Make travel important – transformative travel is life-changing

by Jan 2, 2022Essays

New Year Transformative Travel

It is sometimes too easy to get stuck in a life that sucks you into a routine, one that can make you unhealthy before you realize it. If you make travel important, it can be transformative, especially in the New Year. Travel can mean a fresh start and mind-opening experiences that affect you deeply. Transformative travel is life-changing.

Sometimes you get stuck in a grind of day-to-day must-dos. Particularly with the complications and stress of the last couple of pandemic years, it may have been easy to just throw up your hands, say “what does it all matter,” and sink into an unhealthy life with a grumpy attitude. The turn of the calendar page is a time of course for New Year resolutions – a time to start anew, freshen up your life, perhaps get introspective about your attitude and personal interactions, and start dreaming about bucket list travel.

Although life has not been easy during the COVID-19 pandemic of the last two years – and travel has been rough when it was possible at all – a new year could be a time to take a look at where you are and where you want to be, although it’s not the only time for resolutions and life change.

Travel may be a part of that change since travel can be transformational, and traveling by yourself can help encourage the transformation you may seek to experience. Travel can be a lifesaver and lead to mind-opening experiences that affect you deeply.

Discussing life changes with a total stranger

Every New Year I think about a man I met briefly while in Denver, a man who was about to embark on a life-changing experience and seemed to want to talk about it – with me, a perfect stranger who happened to pass by. This man was about to turn the entire life he had known for decades upside down in search of health and more fulfillment. My exchange with him was poignant albeit short, but it has haunted me ever since then. I wonder what he’s doing, if he made it, and in fact whether I could do what he was about to do.

It wasn’t January 1 and the typical time for a New Year resolution, but of course a transformative resolution can happen anytime. For him, it was August.

Returning from an early morning summer run along the South Platte River Trail in Denver, where I was traveling on business, I stopped in the shade to stretch before I set out to maneuver the last mile on city streets to my hotel. I paused at the side of the trail to take a sip of water, enjoy the satisfaction of what I’d done, savor the feeling of fitness, and mentally prepare myself for what was to be a long but fulfilling day.

A few feet away, a ruddy-faced man with an orange vest typical of street and city workers was sitting on a low rock wall at the side of the path breathing heavily, shoulders slouched forward, chest sagging down over a plentiful belly. He may have been 40. Or he may have even been younger. It was hard to tell because he looked much older with his girth, round face, blotchy skin, and bleary eyes. And he looked weary, very weary. At the curb was a city government truck and some tools were lying on the ground nearby. He had obviously been doing some work on the path after  thunderstorms a couple of days earlier had left mud and debris slung across some sections.

Transformative Travel Ocean View

Slow realization and thoughtful sharing about a life transformation

As I stood not too far from him, he turned his head slowly to look at me. His face was drawn, and he stared at me silently with tired, inquisitive eyes before speaking.

“How do you find the time to run?” he asked, matter-of-factly, cocking his head a bit and furrowing his brow.

I get that question all the time, as I’m sure those who run or work out regularly do, but his was not the typical tone. There was an underlying longing, nearly a plea in his voice. He seemed to be begging for information. Often, when I get such questions, I pull on my coach’s hat and offer all the typical fitness advice – schedule it, start slowly, find a buddy, etc. — but I could tell he needed more than a quick answer or facts recited from my exercise books.

“Well,” I answered slowly, “it helps to do it in the morning before you are too tired – or you find too many excuses….” I talked slowly, simply, and kindly, interspersing the typical coach’s tips with support and warm encouragement.

He listened carefully, pondered my words intently, took a breath, cocked his head again, and then replied quite slowly, “I’ve been a welder for 15 years. I’ve been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”

This was now the time for me to listen, and listen I did.

A New Year resolution in August

For most people, I suppose, this statement about his work and schedule would have sounded like he was making some kind of excuse. This was clearly not an excuse for him. It was just a statement of simple fact. It was most certainly not his reason for not exercising or his way to boast about how hard he worked. It was a matter-of-fact summary about his life until that point … shaded with a tinge of regret in his voice.

I kept listening. My rush to get back to the hotel, clean up and get to my trade show could wait. This man needed this stranger to listen to him.

