Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

crowd touristI’m an avid traveler, both in the U.S. and overseas. But, I hate being a tourist. When I travel, I like to just exist in the place. That doesn’t mean I don’t go see the sights. I do. But I go as an adventurer, an explorer, preferring to see things on my terms and discover wonderful places instead of having a guide tell me what to see. Years ago I went to Edinburgh in Scotland. Time was short so I decided to take a tour of the city. There were things that didn’t interest me but like kids on a school trip, we all followed the guide around at our stops.

I kept wandering off as I saw things that weren’t directly in our path that looked interesting. The guide kept trying to rein me in and keep me in line with the others. While they enjoyed the tour, they only saw what they were told to look at. I on the other hand, looked at everything but. Edinburgh is a lovely city, with old buildings that echoed its long history. On the bus I saw so many beautiful things I’d like to have explored more but it wasn’t on our schedule.

Eventually I wished them all well, thanked the tour guide and took off on my own by foot. Then I was able to find my own Edinburgh treasures.

I love to explore foreign cities by living in them, even if I’m only there for a few days. Being a walk-a-holic, I usually just wander around and experience the city by letting it open itself up to me. I speak to locals and ask what they like. I’ve probably truly experienced more of the cities I’ve visited than most tourists ever do. People walk from church to church, listening to the guide but probably not absorbing much. I love seeing old churches, but too much information isn’t necessary. I learn more from talking to the regular people I encounter in my travels.

Too many people go through life as a tourist, on autopilot as they follow what they “should” do, taking the path everyone travels as they miss out on a lot because they wear invisible blinders. “Shoulds” can do that to you. Life is meant to be explored and milked for whatever joys and treasures you can find. When I walk somewhere I often try to take a little different route and pay attention to what I pass. Tourists are often not at all spontaneous as they follow their guide. Yet spontaneity brings so many amazing rewards that you might not experience if you just did what you think you’re ”supposed to” do.

Often we do what’s expected to please others at the expense of what would please ourselves. Take off your blinders and open your eyes and your mind. Try new things, even if you don’t think “it’s you.” Get to know people who are different than you. Take some risks. Don’t just go through life on auto-pilot. You only have one life. Own it! Take chances and get out of any box you might be in. Make your own choices and experience what it’s like to discover joy you never knew existed because you never looked or tried it. That’s truly living YOUR life!

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