Year One: What I Learned

After a full year on the road, we are back in the U.S. (enjoying sunny Florida) and catching up.  I’ve had time to reflect on our adventure and I realize that the greatest lessons for me have nothing whatsoever to do with the practicalities of travel (who needs another post on how to find cheap hotel deals anyway?).  For what it’s worth, here is what life on the road has taught me about, well, life.

1.) Wherever you go, there you are

“I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

For whatever reason, people equate travel with transformation.  We dream of endless stretches of lonely beaches, steep and treacherous mountain peaks, bustling cities filled with strange people speaking a strange language, etc. But what we truly crave is a change in ourselves, not just a change in scenery.

Take it from me, a simple change of location is not sufficient to change who you are, or the things that cause you unhappiness, or your bad habits.  If what you seek is transformation, you must go on a journey within.  As Henry Miller said, “travel helps you see things differently…but it isn’t the places you go to that does that.  It is the self reflection.”

2.) It doesn’t matter where you go if you’re not really there.

I missed an entire swath of Spain in April.  As we drove past fields of sunflowers and olive groves and even a world famous, humane foie gras farm, I was caught up in thinking about what’s next for me in my working life (obsessing about it actually).  The Spanish countryside I had so longed to see passed by me in a blur.  I can’t recall a single detail about that lovely part of Spain because I didn’t see any of it.

We humans have a very bad habit of letting our thoughts drift — and stay — in either the past or the future.  (“I shouldn’t have made that comment in the meeting last week; I wonder if my boss is mad at me.  What should I cook for dinner tonight? I should make a grocery list…”)

The thing is, neither the past or the future is relevant.  You can’t change that thing you said last week.  And dinner tonight is only a thin concept in your head that could easily be destroyed by an asteroid or a meeting that runs late.

The only thing that is real is right now. In fact, it is the only place where truth — and life — exists. You could be high on a coastal cliff in Scotland, looking down on a family of whales in the sea below, but if you are not fully present in that moment, you might as well be at the mall.

3.) The only thing that matters is the people who matter.

“Do you miss your house?”  This is the number one question I get about our choice to live a life with no fixed address.  But, as I’ve said before, a house is not a home.  Home is the people you love.

We actually spent quite a bit time this year with at least some of the people we love.  In Australia, I got to see my daughter (who happened to be working in Melbourne).  We met up with our daughter who lives in France several times. Friends from back home joined us at various points.

My only moments of melancholy happened when I missed someone I did not get to see much: my son Jake, my friend Stacy, and many others.  And yet, I wouldn’t have seen everyone I love if I had stayed home either.  We live in a transient society.  Few people (especially our kids), can say with any certainty where they might be living next year. Our no-fixed-address life actually makes it easier to go wherever the people we love happen to be.

So, you can have the house (no I’m serious; its back on the market).  As long as I have my peeps, I’m a happy gal.

4.) Nowhere can be someplace special.  

Have you ever found a vacation photo that you remember taking, but you can’t remember exactly where you were on that day?  That rest stop where you had the picnic (was that in France?), the restaurant where they served that amazing wine and cheese plate (must have been France, right?), some patch of turquoise sea from whence your spouse is emerging, sputtering furiously in an ill-fitting snorkeling mask?  The photo triggers your recall of the moment, but the place is lost in the far corners of your brain somewhere.

When we do remember a place fondly, when we designate it as *special*, it is usually because we have attached some meaning to it.  Maybe something important happened there – a reunion with a loved one, a momentous decision, a moment of deep peace and happiness with your life.  Whatever it was, somehow the sky seemed extra blue, the sun glittered on the water, and that little house on Main Street with the overflowing flower box is forever etched in your memory…

We waste a lot of time wishing we were somewhere else (usually there when we are here and vice versa), but every day can be made special by what we do with it — how we spend it, who we spend it with, whether we notice what is beautiful about it.  We are fully and completely in charge of the meaning we make.

So it doesn’t really matter whether you are on safari in Africa or simply looking out your kitchen window. Every place has the potential to be someplace special.

6.) Life doesn’t happen online

“We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.” Jeremy Glass

I struggled to find a balance between living my life on the road and sharing it online.  It wasn’t easy.  I actually felt guilty at times about not posting more regularly, not tweeting, not being more active on Facebook, etc. — which is kind of funny, because social media is not my preferred mode of “connecting”.  In fact, Facebook often feels like another item on that evil to-do-list I’ve worked so hard to banish from my life.

Perhaps this is simply a mark of the time we live in.  People feel compelled to “connect” online (debatable word if you ask me).  Something feels frighteningly remiss if we don’t. what cost? When sharing an experience is required in order to make it real or valuable, methinks the train has truly and utterly left the tracks.  There is no adventure without spontaneity.  And, for me, I find it hard to explore the territory within whilst a selfie-stick is surgically implanted in my hand.

So instead of working on posting more regularly in 2015, I’m going to work on the guilt I feel when I don’t.


That’s it.  I think that is all I learned in school this year.  As far as what’s next, I don’t know yet.  More travel for sure, but still working on where and when.








  1. says

    Beautiful and articulate as always. Sounds like you are working on being “present” in your everyday life. Something we are simply not taught to do as children or young people. Valuable insights Nan Dawkins….See you soon.

  2. says

    Beautifully written and thought provoking as usual. Really gave me some food for thought this morning too, thanks for that. Looking forward to hearing of your travels this year, really hope one trip is to “the Burg” in May. See you soon.

    • Nan Dawkins says

      Thank you Lynn. Hopefully we can cross paths in the Burg or elsewhere! it probably won’t be that cute little pub in your Mum’s village, but …anywhere would be special if I get to see you.

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