Destinations Magazine

10 Life Lessons Learned from Travels in 2013

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

I’m drawn to places that I return from a little bit different. Perhaps a little bit wiser, or more likely, aware of how little I actually know. When I reflect back on what travel has taught me in 2013, I am thankful for all that I have learned and how much I still have to learn.

1) Wildlife and Nature are Life’s Biggest Inspirations to Me.
gorillas best mother and baby28
Without question, when I reflect back on what my biggest moment of 2013 was, it was observing mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.  I had studied and worked with lowland gorillas in a zoo in Canada, but nothing could have prepared for the overwhelming gratitude of actually observing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  I also learned that they fart…a lot and get drunk on bamboo shoots, which tends to make the males fight.

A close second was tracking wild rhinos in Namibia.  I’m talking about completely wild animals who overcompensate for their poor eyesight by charging. Not even in a national park, but completely free  where there are also wild lions and guides who don’t carry guns.  And yes I got out of the jeep and walked….among black rhinos and lions.  Complete story to come soon….And along those same lines

In 2012 my favorite moments involved elephants and  diving with sharks.  I learn so much simply by observing animals. I often think I can learn more from animals than from people, even if the lessons that animals teach are a little more obscure.

2) There’s No Such Thing as a Boring Monkey.
colobus monkeys in rwanda baby20
On my Primate Safari in Rwanda I visited Colobus Monkeys.  I was least looking forward to visiting these monkeys as they’re known to be rather boring in the primatology world because they sleep so much.  But still since I was already in Nyungwe National Park I was fine to spend an hour with these boring monkeys, who it turns out are not boring at all.  Check out my photos of the white fluff ball babies playing and you’ll see what I mean.

3)You Can Do More Than You Think You Can.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was recovering from surgery and some strong medication and still hadn’t ended up with the result  I wanted, which meant more surgery would be required.  I felt out of control and wanted to  prove to the world that while I couldn’t change the results of my surgery, I could still do something epic.  For me that was the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), a 160km, 8000m elevation gain hike around the Mont Blanc massive. It’s normally recommended to do it in 10-12 days.  My husband and I did it in 8. My doctor said I was crazy.  Despite getting up at 6:30 everyday, on my vacation, I didn’t hate it.  Well most of it, I didn’t hate.  The day we walked 14 1/2 hours in the rain and didn’t even catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc? I hated parts of that day.  But mostly I was grateful that I did it.  The TMB had made me stronger, both physically and emotionally, and had taught me the power of perseverance. That came in handy a couple of months later when I learned that…

4)Travel Will Kick Your Butt When You Least Expect It.
catalunya via ferrata me cercelaventura
It’s no secret that I love mountains, so I jumped at the chance to do a Via Verrata in Catalunya.  I’ve done a few tough ones in Germany so I assumed that being in Catalunya it would be an easy one and I would whistle right through it.  That’s SO not how it went.  I almost quit.  I cursed, a lot.  But I did it.  But I still didn’t learn my lesson.  The next day I jumped at the chance to go white-water rafting.  It will be like a walk in the park, I reasoned since it was the end of September and the water would be low.  I mean, come on, who gets thrown out of a raft in Catalunya at the end of September?  Your truly, that’s who.  I would like to think I handled it with style and grace, but I didn’t.  Pride was the only thing that stopped me from crying like a baby.  Post coming soon…..

31/08/2013 - Sand Boarding, Dorob National Park, Swakopmund, Namibia

Photo by Lourika Reinders.

Or how about the time I thought I would be really good at sand boarding in Namibia for no apparent reason.  Instead, I  was really awful, I mean like face plant awful.

But while I learned a lot from taking a few deep breaths, regaining my composure, I also discovered that

5)I Learn the Most When I Do Nothing.
Etosha hotel water hole elephants12
I need to shut up more often and be still.  To observe what is going on around me.  Hiking the TMB silently, talking to no one for hours at a time (my husband and I would  hike sections of the trail a kilometre or so apart depending on who was faster that day), taking in the wild flowers, I felt at peace. A peace that six months later, I can still feel when I channel the TMB. I felt that same peace with a good chunk of awe and wonder thrown in observing animals at the waterholes in Etosha.  Although I was traveling with a group, I would sneak out of my room just to observe the animals by myself.  No one to share commentary with, just me, observing, watching, learning.

6) Travel Is No Excuse for Sabotaging My Own Goals.  I pride myself on being a lifelong learner, and despite the promise to myself to continue improving my German, my efforts completely flatlined in 2013.     I could easily use travel as an excuse, I did travel a lot. B but at the end of the day, it boils down to one thing – lack of consistency.  I didn’t even read celebrity magazines in German consistently, which was my own language learning tip! Ryan O’Rourke of Treksplorer  wrote an excellent guest post on 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Language Learning, but it also applies to other goals as well.  I’ve also used travel as an excuse to avoid other things I didn’t want to do for one reason or another. Lesson learned, I’ve resolved to still travel, but to not let it get in my way of my other goals.

7) You Can Travel Too Much.  As mentioned in #6, travel did get in the way of some of my non-travel related goals.  Shocker I know, but yes, I do have goals not related to travel ;). In 2014, I will still travel, but will aim to travel ~ a week out of every month.  Still a lot by most people’s standards, but a considerable reduction for me.  Despite, my love of travel, I also love being home.  I often travel without my husband and I really miss him and our two cats, Fuego and Coco named after Fuego Volcano in Guatemala and the Cocos Islands where my husband and I met shark diving.  I probably don’t look like the most obvious advocate for a stay-cation, but ask my husband who is dragged every weekend to a new cute cafe and he will tell you that I’m very good at exploring my home base.  I also learned that you get out of your comfort zone in your own city.  Try Laughter Yoga and you’ll see what I mean.

8) It’s OK to be a Mischung.  Mischung is German for blending or mixing.  After living in Germany for 3 1/2 years and being married to a German that’s how I feel.  I am not Bavarian, nor is that my aim, although I do want to be fully integrated.  But I also not the same person I was when I left Canada.  I’m a Mischung and now proudly call myself a Germadian.

9) The World Is Just Waiting to Wow You.PA050030

Entrance to the Franja Partisan Hospital, a secret WWII hospital in Slovenia.

Be open to new experiences and you may just be pleasantly surprised.  When I was in Slovenia with Hedonistic Hiking, a trip to the Franja Parisan Hospital was on the agenda.  I wasn’t looking forward to it. I mumbled to myself that I’d rather spend my time hiking than visiting a WWII hospital.  Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the highlights of my time in Slovenia. Truly fascinating people behind the place.

Similarly, when you’re thinking of hiking destinations, Luxembourg probably doesn’t factor into your list, but I really enjoyed hiking there.

In Namibia, when I think of the dangers of being alone in the bush, I think of being attacked by a lion, the though of deadly trees hadn’t even crossed my mind. But it’s the trees that you have to watch out for!

I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

10) Some Friendships Made on the Road Can Last a Lifetime.

Laurel and Isabelle

Me and Isabel from Diaro de a Bordo in Catalunya.

I am truly grateful for the international,  inspiring and often multi-lingual people I’ve met through travel.  Despite only spending a couple of days with some of them, a few have become among my dearest friends and we have fun trying to figure out where and when we can meet again.  My life is much richer for having them in my life.  I’ve learned that it isn’t always the quantity of time you spend with someone, but the quality and the connection that you make.  A couple of travel friends, were my biggest supporters during difficult times this year, through something that had nothing to do with travel.  I’m beyond grateful that travel brought them into my life.

I don’t know what life lessons 2014 will bring, but I know I’m ready to learn!

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