Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, Life is a journey, not a destination.
I would say the same thing is often true when I travelwhether Im headed to Burning Man, Sydney or Copenhagen. While theres little I love more than stepping into unfamiliar territory with a new scent in the air and an unknown babble of language playing in the background, I often find that I learnand enjoythe journey to my destination as much as the destination itself.
Plane Train and Automobile … and ferry, raft and foot. Ive used them all to reach my destination. Here are three of my most memorable journeys and the things Ive learned along the way.
1. By car to Washington, D.C. Like many college students, I had to complete an internship before graduation. Sure, I could have stuck around campus and worked in the sports marketing program or for the college newspaper, but why do that when I could drive across the country to work for a major public relations firm?
The trip started mid-May in Washington state in my 1999 Ford Ranger with my boyfriend at the time. We discussed friends, politics and our future together. We stopped at a tiny park outside of Manhattan, Montana, and had sandwiches for lunch. In South Dakota, we veered south off I-90 to check out Mt. Rushmore. By the time we reached it, a severe snowstorm had blown in and caused a complete white-out.
In Wisconsin, we spent a few days at my parents home before my boyfriend flew back to Washington state and I traded my truck for my sisters 1993 hatchback Ford Escort, which I assumed would be easier to manage in D.C. traffic (I was right). From there, the road trip became my own. I had a radio to keep me company and relied on fresh air coming through the windows to keep me cool (the air conditioner slowed the car down significantly). For the next two days I avoided the traffic in Chicago, rolled through the hills in Ohio and discovered city on top of city in the outskirts of the East Coast.
On that road tripand throughout the summerI learned that the easiest choice may not be the best choice, and that learning what I didnt want to do was just as important as determining my path in life whatever that may be.
2. By raft down the Nile River After celebrating a home-away-from-home Thanksgiving with 30 other Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya, we all decided to hop on a bus for Uganda, where we rafted down the Nile River. Having been whitewater rafting before, I assumed I knew what to expect.
I was wrong.
Out of the dozen or so rapids we rode, we flipped on more than half of them. I was tossed around like a load of laundry and spit out by the waves, only to be sucked back under the water. By midday, I was physically exhausted. I wanted to swim to shore and walk back to camp, but I had no choice but to press on and keep my head above the water.
One perforated eardrum and dislocated jaw later, I reached the end. My short whitewater journey down the Nile taught me that my physical and mental willpower were stronger than I anticipated. It also reaffirmed my belief that Mother Nature is not a force to be reckoned with.
3. By car, plane and bus to Jeju Island, South Korea My husband had a gig teaching English on Jeju Island, and I jumped at the chance to visit him. To get there, I had to drive from West Central Wisconsin to the St. Paul/Minneapolis, take a plane from there to Chicago and then again from Chicago to Seoul, a bus from Seoul to a smaller airport about 40 minutes outside of the city and another plane to Jeju Island (not to mention the taxi from the airport to my hubbys apartment).
Though I had traveled internationally before, this was the first time Id traveled such an extensive distance on my own. I people-watched in OHare and eyed the kitschy souvenirs in the Seoul airport as I made my way to the information counter, where I successfully managed to figure out how to catch a bus. As the bus wound its way through the city, I watched this foreign world pass by the window. By the time I reached the puddle jumper headed to Jeju Island, I was the only American around. There were no English translations on the final flight. It was a foreign and enlightening experience Id never had before and I havent forgotten since.
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JoAnna Haugen writes from Las Vegas, where you can often find her planning her next adventure. A former Peace Corps volunteer, her travels have taken her up the Inca Trail, down the Nile River and through the rainforests of Australia. You can follow her journeys on Twitter and read about her travels at Kaleidoscopic Wandering.