out.

After an hour and a half of pacing, I had convinced myself that I was going to have to sneak into the bar and sleep behind the coolers until morning, when a miracle happened.

On the dark horizon, I saw a large bus approaching.

I think I actually cried tears of joy.

Seriously.

In just moments, the bus was soon en route to Chamonix, and after 20 minutes of pitch-black rolling hills, we arrived. Once again, my naiveté had me convinced that I could just wander the streets until I found my friends’ hostel. I hopped off the bus and began that classic lost person ‘looking around then looking back at my phone then looking around again all while trying to pretend like I know where I’m going’ charade.

The bus driver saw right through it.

He looked at me desperately looking at my map and said the five most magical words I had heard all day:

“Get back on the bus.”

ALLELUIA!

Clearly, I should have been more faithful!

That angel of a man drove me all the way to the front door of the hostel, which for the record, was definitely NOT walking distance from the bus stop.

After one of the craziest days I had ever experienced, I finally arrived.

That’s when my trip awarded me with the last, not to mention well-earned, life lesson of the day:

When the plan fails, just be cool with the chaos.

And always, always, always, no matter what, keep going.

After that crazy day, I had learned more than a few amazing things about travel, and consequently, about life.

I learned that a plan and perseverance could overcome Murphy’s Law.

Just like life.

I learned that if I had given up or given in, I never would have made it to my destination.

Just like life.

I learned that other people could be massively meaningful to the journey.

Just like life.

I learned that faith would be rewarded with opportunities if I was going in the right direction.

Just like life.

And ultimately I learned to go with the flow and always strive to be cool with the inevitable chaos.

Just like life.

Because, just like life, the journey and the destination are well worth the risk.

**********

What adventures have taught you one or all of these valuable lessons? Have you always been the student, or have you ever had the opportunity to be the teacher?

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.

Because sharing stories is an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.


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