For those of us who tend to be Type A more than we care to admit, summer is the necessary pause that allows us to slow down. What I love most about this time of year is that the light shifts to a much more brilliant hue, the weather is lovely and warm, and the pace changes to something much slower. All of us with kids breathe a collective sigh of relief when school is over and camp is on. No homework, no playdate organization, no racing around, no activities. We can finally sit on the front stoop and watch the sky. Summer is also the time my family and I travel; we just returned from a few weeks exploring Portugal and Spain. Travel is a great teacher, because you are forced to slow down, to be inconvenienced, and to not understand over and over. It’s very easy when you are in another country to just want everything done the way it is done back home, but that’s not how it works. In Lisbon, we stayed in a tiny apartment in an old Moorish slum that involved over 60 steps (with crumbling cobblestones) to access. None of this would have been to code in the States. The “do gooder” in me wanted to paint over the endless graffiti on every building, and I wondered why everyone moved so slowly and no one seemed to be working much. In Santiago do Cacem, we stayed in the countryside where there was literally nothing to do except relax, or go to the local beach. We had a private house with a little balcony with views of the ocean. As long as I didn’t fret that the pool was too dirty to swim in and the kids were covered with mosquito bites from having no screens on the windows, I was fine. Watching the sunset over the valley and enjoying the pace of doing nothing was the reset that we needed. Then in Faro, we spent the day at the beach with a picnic of fresh tomatoes and cheese and bread, cherries warm from the sun and chocolate, and spent evenings laughing as a family while playing cards. I responded to as few emails as possible. Even though I wanted to clean our apartment’s dirty tile floor and was frustrated by the uneven WiFi, it was a great reminder that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy. I could just let go.
In Seville, the weather was 107 degrees every day and the streets in the old city so narrow that the sidewalks disappeared in the middle of a block, leaving cars to travel within inches of each passerby. I missed the safety and ease of American streets and sidewalks, but I was mesmerized by the beauty of this old city, with the Moorish influences mixed with beautiful Spanish architecture. I remembered that when it’s really hot, you have to go slowly. And you need to rest in the afternoon, which is why siestas are so popular in hot southern countries. On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped in Evora and the temperature was boiling and the Roman ruins not as impressive as advertised, but we had a lovely picnic as a family and bought some souvenirs. Back in Lisbon, we had to practice our breathing after our first housing plan fell through (long story) and we had to drag our suitcases up and down the cobblestone hills of Lisbon to get to our new place. But you can’t walk fast when dragging suitcases, and in the middle of this, we passed through a large African wedding celebration, with all the people dressed up in colorful garb, the women and children dressed particularly elaborately.
We’ve been fortunate to travel internationally quite a bit. I’ve now traveled to 25 countries, and my husband to 35. My kids, at ages 14 and 12, have been to 10 countries. And yet, we are hardly perfect as travelers. Our trip began with a missed flight due to a scheduling change I hadn’t made note of, forcing us to return home for 36 hours and catch a much-less convenient flight two days later. On our way out of Lisbon with our brand new rental car, we realized we had received a lemon car, with a broken clutch that wouldn’t change gears, and after discovering smoke coming out of the hood of our car, we pulled over to the side of the freeway and spent hours in a public housing slum, waiting to be rescued. We were delayed by hours getting to our next place, and the owner of the hotel almost didn’t let us in since we arrived so late. It was only after I threatened that we would have to sleep in the car with our two children that the gates were opened and we were let in. I realized in these tough situations, that I had to slow down so that I could respond to each issue calmly and effectively.
To find your world stage, remember that travel is essential to understanding the greater world, as well as yourself. It will never be perfect and it will never be easy, but it will challenge you and delight you in unforgettable ways. And, just as summer naturally does, it will force you to slow down, which is something that we all need in this crazy, chaotic world.
My family in Seville, Spain