Just over four years ago, my husband and I decided to sell all our belongings and set out to see the world with our three children. We are currently enjoying a short respite in a small coastal village in Central Portugal.
While we have traversed four continents and nearly 30 countries, the most profound discoveries on this journey have very little to do with travel.
Like many American families, my husband and I ran in different directions every day, coordinating our life with precision, keeping all the balls in the air most of the time. When we stopped for a moment or two, it was to rest and recover versus dream and discover.
Once we made the decision to wander the globe, we rapidly liquidated our life, keeping only what would fit into five carry-on bags.
It was a dramatic shift. Ironically, what we have learned since leaving are lessons that were right in front of us all along but we were too busy to notice.
A Global Guide to a Deliberate Life
People often ask me to write travel guides, insider guides, area guides, and guides for traveling with kids. I have published all of them and it has inspired me to compile a different kind of guide.
Our guide, A Global Guide to a Deliberate Life, is full of things that unite all of us regardless of how far we stray:
1. Bring very little with you.
When we decided to sell all of our belongings, we didn’t know how long we would wander the globe, what we might need down the road, or the liberation we would feel in the act of paring down our “stuff.”
I write packing guides and advise people about different cultural norms and seasonal ideas concerning what to put in their suitcase. Lightening the load, carrying less baggage, and streamlining possessions, is not about travel.
We sold, donated, gifted and enjoyed the process of sorting. It was so much more than spring cleaning. It was a complete shift into alignment with our belief that less is more. When we travel, we take ourselves and our stuff with us, literally and figuratively.
Choosing to live a minimalist lifestyle is a choice I can make from anywhere, every day. I have a physical barrier hindering my ability to accumulate “stuff.” Each member of my family has one carry-on and if something doesn’t fit, it gets left behind. For many people, the choice is not as clear.
It is important to intentionally look at our belongings often. When it becomes a burden to re-wrap breakables every holiday season, or to put the summer clothes in the attic, listen to the voice that says they don’t have a place anymore.
When we keep too many things unintentionally they lose their significance and their splendor. It is not about stuff, it is about home and the things we surround ourselves with every day that make us feel loved.
Our definition of home is not static, even if we stay in one place so our things needs to keep flowing or there is a sense of misalignment. Starting small yields big results.
2. Stay present in the moment.
One of the biggest challenges in my All-American life was staying present. I was addicted to being ready which meant I was unable to be present. I was so busy coordinating activities, meals and budgets that I ignored the inner voice whispering, “walk in the woods, sleep in, stop in a café, snuggle a little longer, dance, watch the sunset.”
When the voice would start to bubble up, I was well versed at quieting it so I could get things done!
Typically, under “To Stay” I write about hotel recommendations, and what neighborhoods are best for travelers depending on their preferences. What I now know is what matters most is how I show up.
Staying present and arriving with an open heart, grounds me anywhere. It is also so much easier than endless, tedious preparation, because enhanced presence is a choice that is available to me day and night. It doesn’t matter if I am going down the street or crossing borders. Arriving in a state of excited anticipation for the experience that is unfolding ensures it will be positive.
Accessing absolute presence is different for everyone but can be easily identified by answering the following question: I feel most present when … I write until I run out of ideas. Simply answering the question brings more of what I want into my experience.
3. Food can power you.
It takes effort and commitment to feed a family of five whole, locally sourced, organic foods. I used to sacrifice the value I placed on quality, offering excuses regarding price, availability, taste, and convenience.
Typically, in the “To Eat” section of a travel guide, I recommend restaurants, districts and local flavors that bring certain destinations to life. During the past four years, in many of the cultures we have lived, locally sourced, seasonal, whole foods were the only option. I understand it takes more focus and intention in America to get close to our food, but it is possible.
How I eat and what I feed my family is now less negotiable. What I sacrifice in terms of convenience and variety, I make up for in the flavors and creativity available with each season’s bounty.
My choices make a difference, not only in how well I nourish my family, but what systems I support based on how my food is produced. Farm shares, meatless Mondays, and community gardens are great places to start.
Nothing is more important than the ritual of eating. It is something universal we participate in every day, some cultures more mindfully than others. What we eat is a window into the very root of our connection to each other and a reflection of the power of our communities.
4. Do less than you think you need to.
Americans are not alone in their love of “to do” lists. I meet busy people all over the world with important lists that can’t wait, and sometimes I am one of those people. In most cases however, the frenetic American pace is a bit jarring on the global stage.
Typically, under “To Do,” I recommend various museums and sites when traveling to certain destinations. What I now know is that it is not about doing everything on my list in any given day or week. Feeling “less than” when I don’t get to everything on my “must see” list is no different than sending out 200 handwritten holiday cards.
I was afraid if I slowed down, I might fall behind. I have more to give when I have fewer “to do’s.” It is a very simple equation and one of the most difficult to remember.
The critical take away is to focus on one or two things that really matter and give all of myself to those things. While I used to prioritize based on what was important to those around me, I now answer the question “What do I want to give myself to today”?
You can never get it wrong.
The beauty of this kind of guide is that we can never get it wrong because living deliberately is intensely personal. At its foundation is unconditional acceptance of where we are right now.
We can never get it done because presence, pace, nourishment, and sustainability can’t be checked off the list. They are lifelong generational practices. If we are lucky we will pass them on, but we will never finish.
As Herman Melville penned, “It is not down in any map, true places never are.”
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