Growing up, we’re taught to play it safe and follow the rules: don’t talk to strangers, don’t go too fast, don’t colour outside the lines. Finish school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have a child or two.
By the time we reach adulthood, it seems life is already planned out for us.
As the only child of a single mother, it’s safe to say I had a fairly sheltered upbringing. I was wired for comfort and security and taught to always plan ahead. With my future on a pedestal, all that was asked of me was that I make it to the next checkpoint. And all I had to do to get there was to “think ahead” and “be careful.”
So that’s what I did. In high school, I had top-notch grades, a decent part-time job, and an extracurricular activity or two to round off my resumé. Life was scheduled. Life was easy. Life was predictable.
My dream beyond the plan
I spent 10 months of the year working hard and saving money. But I also spent much of that time daydreaming. I dreamed of traveling to faraway places that would distance me from the “don’ts” – where I could escape the rules, test the waters, and discover my potential.
When I wasn’t working or writing essays, I was glued to travel blogs. I was hooked on stories of adventure: people climbing mountains, surfing 20-foot waves, base jumping from insane heights. These lives weren’t dictated by routine. These people weren’t waiting or planning for something exciting to happen; they were making it happen. They were living!
For those 10 months each year, I was conflicted by these stories that made me feel both inspired and frustrated. But regardless of how I felt (or perhaps because of it), I was constantly pulled back into these blogs to read “just one more.”
By my 17th birthday, the stories took over, and I realized I needed to make some major life changes. I had scored my driver’s license and was eager to take the wheel – in more ways than one.
That was the summer I started saying “yes.” A lot. I packed as much as I could into those two months between grades. Volunteer in South Africa? Yes! Travel around Tobago? Why not! Study French in Quebec? Oui oui! I wanted to soak in as much of life as possible in those eight short weeks.
My friends were impressed, my family was nervous, and I was on fire. No “travel bug” could have bitten me hard enough to explain the obsession I had to explore each nook and cranny of the world.
By the time I started university a year later, I was itching to go on more than a “trip.” I wanted to experience life from a whole new perspective.
I started planning a semester abroad for my second year. Having to select five options, I applied for three schools in Australia and two in Europe. Guaranteed one of my top three choices, I prepared myself for months of sun and surf.
As it turns out, so did hundreds of other students. I was headed to Europe.
Pushing past uncertainty
I studied for four months in the Czech Republic (though with one or two classes per week, most of my time was spent traveling neighbouring countries and expanding my knowledge of European beers). With no final exams in any of my classes, I threw together a few essays, packed my 60L bag, and set off on my first solo backpacking adventure.
My first day, I caught a ride to Slovenia with a couple I’d met through a ride share website. When we arrived in Ljubljana, I realized I had not planned ahead at all. They dropped me off at a nearby hostel, and a wave of anxiety rushed over me. I felt paralyzed. But I forced a smile, grabbed my bag, paid my share for gas, and waved goodbye.
Once I was set up at the hostel, my anxiety only worsened. With no structure or schedule, I had no idea what to do.
So I spent most of that evening doing what I knew best: planning. I gathered information on nearby attractions and trains that might get me there. I tried to create a schedule of where to go and when. Needless to say, half an hour later, I felt mentally exhausted and more unsure than ever.
I shoved the train schedules in my bag and headed downstairs to clear my head. That’s when things started changing. I struck up a conversation with a group from England, and we spent the night sharing stories and meandering around the city. My mind relaxed to appreciate where I was and embrace the journey ahead.
Giving up the plan
After that night, I started to let go of my need to constantly have a plan. This practice deepened my understanding of what it means to “be present” and led me to thoroughly enjoy the unexpected events that are inevitable both in travel and life (like watching your backpack fall off a cliff while you’re hiking up to an abandoned castle).
I stopped taking myself too seriously. I justified my poor navigational skills with words like “wandering” and “exploring.” I laughed at the fact that much of my communication occurred through charades. I looked forward to moments that got me out of my comfort zone and reconnected me to my vulnerability.
I stopped planning and started doing – just like the people in the stories I had read all those years. I was living.
Living the adventure
One of my most vivid “living” moments during that backpacking trip occurred on an island just off the coast of Malta. A friend I’d met at our hostel invited me to a neighbouring island, which we were going to explore by bike. Not a motorbike – a good old-fashioned, human-powered bicycle.
Coming from the prairies – where cities are widely spread out and extreme weather forces you to drive at least six months per year – I was definitely not used to trusting the power (or lack thereof) of my legs to transport me from A to B. Especially when the distance from A to B was the length of an island.
But I wasn’t at home in the prairies; I was in Malta! I was in a new place and a new mindset. I could do this! How hard could it be?
As it turns out, very hard. Who knew an island could have so many hills? And that the sun could be so hot?! And that it was physically possible to sweat out what seemed to be all the water my body was capable of holding. Oh – and that my legs could get so sunburned that I was unable to bend my knees for three days.
Yep. Goodbye scuba diving lesson, hello aloe vera. These were only a few of the hard lessons I learned that day.
What I also learned was that, when I reached the top of the tallest hill, I felt like I’d climbed a mountain. And that the feeling of whizzing down that mountain full speed, grinning ear to ear, and screaming my heart out was one of the proudest and most authentic and exhilarating moments of my whole life.
I learned what it meant to challenge myself, to overcome doubt, and to make something exciting happen. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive. With every push of the pedal, every inhale of fresh island air, and every bead of sweat that dripped from my pores, I was present – fully immersed in that sweltering, painful, beautiful moment.
My (continued) search for adventure
I can’t explain how hard it was to return home from that first backpacking trip. Admittedly, I struggle with the end of any adventure – whether five months abroad or a weekend in the mountains. The transition isn’t easy, and it’s important to keep searching for ways to feel alive.
My journey has taught me that adventure isn’t about living dangerously in order to escape rules and routines. It’s not about chasing a thrill or constantly trying to cross things off of a bucket list.
[bcct tweet=”Adventure is whatever forces you to be present and makes you feel grateful and excited to be alive.” via=”no”]
It’s about saying yes to opportunities that will challenge and change you – opportunities that you might never experience by sticking to “the plan.”
Since my first solo trip, I’ve traveled to many more countries. I’ve gone surfing, white water rafting, skydiving, cliff jumping, paragliding, and bungee jumping.
I still spend a lot of time reading travel blogs, but my perspective towards them has shifted. I read others’ stories of adventure, and I no longer feel frustrated; I feel excited for the writer and inspired by their experiences. I feel thankful for my past experiences and for those yet to come.
This mental shift has come from an endless practice of prioritizing what’s important to me: exploring the world, connecting with others, and getting outside as often as possible. These are some of the ways I seek and pursue my personal adventure.
In order to find and follow the things that make me feel alive, I’ve had to rely on my instincts and curiosities above my plan.
[bcct tweet=”Life is not something that happens to you.” via=”no”]
Experiencing life to its fullest is something you go out and do. And ditching (or at least adapting) your plan to create and experience your life – in all of its moments of unthinkable challenge and breathtaking bliss – will make you value it that much more.
“When nothing is certain, anything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble
Discover your possible. Explore your uncertainties. Live your adventure.