My daughter and I leave for Peru tomorrow. Some people would call it a last minute trip, organised less than a month ago on a whim. I’d say it’s a sort of organised, sort of not, trip. We have booked a few activities: hiking and camping in the Andes and staying in a research centre in the Amazon basin. But for more than half of the trip, we’re winging it and seeing where our intuition leads us.
We’ve both wanted to go to Peru for a while. We’ve done a bit of preparation — researching the areas we plan to visit and we’re vaccinated for all kinds of diseases. We have a pharmacopeia packed for almost every eventuality from blisters to gastroenteritis as well as tablets to take to acclimate to altitude, others to prevent malaria and yet others to purify litres of water.
We’ve packed our backpacks, broken in hiking boots, booked our first night’s accommodation in Lima through Airbnb, double checked our passports and visas to get back into Australia, booked a couple of internal flights, have empty memory cards to fill with photos, purchased our travel insurance and ensured we’re covered for extreme sports (hiking and camping above 2000m is considered extreme), packed long underwear and layers for the cold, swimming costumes for hot springs and mosquito nets for the jungle. If there is anything we’ve forgotten, we either don’t need it or will get it there, right? So I guess we are prepared.
Or are we?
Sometimes in life, no amount of preparation is possible or enough. Sometimes, a moment hits you out of the blue and your life is never the same again. A first kiss, falling in love, holding your newborn baby in your arms, a medical diagnosis, an accident, a near death experience, the death of a loved one. Sometimes you just aren’t prepared.
No matter where I travel in the world, something always happens that I’m not prepared for. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. It’s always life changing. And must be lived through to gain the full benefit of the experience.
Most of my travel experiences have been amazing. 25 years ago this week I traveled to Australia for the first time. I was prepared to stay a year, not to start a love affair with this beautiful country that I now consider home.
Love was in the air that week, though I wasn’t prepared at the time. The day after I arrived in Sydney, I met the man who would end up being my husband and father of my children. Despite the fact that we are now divorced, I wouldn’t change any of the past 25 years. I wasn’t prepared at all for the roller coaster of our life and where I am today is definitely not where I expected I would be 25 years ago. But I learned more about myself through our relationship than through any other experience of my life and am grateful.
Other travel experiences have affected me too, albeit in smaller ways. In Bhutan I met, had tea and danced with the queen. Days later I had the most spiritually enlightening experience of my life in a small Buddhist temple in the middle of nowhere. I’d never find it again in a million years. I wish I could. In Nepal, I rode elephant back for two days searching for tigers and got close enough to them to hear their deep breathing. Last year on Maui I kayaked with a mother Humpback whale and her newborn calf. They were close enough I could have touched them. It was magical and not at all the experience I had expected or planned on that day. And my recent trip to Jordan offered me the chance to meet people who changed my life.
But I’ve also had some ‘bad’ travel experiences that have helped shape who I am. I could never have prepared to watch my friend fly through the air over a speeding car who hit her square on as I jumped out of the way. We were 18, about to leave Vienna for Dubrovnik for an Easter holiday. We were prepared for seeing sights, drinking, meeting boys and having fun. I wasn’t prepared for the night of sitting in a foreign hospital far away from home or for ringing her mother back in Michigan from the US Embassy the next morning. No parent wants to hear their child has been in a life threatening accident halfway around the world. And I was the bearer of that news. My friend lost her spleen and had both of her knees destroyed. After a week, she ended up being airlifted back to the US and had months of surgeries and rehab. But that Easter week as I sat with her in a Viennese hospital, I definitely wasn’t prepared for the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that sat with me. That week helped me grow up quickly. Suddenly, all the typical 18 year old things we’d been doing didn’t seem so fun. Suddenly, I had to be an adult.
How do you prepare for the unexpected?
I have two friends who have been on my case to finalise my will. Both of them teased me that they wouldn’t let me get on the plane to Peru without knowing it was finalised. I’m happy to report, it’s done. I filed it on Thursday so now if something happens to me, at least my wishes for my estate are known and I have an executor. More planning. More preparation.
But sometimes there just isn’t any planning or preparation that can be done ahead of time. Life is messy, sweeping us along in it’s mess. Try as we might, we can’t be prepared for everything life will bring our way. So many things on our life journey end up having to be lived experiences, don’t they? No matter how much we might try to prepare for something, the lived experience is nothing like what you expect. And life can change quickly.
What feels like an adventure one minute, turns into disaster the next. Or what feels like a disaster one minute, then turns into a cloud with a silver lining.
As I contemplate boarding the plane to Peru tomorrow morning I wonder if I’m really prepared or whether the preparations I’ve made are the right ones. I feel adrift somehow, like something big is about to happen but I don’t know what. That feeling always makes me excited and nervous at the same time. Not worried exactly; more curious to see what comes.
So again I’m prepared to surrender and see where this wild and crazy life takes me this week.
I’ll keep you posted.