I took my first overseas Europe vacation last month, and while I've always idolized London in my mind, as the trip inched closer, I started worrying it wouldn't live up to my expectations.
And the truth is, there WERE things that were very different in my mind, but SO much was also better than I imagined. On this trip, we traveled to London, England for 5 days, Amsterdam, Netherlands for 2 days, and Brussels, Belgium for a quick day trip on our way back to catch our plane from London. It felt like we really got to experience a mix of cultures and countries.
Here are some lessons I brought back with me.
Seize the day… and slow down, which feel so contradictory, right?! Let me give you examples. I realized that some of my most mindless time is in the morning. C is an early riser, and I'm pretty sure that won't change, so if we could seize our day early with a morning walk, or time outside soaking in the sunrise, it just feels more intentional. I also learned to slow down in this seizing… meaning I'm not “seizing” the day to be more productive and jumpstart the to-do list… I'm seizing the day so I am present and in my body and aware of my world. Another example - enjoy a nice slow meal where you aren't just churned out of a restaurant at rapid speed (this was very different there. In most London pubs, you don't tip a server, you go to the bar to order and it's brought to you, like a step above a Panera and it's a slower, less harried pace. It was similar in Amsterdam and Brussels where the pace of the restaurant was just much different than home!) Go out to eat to create an experience and a joyful time, instead of shoving in food and leaving.
Get mobile. Now, this is likely just different because of the fact that I live in suburbia/country area and we were visiting cities.. but I LOVED walking most places. It reminded me of college. I loved being car-less and walking majority of places. I've been making sure I do at least 20-30 minutes of “fitness walking” since returning home and DANG do I feel so much better, in every way possible - physical, emotional, spiritual. I have recently learned about myself that I'm a physical processor/meditator. Majority of my “epiphanies” happen when I'm moving and thinking… my mind is quieter when my body is moving, so walking is a moving meditation for me.
Make life beautiful. I adored the beauty of the European cities. The stunning architecture was breathtaking, of course, but also the gardens and flowers and sights. Perhaps silly, but it made me realize I am in charge of creating these moments on our property… climbing plants, arches, flower baskets. I have been inspired to create this beautiful scenery on our property (although it's really hard when you travel for a lot of the growing season like we are this year!)
4. Learn a little history every day. I taught high school math. Memorizing facts and dates just wasn't my thing - I wanted to solve problems and apply formulas, but as an adult, I find history fascinating! (Or perhaps that's just what happens as you age). And let's be honest, there are so many fantastic historical fiction shows and books out there these days, it inspires me to learn about the different eras to which I escape during my TV or book time. My new challenge is to learn a little piece of history every day.
5. Block out the consumerism. I realize I had on rainbow-colored glasses, but I did not feel as bombarded with consumerism in Europe as I do in the States. Overall less choices, less ads, less "buy, buy, buy," less stuff, (and let's also be honest, less space). Now I know the grass is always greener... for example, there was a reel going around about how Italians take an hour+ lunch and sip cocktails and aren't rushed... and many locals commented that's because they are stuck in their positions with no opportunity for advancement. There's always a cost and it's easy to fantasize and romanticize what you aren't currently living in, however, I was just struck by what was "missing" and felt it made me appreciate what I had by not constantly being part of a marketing strategy. (As another note, a LOT less people were glued to their phones out and about... it was great to actually see faces!)
6. Take the trip! I'm so thankful to my husband who really was the reason the trip even happened. He knew how badly I wanted to go to London, and volunteered to stay back with our daughter... but reached out to my parents and siblings to see if anyone could/wanted to go, and they all did! After COVID and personal life experiences, I really do cherish and appreciate time with my loved ones and travel more than ever. I have vowed to make these life experiences happen more often because the truth is I'd rather have these memories and opportunities than things or stuff in closets and storage. I'd rather take C to travel the world than spend resources on things that won't matter in 10 years from now. It's helped me recalibrate what is most important to me and our family.
I also note the many privileges I have of being able to think and live this way; I am acutely aware of them. One last note, these values are one of the reasons we chose only have one child... it is much easier to travel as a family of 3 and/or have help for traveling!