October 2011

Rest and relaxation – Part 1

by Steve Brock on October 31, 2011

Cusco's Plaza de Armas. So much to see, so little time...

Rest and relaxation.

Such vacation goals sound so compelling yet they can be infuriatingly elusive.

Why? Because no matter where you go, there you are.

Let me restate that: there you are. You. With all your stuff. Not just what you pack in your bags but what goes with you everywhere you go because it is part of you: Worries. Attitudes. Preconceptions. Habits.

And it’s not just you.

I tell myself that being aware of what makes for meaningful travel enables me to travel better. And it does. Except for those times when I forget and get in the way of myself.

Let me give you an example.

Earlier this year when my family traveled to Peru, we had basically two half days and one full day in the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. We arrived in the late afternoon, wandered around the main square and had a wonderful dinner that evening. We came back to our hotel and I decided to wait until the next morning to plot out our itinerary for the next day. After all, our intent here was just to relax and take in whatever came our way.

Morning arrived, however, and that intent didn’t last long. After reviewing the numerous options available to us in Cusco, I quickly found myself becoming reacquainted with a familiar but unwelcome old traveling companion: tourist panic.

Tourist panic is that sense that:

  • You have a limited time in a place that costs a ton to get to and that you likely will never see again.
  • There are more sights that you want to see than will fit in that limited time.
  • You might miss out on something that you will regret for the rest of your life, as in forever and ever.

Or at least until the next day when the panic retreats and you’re on to something new.

But on this morning, with the whole day of possibilities ahead of me, I conveniently ignored that voice of logic telling me to chill. All notions of rest and relaxation got swept away along with our breakfast dishes.

Thus, heeding this unwarranted inner compulsion, I urged the family to hurry up. Then off we rushed to take in all that awaited us in Cusco, or at least all we could cram into this one day.

And guess what? Somewhere around 3:00 p.m. we ran out of things to do.

We’d seen all the must-sees on our list and everything else seemed either redundant or required more money, energy or time than we were willing to expend at this point in the day. Thus, all my stress to see everything did nothing but stress out my family and leave me wondering why I behaved in such a manner.

I hate this. I hate how I act when I feel this way. My family hates how I act when I feel this way. So why do I do this?

That’s a rhetorical question. I’m not really asking for input on my emotional life, though I’m sure some of you would love to weigh in on this one: Is it sin, over-control, issues from my past, an unmet need for closure, or altitude-induced sleeplessness? Yes. I’m sure all of those could apply.

But I believe it is something more.

Something that relates at some point to all of us.

Something, unfortunately, that you’re going to have to wait till next time to find out…

To be continued…

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Sadness and serendiptity – Part 3

by Steve Brock on October 26, 2011

Three stories of books surround a middle stack at the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, MA

On the trip to my nephew’s funeral, I noted the serendipity of rediscovering the joy of spending time with just my parents and my brother in Rhode Island and Massachusetts the day before the funeral.

That was an unexpected benefit, but there were other, smaller ones along the way that I’d like to share with you. By themselves, these probably fall into the “so what?” category. But they illustrate an important aspect of meaningful travel: when we pay attention to the details and small moments on a trip, we uncover insights and connections that we associate with that trip and everything else that is occurring at the time.

Thus, on their own, these may seem insignificant yet they form a pattern of discovery and meaning – even if that meaning is personal and may not fully translate to others. Still, from the following images, I hope you get some sense of why this was both an interesting journey and a meaningful one.

Since we had not planned on doing any sightseeing, our entire source of information was the travel magazine left in our hotel rooms. After glancing through various options within a 45 minute drive, we decided to head out from our hotel in Providence, RI and go to Falls River, New Bedford and Fairhaven, MA. Why? The pictures in the magazine looked nice.

Sometimes that’s reason enough.

My own snapshots below show some of what we encountered, but let me comment on one place in particular, the Fairhaven Public Library.

We had no idea where to go in Fairhaven when we arrived, so we skirted the harbor to the old downtown area where we saw several old churches and other buildings.

