My first night aboard the MV Explorer was rough. As soon as we pulled away from the port and Nassau began to disappear over the horizon, the ship began to rock. And when I say rock what I really mean is it dipped so far from side to side that it felt like we were going to do a full turn and plunge right into the Atlantic. To say I was quietly freaking out would be an understatement.
No one, including me, was expecting for the waves to be as rough as they were and watching everyone try to walk in a straight line was quite entertaining. We didn’t have our sea legs yet and as I watched my glass of water slide from one side of the table to the other at dinner I couldn’t help but think, “What have I gotten myself into?”
My roommate was seasick, and I mean really seasick. I couldn’t even step foot in my room for fear of being thrown up on. As I stumbled to the union for the welcome aboard speech I began to get a little queasy myself and yearned for the still, dry land that I had been on just hours ago. I was uncomfortable to say the least. Why had I chosen to subject myself to this? What was I thinking?
And then I sat down and began to listen to the executive dean of our voyage introduce us to all of the things we were going to experience in the next 110 days, some amazing and others challenging. When a girl in the front of the room turned green and quickly jolted out and ran into the nearest bathroom he laughed and warned us that sometimes the seas would be rough, and we wouldn’t always be totally comfortable in every situation we were in whether it be on or off the ship. But he didn’t want to hear us whine. “Be flexible,” he said. “We’re going around the world.”
Those words really struck me, and I can still remember exactly how I felt as I sat there listening to him that night. Yes, I was having a hard time adjusting to the rocking of the ship and my cabin was basically one big barf bag, but I was setting off on a voyage around the world. Who was I to complain?
He would bring this up time and time again when people would complain about things that seemed like a big deal at the time. Sketchy peanut butter in the dining room, lack of taco days, how unbearably hot it was in the workout room, or a delayed arrival time in a port city were all common causes for protest. However, when put into perspective these things are all really very trivial. We all had to learn to just go with the flow.
As the days went on I got used to having to hold onto the wall as I walked down the hallway and avoiding my cabin whenever my roommate’s seasickness medication would begin to wear off, but the inconveniences didn’t stop there. When you travel you step out of your comfort zone, and you never know what life is going to hand you. When you’re in a place that is foreign to you there are frustrations and complications everywhere, but it’s all about how you handle them that can make or break your experiences.
As it goes, I had to look back and remember this truth many times during my travels. Like the two nights I spent on a sleeper train in India. The heat those nights in the third class car was sweltering. It was crowded and it smelled like dust and sewage. As I laid down on the dirty sheets that had been provided for me, it took everything I had not to whine and stress about how much I wished I was in a cool, clean, familiar place with a toilet and running water. But then I realized, I’m in India. I’m on my way to meet a local family in a tiny, exotic village and live and experience a beautiful foreign culture that most people only dream about. I thought about what a unique and exceptional opportunity this was to learn about how other people live every day. I sucked it up, bit my tongue, and took it all in. Have to be flexible.
My positive attitude would continue to be tested in ways that I hadn’t expected, and sometimes it was physical. I have never in my life been as cold as I was the night I camped out on the Great Wall of China. I shivered uncontrollably for hours as I lay in my paper thin sleeping bag on the hard, icy concrete. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think about anything else besides how painfully freezing I was. I literally remember thinking that this must be what it feels like right before you die of hypothermia. Ok, I’ll admit I was probably being a tad dramatic on that one, but you get the point.
Then, I timidly peaked my head out of the sleeping bag and looked up. I saw what seemed like a million beautifully bright, sparkling stars twinkling in the most clear diamond sky imaginable. It literally took my breath away. I was in China sleeping on the Great Wall. Who actually gets a chance to do that in their lifetime?
I felt guilty that I had let something as small as the weather get the best of me for the short time that it did. It was obviously still cold, but in that moment my attitude did a complete 180 and I realized how lucky I was to be in that place. I never fell asleep, but I did stay up and watch glittering, radiant shooting stars whiz through the sky all night and got to see a gorgeous sunrise over one of the wonders of the world in the morning. It was without a doubt one of the most wonderfully surreal, breathtaking experiences I have ever had. Have to be flexible.
I truly believe that in travel and in life, it is so much easier when you just go with the flow. There are so many times when I could have let pessimism get the best of me, but then I wouldn’t have had so many of the amazing experiences that I did. Every time I felt myself getting frustrated with a situation I just had to remember those powerful words that the dean spoke to us that first night on the ship.
Yea, I am squished in between two sweaty boys in a tiny Japanese bed as we attempt to fit 10 people in a hotel room meant for four so we can stay in Tokyo and save some money, but I’m in Japan with some of the best people I’ve ever met. Have to be flexible.
Yea, I’ve been standing in the cold, pouring rain for the past hour trying, and failing miserably, to put up a tent to sleep in that has a hole in the bottom, but I’m in Namibia on a safari. Have to be flexible.
I learned that there’s definitely something to be said for staying flexible. And hey, you may even learn something. Because I really believe that from every complication or frustration or inconvenience comes a lesson. Whether it’s tolerance or patience or acceptance, every time you let go of that chip on your shoulder and just go with the flow you have an opportunity to learn more about the world and the person you want to be in it.