find a little good, learn

If you’re hungry for more than a cupcake

A Special Olympics gala in NYC
My weekend was completely consumed with feedback that people like, want, or are looking for perspective. I don’t know whether I would say that travel is the number one way to gain perspective or that perspective is the number one result of travel, but perhaps both. I’m a huge advocate of planning a trip when your problems are out of focus, but you don’t have to go far to realign your priorities or readjust to your circumstances. If you’d like to at least go further than the bakery, here are a few suggestions.

Look for a little good. The point of my blog is to show how simple and painless it is to incorporate goodwill into both your travel and your home. Unless you’ve never done a good deed, you know how positive it feels to make a difference in someone else’s life, and my theory is that giving back to someone’s home is as important when you consume it, because the rewards of travel–the best products–are free, typically from the locals where you go. Every little bit of good makes the world a better place, and you can make that difference in small but significant ways. On the road or in your hometown look for benefits, charity events or local causes. You can dress up and go out for a night, complete a walk or run or even do yoga, or simply shop at a particular store for a good cause.

Do something that has nothing to do with yourself. Whether you volunteer, donate to a cause, pick up the tab or help a friend move, you don’t have to leave home to have a life-changing experience. You will be surprised at how this affects you and unlike laying on the couch for a whole Saturday or watching TV for hours on a week night, you won’t feel any sense of having wasted time. Most importantly, when you consider someone else for even 10 minutes, you gain perspective on your own life. Looking for what could help others reveals problems you don’t have or that you didn’t have any idea existed.

Plan a trip that involves more than laying on a beach. Adventure, exotic and volunteer travel are blatantly on the rise amongst travel professionals, but most teachers, families or working 20-somethings I know still opt for Caribbean cruises, Vegas or European backpacking. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but once you’ve done it three times, explore something new. Foreign cultures, customs and lifestyles can rock your world and truly change you. So you don’t have two years to teach English abroad? Squeeze a lesser-known village in between major European cities for an authentic experience. The most amazing travel discoveries can be found where locations least prepare for your visit. Even at the beach, after laying out, go looking…

Travel when you don’t think you can travel. There are dozens of inspirational photos and quotes on social media a day to inspire you for this one, but when you’re dying to get away and your budget, schedule or reservations are holding you back, take a risk. Challenge yourself. Getaway for the weekend or drive too far for one night. Look for community festivals or events, concert tours, state fairs, farms or wineries, or outdoor recreation for ideas. Breaking your norm and embarking on even the smallest of adventures will ultimately give you perspective by relieving the stress, worry, fear or discontentment that’s overwhelming you. When you need to surprise yourself, take a risk. Spontaneity that makes you happy or fulfills you over responsibilities or obligations that don’t is the right choice every once in a while.

A week at an orphanage in Mexico…better than the beach that Spring Break.
Combine all of these on a mission trip. It’s one thing to incorporate giving back into your travel, an amazing thing actually, but what if that was all you did? I have never met anyone who regretted going on a mission trip despite the fundraising, inconvenience or challenges. Whether you distribute food, play with kids, build houses, minister religiously, heal medically or protect environmentally, do this once in your life. Words can’t describe what a lack of running water and electricity will do to your perspective, much less malnourished children, entire towns destroyed by natural disasters, or widespread diseases. Seeing what happiness means to people in these circumstances will forever change you.

For more ideas in particular cities, check any of my destination blogs, or click where to find a little good.

How has travel changed your perspective?

learn, live

Why I bought—and ate—a cupcake today

If you’re hungry for more than a cupcake
In January my world completely crumbled under me. The person my entire life revolved around and I ripped ourselves apart. The family we’d become no longer was and it was sudden and painful and overwhelming. So I ran. As I do, I ran from it and over it and around it, and one day I ran so hard I tore a muscle and fractured my femur and could no longer run. I couldn’t even walk. To my broken heart I added a broken bone and I had no option but to let both heal.

