Lessons learned wandering in Europe

Inspired by Rob Conery's post last fall, my family and I left on a few month journey across Europe in early September. It is a long story, but the short of it is this. I'm still working full time, my children are being home schooled and we are just slowly moving from place to place through Europe. My amazing nephew took over our small farm and we are free to travel for a time.

Around the new year, I always spend lots of time reflecting on things and thinking about the coming year. Here are some of the things to jump to my mind this year from our travels.

Lesson 1: Experiences are greater than sights

When we left, I had a vision of seeing sights in my free time, experiencing history, and living like a local as we spend quality, unhurried time in each country. In reality, the days go flying by. Most things seem like a blur as I look back. Incredible sights of castles and landscapes fade together as we move from place to place.

At the same time, I often have a strong nostalgic feeling about history that surrounds me everywhere I look. Walking down the cobblestone streets and over the small canal bridges in Bruges was like stepping back in time. I remember the feeling better than I remember the specific views now though.

The traveler sees what he sees,
the tourist sees what he has come to see.
~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

I gave up on the initial vision and just try to ride the flood of experiences as they come. I get some pictures, experience what I can and try to stay in the moment. I think, when this is all over, I will remember the experiences with my family much more than the "major attractions" I was so looking forward to seeing.

Lesson 2: You can be more flexible if you want it enough

My current work is a mix of client work and my own projects. As I have clients who are all in US time zones, I figured it would be great to be able to work while they slept and then connect in my afternoon with them in the morning. It all looked so simple before I left.

Reality has been I work whenever. My incredible work flexibility has been a blessing. Somedays, I suck it up and work all day and into the night. Somedays, I take the day off to see the unknown with my family. There have been plenty of days I work part of the day (morning or night) while exploring something or other part of the day. Whatever it takes to get my work done AND experience this incredible opportunity is on the table.

I think that is the key, if you want it bad enough, you can get to what you want to. It is a question of what I am willing to give up to do whatever. The mindset has not bad for my work as I really wanted to continue to do great work. I would not allow myself to push too hard so I could focus on my work when I needed to. (It is been a priority for me to make sure my clients feel like they have been well taken care of so they wouldn't mind if I ever want to do this again.)

Lesson 3: Smartphones are amazing tools. Don't let them be a focus.

I've never really gotten over how amazing it is to have an internet connected, touch screen computer in my hand as I go about my day. As I'm exploring new places, often in languages I can't read, I simply can not imagine how I would get by without one. Would I have hauled around a backpack full of maps and books and hoped it was current enough?

So while my phone hasn't really been used as a phone much on this trip, the maps and navigation have been crucial. We heavily relied on translation apps, review apps as well as the more typical camera, notes, and messaging apps we typically used at home.

The thought of going anywhere without a phone is crazy talk now though. We have been pretty concerned to make sure we are charging our phones as we can so we don't run too low on power. While this device is incredible, I began to feel so dependent on it at times that it did not seem good.

Once I finally get familiar in an area, I can lessen my dependence on my phone for navigation and it is marvelous. I notice so much more detail both in my surroundings and in my family. I also quickly noticed how many other people are obviously focused on their phones. The take away is to leave it in my pocket unless I need it and enjoy experiences around me as much as I can without it.

Traveling on

I'm sure I've learned a load of things on this trip, but these 3 stand out to me as of now. I know it will take a while to process it all when we get back, but I imagine the things gleaned from this journey will last.