“But this afternoon…” he said, pausing and turning his head to look out over the creek’s flowing water, “…I’m getting a physical at 2, …

“…then I’m quitting.”

He paused again and turned to look back at me, not flinching, not seemingly even wanting a response. I realized he just needed somebody with whom to share his life-changing decision – perhaps somebody who would understand and support it. I stood quietly and just nodded since it was clear he was not done yet.

“I have a job on an organic farm in Santa Rosa, Calif.,” he added, mentioning an area I know well north of San Francisco with plenty of farms and open air not far from the ocean. There, one could find plenty of room to roam, trails to walk, mountains to climb, vistas to enjoy.

“I hope I can get healthy again,” he said, taking a breath and ending his statement. He just kept looking at me without his face showing much emotion. In other circumstances, I may have wanted to flee, fearing for my safety. But he was expressionless, numb, sitting so heavily on the wall. He seemed to be trying to prepare his mind for this huge step into the total unknown that was going to happen in a few hours.

Organic Garden

Although finished speaking, he continued to look at me without much expression on his face.

“That sounds like it was a big decision,” I said. “You know, you just have to start slowly. I’m actually from California. I’m just visiting here.

“And you’ll do great there. Santa Rosa and that whole area north of San Francisco is very health-oriented. You’ll get lots of support and have lots of opportunities.”

A faint smile flitted across his face. “I like to get abalone too,” he said.

“Oh, you’re really close to the coast there. You’ll be able to do that.”

“You look so fit … like you should be wearing a number,” he said, which made me giggle inside.

“I do that sometimes too. It’s fun. But everybody has to start slowly, even just five or 10 minutes at a time. I did too.”

“Really?” he asked, sounding truly curious. Over the years, I’ve learned that many people think the fit and healthy are born like that and others, like him, can never achieve it, so they don’t bother trying. I had to hand it to this man since he was making the effort to travel somewhere, explore his life and try to make changes. A New Year resolution in August.

“You’ll do great,” I said.

He turned to look back at the creek, only a few hours from the moment everything he knew now he would know no more. This was obviously a huge, life-changing decision for him – and he chose to share it with a perfect stranger on the path.

“Good luck,” I said, still not moving away. I had been invited into his soul and felt like I needed to be told it was time to leave.

Another faint smile crossed his face as he stared off, watching the water flow in the creek. He was lost in his own thoughts. I was now not a part of his world anymore, and it was indeed time to go.

I turned to head back to my hotel, flicked on my chronograph, and jogged back onto the street away from him. I glanced briefly over my shoulder after I crossed the street, and he was still sitting motionless, still slouched, still staring at the water. How grateful I was in that moment for the health and joy my lifestyle allowed. Still, I was haunted by the sad face of a man longing for change, needing to travel to find a new life, new friends, new support and new habits.

What happened to this man’s transformative resolution?

I will never know what happened to this man. If I were to bump into him somewhere near Santa Rosa, I’d never know it either.

I hope he found the health and happiness he was seeking — in time to enjoy it. I started wishing I knew the name of the farm in Santa Rosa so I could see where he was headed and find out how his life had changed. I imagine a wiry, sun-tanned guy, spending his days getting his fingers dirty in a garden wearing a big floppy straw hat, and spending his weekends catching abalone or wandering trails wearing well-trodden boots that know the trails as well as he does.

Of course, I’ll never find out what his life became. If I were a gambling woman, however, I’d put down a bet he got what he wanted.  The transformation that comes from travel does that to people.

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About The Author

Therese Iknoian

Passionate traveler, wordsmith, photographer, and observer of people and place, Therese lives a life full of all the above. Trained as a newspaper journalist and a member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning news team, she now applies those skills to feed her globe-trotting curiosity – and hopes her storytelling in photos and words encourages others to do the same. Winner of multiple awards for photos and stories, Therese loves to get outdoors, be personally immersed in adventurous experiences, and have a front-row spot with her camera and notebook to document stories that offer authentic insights about a place or its people. And she’s never met a cheesecake she doesn’t have to taste, a ghost town that doesn't demand exploration, or a trail that doesn't beckon.