For six months I’ve reluctantly fumbled through therapy, X-rays, MRIs, scans and ultra sounds with appointment after appointment resulting in four and eight and 16 more weeks on crutches and an infinite amount of time from running again. I drained most of my money, worked like a fiend, and gradually grew more and more frustrated with the time and difficulty it took to get anywhere. When surgery finally came, I had lost all confidence in my body and my luck. Scared and uncertain, I went to church the day before the procedure and watched a video on a woman who’d just overcome cancer for the fourth time and whose faith was contagious to every patient around her. And I lost every bit of fear and hesitance. I went into surgery with an entirely new, hopeful attitude.

What I needed that day wasn’t sympathy or stress relief, I needed perspective. I had all the support and encouragement in the world, but my fear stemmed from discouragement and exhaustion and maybe a little self pity. The truth is, this has been one of the hardest years of my life, but it’s been a walk in the park compared to so many other people’s circumstances. And although at your breaking point, you need that moment when it’s okay to be upset, the moment after you have to put your feelings into perspective.

I spent the first five months on crutches trying to understand why this had happened to me, why something so defeating would trample me while I was already down and why life kept kicking dust in my face. It wasn’t because I was ungrateful about my ability to run, it was that I took credit for my ability to walk, and the truth is the crutches actually carried me when I no longer could. God saw I’d let another person take over caring for me and determining my worth, and it took his place. But I learned to lean on him again and not take even the simplest of blessings for granted. And I learned that as hard as this part of my story is to tell, it’s still a part of my story.

Today I was cleared to walk after half a year of crutching—half a year of needing assistance carrying anything, shopping, doing laundry, walking my dog or using stairs. Half a year of the bus, spending a fortune on cabs, having three to five appointments a week, making a scene everywhere I go, annoying every restaurant and bar goer I inconvenience, and never ever exercising. It is a big, long awaited day for me, but as I leave the hospital I pass a man in a wheelchair with only one leg who apologizes for being in my way. Perspective.

When I crutched upstairs to get what I hoped were my last X-rays, the entire waiting room was glued to the TV where breaking news of a shooting near the Empire State building was scrolling across the screen and people were on stretchers and bystanders were fleeing the scene. And I thought of every friend and former coworker of mine who works within three blocks of there and all of my friends and family out of state thought of me. Perspective.

After the final clearance, I feel exactly like the night I got my first car and pledged to never be hard on my dad again because he’d gifted me this. That day when every 16-year-old starts volunteering to run errands just to grab the wheel of new found freedom. I want to walk somewhere and accomplish something completely on my own to celebrate, but I check back on the developing story and read a woman at a crosswalk watched the woman beside her suddenly fall to the ground, shot in the hip. My hip was torn and fractured and hurt, but she was shot in hers today. I want to update my status and announce to everyone whose only ever known me on crutches that I’m walking and normal and ready to take on the world, but it seems so small on a day like today that’s not at all about me.

Today may have been her last day and we all wonder, what did she think in that moment, if she had a moment to think? We put ourselves in her shoes—when we take 10 minutes from our not at all life or death work—to consider if this happened at our crosswalk instead. We think of who we would’ve wished we’d reconciled with, who we would’ve wanted to say bye to, what we would’ve regretted not accomplishing or where we would’ve liked to be standing instead. We wonder what will be remembered about us and what will be such a shame we didn’t get around to.

I think of the little things I care way too much about, the time I waste, the dreams I put off, and the family I miss. I think of what I need to do and say and experience before I’m at that crosswalk. And then I head to the market to pick out something fattening and forbidden and delicious looking, and I buy it. I buy a chocolate, iced cupcake, because I’m 115 pounds and dieting like a psychopath, and I eat it even if it takes me all day. Because I can’t change the world right this second, but I have no idea what else will happen today, and it’d be a shame to snack on celery and carrots over a lack of perspective.

Where has perspective knocked you off your feet?