Life is full of settings and circumstances that are full of valuable lessons. However, there are few experiences more ripe with lessons than adventure travel. Every moment of everyday has something to teach you.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Explore, contributor Eric Hanson shares the lessons adventure travel has given him and how it has made him a better person.
I stood on an empty, hot dirt road, wondering if I was in the right place. Eventually, a young, sun-weathered man came out and greeted me. The blazing sun beant down on our exposed skin. Saliman, a Bedouin man in his thirties, greeted me and escorted me into his home.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. “We have food ready.”
Hospitality is part of the social fabric of the Bedouins. This was part of their social ritual. I gladly accepted his generous invitation. Who am I to turn down free food? That’d be rude, right?
I had been in Jordan for three weeks now and had been hiking portions of the newly completed Jordan Trail, a 450-mile trail that runs the length of the country. Jordan’s beauty is undeniable and I was enthralled by the culture and diversity of landscapes.
The Mars-like desert of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan can only be described as spectacular. Old towers and mountains of sandstone sprout out of the deep red sand dunes. My plan was to spend four days in the desert, camping alone or staying in one of the Bedouin camps. Saliman was providing logistical support, driving me deep into the desert to our drop-off point. But first, food and tea.
On the surface, it appeared that Saliman’s financial means were limited. That didn’t stop him from treating me like royalty. He brought out a steaming plate of chicken, rice, and yoghurt, all richly spiced. Next came a tray with a pot of tea and two small glasses. I was eager to get into the desert. But the art of tea cannot be hurried in the Bedouin culture. Saliman poured me a glass, then he poured his own. The two of us lounged on the cushions spread across his living room and talked about my experiences in Jordan. After the food and six or seven glasses of tea, Saliman got up, put on his sandals, and walked towards the door.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
The two of us rumbled along in Saliman’s truck, a vehicle that was easily older than me. The seats, the paneling, two of the doors, and most of the dash had all been replaced or was simply absent. The old 4×4 churned through the deep sand, the engine roaring with the effort to drive up and over a dune. We crested the dune and then glided silently down the other side. Saliman stopped at a basin where the dune met a semi-circle of rock. The low point and the cliffs provided a pleasant windbreak and a shady alcove to hide in during the hottest parts of the day.
I unloaded my gear from the back bench of the Toyota and placed it in the shade of a boulder. I said goodbye to Saliman and he drove off, engine screaming up and over the dune and out of sight.
For the next four days, there was silence.
I have become a different person through adventure travel, for the better I believe. I have become a better person by delving into new cultures and experiencing different ways of life. I’ve learned to appreciate so much.
I am a firm believer that adventure travel is good for the soul and should be used as a tool by people looking to improve their life. Change doesn’t happen magically. An improved life does not occur because the experiences by themselves are fun. But adventure travel has a way of shifting perspectives, challenging assumptions, opening minds, and refreshing our spirits. This type of lifestyle helps shape us into healthier, happier people, no matter where we are.
I look at adventure travel as a way of experiencing the world on a limited budget, carrying with just what you need, being open to new cultures and people, and being willing to go out of your comfort zone. Adventure in other parts of the world can open your eyes and change your vision for how you see the world. These experiences don’t happen in a vacuum. Just as I am affected, I affect those I encounter. I can be an ambassador for good in the world around me. Or I can be just another rich, entitled American. My attitude and how I travel will affect those I encounter around the globe. But I bring the changes and revelations back home with me to help me live better when I’m at home too. And to me, this is the crux of adventure travel. Who am I becoming?
I had never been to the Middle East before. I didn’t know what to expect in Jordan. I didn’t know how I would be accepted as a westerner. I didn’t know if I would enjoy the culture, the food, the landscape, or how I would find the people. Quickly upon my arrival, I felt at ease. Having traveled to many countries before, I have come to expect that people are going to be kind and welcoming no matter where I go. But my experience of hospitality in the Jordanian culture was nothing short of over the top.
Adventure travel is a recalibrating experience. When enveloped in the routines of home, I begin to close off, to focus too much on the mundane tasks of life. I close myself off to serendipity and an embrace of the unknown. I fail to see the goodness and kindness of strangers. I look at setbacks or inconveniences as personal assaults. But when I am abroad, trekking in the mountains or camping in some remote location, I am open and curious, thoughtful about my surroundings.
When I am abroad, I find it easier to embrace the unknown, to take risks, and to take things in stride that might otherwise ruin my day. Bus broke down? Oh well, it’s a chance to engage with the elderly woman sitting next to me. When abroad, I incorporate the things I value into my daily life. I approach each day and each experience with wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. Adventure travel teaches me to be a better human. Through travel, I become more pliable and willing to learn.
In Jordan, I learned once again to trust in other people. I learned to put a human story to people who could otherwise be reduced to a fear-inducing news headline. In Jordan, I was surprised and encouraged by the people, the beautiful deserts, the delicious food (the falafel alone is worth the trip!), and my spirit was refreshed.
These experiences are not to be relegated strictly to my time outside the US or outside my home city. I am learning to incorporate my lessons from around the world into my daily life. And when I start to feel bogged down again, a good adventure often provides the recalibration I need.