The most intriguing turned out to be the public library. Though small, it is probably the most beautiful, functioning public library I’ve seen in this country. What made it even more interesting – even serendipitous if you will – is that while perusing the book shelves, we “just happened” upon a book cart that had two books on the old buildings of Fairhaven. Thus, we not only discovered the library, but within the library we found books detailing its own history and that of nearby buildings.

Again, that may not seem like a big deal, but it was borderline “woo woo” to us in terms of how it all came together this day.

The rest of the sights were more mundane but still interesting. It added up to a surprisingly intriguing day that now is part of our family; an unplanned experience that is, in ways we can’t fully explain, somehow essential to what that entire trip means to us.

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If you missed the first parts of this series, you can read them here: Ugly Beautiful, Sadness and Serendipity - Part 1, Sadness and Serendipity - Part 2

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Sadness and serendipity – Part 2

by Steve Brock on October 21, 2011

The trip to my nephew’s funeral was one of sadness, certainly. But also one of surprise, even serendipity.

One definition of serendipity from Webster’s is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That would apply to my brother’s and my experiences covered in Part 1 of meeting the hospice director and the former pastor on our respective ways to the funeral.

But with meaningful travel in general, and this trip in particular, we encountered a slightly different definition of serendipity: going in search of one thing and finding another, one that seems unrelated to the former but in fact, furthers our original journey or intent but not in the way we imagined. 

The view from Fort Phoenix, town of Fairhaven, MA, an unexpected destination...

My parents and I flew from Seattle to Providence, Rhode Island. There, we met my brother who had just arrived from Florida. We had a wonderful dinner together that first night, catching up and discussing the funeral that was to occur the following evening.

The next morning we awoke and had most of a day to do nothing. Rather than hang around the hotel all day, we decided to do something I hadn’t expected on a trip of this kind: we played tourists. In the next entry, I’ll give you a photo essay of the surprising things we encountered in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

What the photos cannot reveal, however, are the moments that transformed this day from one of mourning to one of a different kind of discovery.

First, as we drove through the old sections of towns like New Bedford (former whaling capital of the world, or so they say) and Fairhaven, MA, we saw more funeral homes than I’ve ever seen before. Whether they do indeed have more mortuaries per square mile there or whether we just noticed them more this day, I cannot say. But each was a poignant reminder that even though we were enjoying a beautiful day together, the intended purpose of our trip was never too distant.

Second, we all came to realize that this was the first trip that the four of us had taken, just on our own, since I was in high school. We’ve done other vacations or family gatherings with our spouses and kids, but not just my parents and their two sons for years. My mom especially noted this, appreciated it and marveled at the time we had together, just the four of us. I tend to think of “family” as a multigenerational collection that spans both my side and my wife’s side through grandparents, uncles, nieces, in-laws – everyone who we consider to be a relation. Yet this trip revealed that something special happens when you travel with only the people who formed your tightest, most intimate circle growing up.

Third, as is often the case in times of pain and vulnerability, we appreciated each other and what we saw more. We paid better attention to the small details – meals unique to that region, comments that reveal a shared sense of humor, the cobblestones of the streets or scent of the sea. I am convinced that our joy is more noticeable when contrasted with our sadness and such was our experience this day.

We came on this trip to mourn the loss of a family member. What we ended up experiencing was a trip where we celebrated and valued dearly the family I have known since birth. It wasn’t the trip I expected. It was much better.

But then, our journeys of serendipity usually are.

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Sadness and Serendipity – Part 1

by Steve Brock October 18, 2011

Even on difficult journeys, God provides what we need but in ways we would never expect and often through the kindness of strangers.

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Ugly Beautiful

by Steve Brock October 12, 2011

Some trips, like those involving the loss of a loved one, are journeys we would rather not take…until we do and we discover something beautiful.

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Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 2 1/2

by Steve Brock October 8, 2011

So which works best for meaningful travel, fasting from media or paying close attention to certain things? Yes…

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Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 2

by Steve Brock October 3, 2011

The alternative to a media fast as a means of dealing with all the products and ads that come your way is to do a reverse fast where you pay even more attention to what you normally ignore, especially on a business trip.

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