March 2014

Being Better: Road Tripping One Moment At A Time

Author: Kitty Bartell

I did not grow up in a family of road-trippers. We travelled in two directions: north in the summer to the family cottage and south to Florida in the spring for a break from our bitter winter. When we arrived at our destination, we did not venture far until it was time to return home. Fortunately, both destinations were pretty special. I never felt I missed out on much; even when hearing about friends traveling with family via rented motor home to see the Grand Canyon, or touring the monuments in Washington D.C. But now that I have my own wheels and a husband and daughter willing to venture far and wide, I can say without reservation that I love road trips.

As I prepared for my latest road trip—a four day jaunt to Florida—I found myself thinking about my being better mantra: one moment at a time. Travel inherently brings out the best and worst in us, making this road trip the perfect petri dish to experiment with my better self. This time I would be traveling alone, eliminating some of the figurative bumps-in-the-road inherent when accommodating the bodily and emotional needs and expectations of travel companions. Rest stops, noshing, and any potential sightseeing would selfishly be all about me. Not a bad start.

Every trip I take begins with good intentions: telling myself that I will stick to my budget and be mindful of my health. Vacation may be designed for vacating one’s life; however, returning home with an overdrawn bank account, physically exhausted, and five pounds heavier will remind you that what you have actually vacated is your common sense.

I was determined that this trip would not involve any snacks or meals purchased at convenience stores, vending machines, or fast food joints, and I only had Friday evening to prepare for my early Saturday morning departure. In the past, it would be at this point that I would throw in the good-intentions towel. I would invariably be too tired or have too many other important things to do (i.e. packing just the right shoes, of course) before leaving home, to bother with thinking about food or budget.

This time, the being better bee buzzing about in my brain cheered me on as I prepared vegetables and air popcorn for car snacks, and readied lunches of Greek yogurt and sliced oranges to pack in a cooler in the morning. Even the timer on the coffee pot was set, the grounds were measured, and the water was waiting to make my first cup of the day, minus the long wait in the drive-through and the shocking deduction on my debit card. Wow, I sound self-righteous. Let’s just say the cooler came home almost empty, and the scale registered only a one-pound punishment for my efforts. After all, I did discover my favorite Asian restaurant near my hotel and will admit to thoroughly enjoying the Mongolian Chicken and brown rice. Both health and budget came home relatively intact.

National Geographic magazine, the extreme-sport version of travel magazines, says there are five personality traits of good travelers: 1) curiosity; 2) honesty; 3) patience; 4) perseverance; and 5) humility. All sound like excellent fuel for my being better fire; I just wonder how this road trip and I measured up.

Curiosity is a no-brainer for me. If I’ve never seen it, I want to learn about it; and if I’ve seen it before, I want to learn more. It had been over two decades since last visiting this particular destination, so I was anxious to spend a little time getting reacquainted with the old familiar. This is where patience became my being-better challenge—one moment at time. My old stomping grounds were much the same, with the added challenge of overgrown foliage hiding signs and signals, and traffic running nearly bumper to bumper. I kept reminding myself that I had all day to wander aimlessly, a true luxury in my world, which helped keep my patience in check. In the end, I have to admit my day seemed much more la-de-dah-lazy and enjoyable when I wasn’t fuming at the pace or the challenges presented along the way.

I did persevere through the changes I found, and if I’m to address all of National Geo’s recommendations, I suppose was as humble and honest as was possible given the benign nature of my adventures; however, the traits of good travelers truly are worth a being better second look, particularly when the sojourn isn’t quite so pedestrian.

Travel, whether by car, bus, train, plane, boat, or pedal power, is fraught with potential challenges that are less daunting if expectations and attitudes take a break. Experiencing the unknown requires not only a sense of curiosity, but humility as well. We are likely to find unfound treasure when we don’t know which path to follow, how to read the signs, or where the best roadside food might be found. If we humble ourselves and release our expectations, inviting the unexpected in, travel becomes that much richer. And as for honesty, National Geo found that the majority of us turn in lost wallets with the contents intact and correct the errors made when given too much change, affirming that we can count on our fellow travelers to have our backs most of the time.

I do love road trips, and appreciated my Florida get-away and the opportunity to take the changes and challenges that came my way one moment at a time. And being just that little bit better left me feeling refreshed and grateful for having been there.

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