June 24, 2024

“Disrupting the Familiar: Life Lessons from Spain”

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I’m a creature of routine. This is a juxtaposition, given that my speaking schedule always has me on an airplane. But those are short stints and I return to home base after a few days. So, traveling to Spain was a different adventure. It was an eye-opening experience that taught me valuable lessons about life, resilience, and the beauty of new experiences. Here are the key takeaways from my journey:

Time Zones: Embrace the Challenge

Changing time zones can be one of the most challenging aspects of travel. I get discombobulated when just an hour is altered during daylight savings time, so crossing continents was tough. However, the lesson is to have a plan and push through fatigue.

When I travel to a location for less than three days, I try to maintain my home base time zone. On the West Coast, I’m in bed at 7 p.m. because it’s 10 p.m. at home. But when I need to adapt to my location because I’m staying longer, I’ve learned a few tricks. The first is to get sunlight immediately in the morning. Natural light triggers your circadian rhythm and tricks your body into adapting more quickly.

But this time, we tried something different. Since Spain is 6 hours later than our East Coast time zone, we attempted to maintain our EST schedule. In Spain, most people don’t eat dinner until 9 p.m., and it is a culture of sleeping in and staying up late, so we got sleep masks and slept until 11 a.m. We went out for breakfast, explored all day, and ate dinner at 9 p.m. like everyone else. We stayed up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and maintained that schedule. It worked and made the transition back home much more manageable.

The trick is to plan. Your body might resist, but your mind has the final say. If you decide to assimilate to the time zone, embrace the tiredness and muscle through it – the experiences awaiting you are worth the temporary discomfort.

Let Go of Your Diet

I’m one of those weirdo health freaks who meticulously counts macros, so letting go of my structure in Spain caused me some stress. My need for a strict eating and workout regimen is part of my routine, but I decided to indulge a little and relinquish control. This made for a richer and more enjoyable experience because one of my favorite memories from the trip was sitting on the Cathedral steps in Saville with my wife, daughter, and son-in-law, eating gelato at midnight. My son-in-law commented that that moment was a “core memory, ” which hit me in the feels. Sometimes, it’s okay to relax your dietary restrictions and savor the flavors of the place you’re visiting. The key is consistency, so if health and structure are part of your routine, it’s okay to let go now and then.

But when you get back, kick it in the ass and get back on track. The longer you get go of your healthy habits, the harder it is to get them back.

Everything is Figureoutable.

Renting a car with a manual transmission and navigating the narrow, cobblestone streets of Seville and the mountain streets of Alora was daunting. I was rusty at driving a stick shift, but muscle memory from learning as a teenager kicked in. When I got my driver’s license, my dad bought me a stick shift car because he insisted I learn. He put me in the driver’s seat and told me to figure it out. I killed the engine repeatedly until I finally figured out the rhythm of the clutch and the gas. That moment came flooding back when I was on a 45-degree mountain. The stakes felt higher this time since falling down the side of a mountain was a realistic outcome, but I focused and did it. The lesson here is that everything is figureoutable. Take a deep breath and tackle challenges head-on – you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Also, learn to do something new. If you’ve never driven a stick shift car, ask someone who has one to teach you—not because you need it to succeed in life, but because it’s gratifying to do something you’ve never done. Pick something—anything—and do it for the first time.

Talk to Everyone

Engaging with locals and fellow travelers can lead to unforgettable experiences. Our Airbnb hosts from Norway, who now own an olive farm in Alora, shared their incredible story. We also met a couple from London celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Everyone has a unique story, and connecting with others reminds us of the world’s richness and diversity. These passing connections are gratifying and show how small the world can be when we engage with others.

This also applies to asking for help. There was a language barrier everywhere we went, so navigating our travels was even more challenging. From the airport in Malaga to the high-speed train to Madrid, we found ourselves struggling to understand the signage and protocol. Even though we didn’t speak the language, we made an effort to communicate and always found someone who spoke a little English to help us. This experience emphasized that the human condition for kindness supersedes cultural differences.

Build Core Memories Through New Adventures

This trip was made possible by an invitation from our daughter and son-in-law. If your children (no matter what their age) want to hang out with you, see that for the gift it is. Spending time with family and creating new memories together was invaluable. When your loved ones invite you on an adventure, always say yes. The memories made on this trip will stay with me forever, and I am grateful for the time I spent with my daughter and her husband.

Embrace the Fear of Travel

I know many people who are afraid to travel within the United States. They are intimidated by airports and the chaos, so they drive instead. I get it. Travel can be intimidating, and international travel is even more nerve-wracking—especially if you’re inexperienced.

Don’t allow your fear to hold you back. Start small by booking a guided trip or picking a seasoned travel buddy who can show you the ropes. Stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring new places is incredibly rewarding. There is a whole world out there waiting for you to discover it.

Home is my favorite place, but there is something remarkable about seeing different landscapes with your own eyes. When you expand your world, you begin to comprehend that the world is smaller than you once thought. In our modern world, we can see new horizons through the marvel of air travel. I woke up in Madrid, got on an airplane, and slept in my own bed the same day. It’s a remarkable wonder that everyone should experience.

Accept the Fact that Things Will Go Wrong

Things won’t always go according to plan. You already know this is true if you’ve ever made plans.

The seats we paid for on Iberia Airlines didn’t transfer to the actual flight because they changed planes. That meant the roomy two seats we chose in Comfort Plus were unavailable, and we got stuck in a middle and window seat. The only reason this is problematic is because my wife is claustrophobic (actually). One time, she hyperventilated when she got “trapped” in a window seat. I pretended not to know her. I learned my lesson and now we pay more to get her an aisle seat. The airline wasn’t empathetic to her plight, so she had to endure her middle seat assignment. She did a lot of breathing exercises (and I may have shoved a sleep gummy in her face to calm her down). She survived.

We lost our car in Marbella. Well, it wasn’t really lost—we just forgot where we parked it, so we wandered, looking for it among the 70 parking garages in the area. We learned that smartphones are so smart that they monitor your every move. So, if you don’t want your whereabouts found out, throw your phone into the ocean as soon as you get done reading this. In this case, we were grateful for the technology because it helped us find our car.

Also, don’t yell MARCO from a Seville terrace when trying to find your kin. Since my kids were little, this yodel has been used to find each other in stores or crowded places. Someone would yell MARCO to be answered by POLO. It’s worked well for us – up until this point. My wife and I arrived at our 2nd AirBnB about an hour before our daughter. They were having trouble finding the condo but said they were close, so I had the brilliant idea to yell MARCO in the hopes she could follow my voice. There was a symphony of people who yelled back POLO! None of whom were my family. It turns out my daughter and SIL were nowhere near the condo, but I was impressed by how many people answered me.

Everything worked out, and we didn’t die. All you can do is laugh when things go wrong.

Conclusion

Travel pushes us to confront challenges head-on, revealing strengths we didn’t know we had. It encourages us to connect with people from different backgrounds, fostering a deeper understanding of our shared humanity. It also reminds us that life is about creating core memories, especially with those we love, and that the world is full of wonders waiting to be explored.

As you read these lessons, I hope they inspire you to disrupt your familiar routines and embrace the unknown. Whether it’s planning your next adventure or simply trying something new in your daily life, remember that every experience is an opportunity for growth. The world is vast, but it is within your reach. Go forth, explore, and let the lessons of travel transform you. Embrace the beauty of new adventures, and you’ll find that the world is smaller, kinder, and more extraordinary than you ever imagined.

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