In 2014, the Phoenix/Asch family decided to take a family vacation to Belize, a beautiful small country in Central America. The town we stayed in was only reachable by car, so we rented one at the airport and were on our way. Yet, Belize is 50% wild protected forest, a fact we had not factored into our little road trip. Soon we found ourselves driving over “bridges” through thick jungle in the pouring rain with a faulty GPS and a CD that had ONE SONG. My sister and I were sure we were going to die, and quickly became irritated with both my mother’s insane driving and the eccentric drum beat that we couldn’t seem to escape. We were in the middle of beautiful nowhere, and I started to panic. I used to be terrible at change, terrified of the unknown, of things “going wrong.” I immediately start imagining us taking shelter in a forest hut with people whose language I didn’t understand, or having to sleep in the car with my parents horrible snoring. I have always dealt with anxiety, and uneasiness with the unknown. I was the master of imagined disaster and I used to spend so much time picturing everything that could go wrong and how I would solve each situation. My father however is the master of living in the moment. When my sister and I started to get irritable, he simply repeated a statement we had heard a million times. In a casual voice, he tosses out “well an adventure is just poor planning.”
An adventure is just poor planning; I didn’t get it back then, it just annoyed me that he didn’t seem to be worried about this obvious DISASTER of a trip. I didn’t get this “take things as they come” mentality. But as the hours went by, and we were passing colorful houses and alien looking trees, my sister and I started to sing and dance in our roller coaster of a car and we even went along with my mother’s idea of picking up a hitchhiker to give us directions. During this week in Belize literally everything went wrong. My dad is pretty much blind (but denies his handicap) and fell into an empty hot tub, permanently breaking his foot. I got attacked by sand flies for which we had to go to a local witch doctor (yes, a witch doctor who lives in an old bus) to get this homemade bug bite hemp oil. We went canoeing and got caught in a storm, scuba diving and my sister could barely swim in the choppy waves, and we loved it. It was a real adventure because I let go of controlling everything and realized I can be comfortable with discomfort.
I discovered this mentality there, but I really started to develop it more when I studied abroad in Europe last year. Before this, I had dealt with plenty of challenges, from a mother with breast cancer, a diabetic father, and all the normal struggles of a high school girl (heartbreaks, losses, one time when my car caught on fire…), but I’d never applied any of my coping skills to traveling. I’ve been to several countries; from Vietnam, India, much of Europe, and I am currently in the middle of my own little adventure teaching English in Germany. Every day that I live abroad, I find myself coming back to this statement and now I get it. If you want an adventure, leave your daily site-seeing schedule at home, and accept things don’t have to go smoothly to be enjoyable.
I am not saying this is easy, but accepting uncertainty and discomfort is a part of traveling, and life. Let go of this idea that if you miss your flight or get lost the trip is “ruined.” Traveling isn’t all just taking fun selfies with half naked statues or drinking giant beers at a crowded table with 50 new best friends. It’s running out of data when you are lost in Prague, and having to mime “TRAIN STATION” to the local baker; or when you miss a train in Rome because you were busy chitchatting with your bestie. These things happen, just stop and accept that you are not in control, and that’s half the fun. You realize that playing eye spy for two hours in the Rome station waiting for the next train can be amazing, and if you can entertain yourself there, then boredom truly does not exist. These are all experiences that push you to be creative, resourceful, and maybe even a bit sassy (that man in Italy was going to let my little sister use the bathroom whether he liked it or not).
The secret to adventure is letting yourself find adventure in everything. Adventure is unpredictable, running into the unknown, and hoping you come home not only scathed, but maybe even a little bruised too (looking at you, hills of Ireland). If you come back from a journey and you are the same, you never really left home. I can only say that the process of comfortable discomfort involves a lot of breathing, and revaluating situations. Slow down, pause; recognize you are anxious, or worried, and rethink these feelings into excitement at approaching a challenge, or curiosity to how this situation will turn out. Sometimes when I am going to be catching multiple trains or trying to navigate somewhere new, I think of every step as a level in a video game. Every successful step is a “win”, and then even if things don’t turn out as I thought, the whole day is never a loss, just a surprise level in a very “in real life” game. The memories I cherish the most are those exciting side roads that stumbled onto a hidden beach with a ladder into the ocean, or missing the ferry you meant to take so you sit and chat eating Cornetto ice-cream on a secluded island in Croatia.
These memories stick with us; though they may not be the memories we see on Instagram, they will be the ones you return to and share with friends. Be present, don’t spend so much time planning your day that you never actually let yourself experience the journey. Comfortable with discomfort happens in the moment, in the second something goes unexpectedly, where you either choose to panic and worry, like I did, lost in the middle of nowhere, or you breathe, smile, and say… so now the adventure begins.