Travel is Medicine? The healing powers of sunshine in Scotland

Travel is Medicine? The healing powers of sunshine in Scotland
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It’s funny how sometimes cliché travel sayings require a dozen reads before they impart the insight that made them so popular in the first place. On this trip, that happened with this saying, which has been quoted so many times that it has lost its attribution; “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”.

We travel not to escape life…
At the beginning of the trip, I was trying (and failing) to escape life. My wounds from a recent breakup were raw. I don’t like how I’m treated at work and that created another midlife crisis. My landlord was bullying me to sign a yearlong lease, and despite loving my flat, I felt like I was not in a state to make that kind of commitment.

During my first week in Ireland, I wanted to forget about all these things, but without a car, most of my time was spent in hostels with students and tour buses that seemed to require at least 65 years to ride, but somehow I was on them. The weather was typical for Ireland but I was wondering why I was spending nearly all of my annual leave getting rained on, when I hadn’t recovered from spending two winters back to back. When I was struggling to adjust from jetlag and someone in the hostel was making kissy noises over Skype with a remote boyfriend, it was even harder to quiet my mind from all the things that were stressing me out.

Somewhere in Scotland (Fort Williams). Photo courtesy of Katie.

Somewhere in Scotland (Fort Williams). Photo courtesy of Katie.

But somewhere on the mystical island of Skye that all changed. I felt comforted by being nestled between the mountains and the sea again. I stopped worrying about past and future and instead revealed in the feeling of sun on my face in a country with some of the most infamous weather on the planet. I didn’t even check the weather to see how long it would last, because my days were pretty much planned, so the show would go on, in the wind, rain or sun. I started to talk to people again, whether they were old or young, and they reminded me how awesome my life is. Literally to the point, where I thought, “what was I complaining about last week?”

Yes, I don’t know what I’ll do next but I got paid to travel the world while earning an advanced degree. My life has not always been easy but looking back I won’t change any of it. Despite the awful way this most recent relationship ended, I don’t regret any of the time we spent together. With him, hanging out at home was as fun as going an adventure. We dressed up to stay in for Valentine’s Day (he even brought out the cufflinks), baked a chocolate cake, ate it and cuddled by the fireplace. It was perfect.  We went to Haida Gwaii, which was #1 on my British Columbia bucket list, walked awkwardly in rubber coveralls and ate omelets with foraged nettles for breakfast.  He was the one who suggested we find couchsurfing hosts, which made a wonderful trip even more epic.  All those moments were better because they were shared.  While things didn’t work out with us, he made me realize I can have both comfort and adventure in a relationship and I shouldn’t compromise. In some ways, I slightly regret turning down my Fulbright for my current position, but then I wouldn’t have an adorable albino hedgehog named Pearl waiting for me when I return to Vancouver.

My new roommate.

My new roommate.

Would I prescribe travel as medicine?

Even though my nomad life has meant that I’ve had to deal with some incredibly difficult things alone, I still find traveling incredibly healing, mostly because it puts your problems in perspective. When I wrote my last post about my personal troubles, I was in Belfast. Northern Ireland suffered from forty years of conflict stemming from different views of national identity and belonging. Guerilla warfare and terrorism led to the deaths of almost 4,000 people including women and children. While the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, there are still walls dividing the communities, segregated schools and the pain lives on in people’s memories. My couchsurfing host lived near the Republic of Ireland and grew up to the constant sound of helicopters in his small village of 50 people.

My huggable bus driver. Photo courtesy of Katie.

My bus driver who has the best hugs. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Travel also reminds me how many good people are out there. My ridiculous bus driver (decked out in a highlands cow hat and a kilt) on a trip to Loch Ness kept giving me hugs because he knew I was traveling alone. Even though he didn’t know how much I needed them. Sure enough, I bumped into him again this morning to get one more bear hug to power me through my last days in the United Kingdom. A stranger helped me wash bird poop out of my hair this morning. I witnessed one of my best friend’s new baby visit his first pub and eat his first ninety-nine ice cream.

Frosty pints with a new friend. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Frosty pints with a new friend. Photo courtesy of Katie.

I met a local Scottish wind turbine climber who invited me to enjoy a frosty pint in the blistery 28 degree sunshine in Oban. Five hours later, we were fighting over a phone to fact-check jello wrestling rules because I didn’t believe he actually was paid to referee that in Australia.  I flew through the Scottish countryside with two Italian winemakers in a zippy Fiat. In Skye, I met an educational researcher and we geeked out as the sunset at 10 PM over the Portree Harbor. In Edinburgh, my host loved country music so we had a hoe-down in his living room (no whiskey required!).

My hoe down friend. Photo courtesy of Katie.

My hoe down friend. (Apologies for me in this picture… I left the house at 5 AM and had too much fun to shower!).  Photo courtesy of Katie.

Travel allows me to glow in these magical moments and reminds me to have faith that things will work out. The timing of the breakup allowed me to extend my work trip in Kansas to see someone I haven’t been able to forget, even 10 years after we met. In Scotland, I could immerse myself completely in what was happening now because my head and heart weren’t distracted by being in a relationship.  I didn’t like feeling pressured to prematurely decide on my flat, but I can’t wait to go back home and settle in with my new hedgehog instead of worrying about packing and moving.

Me. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Me. Photo courtesy of Katie.

So will travel solve all your problems? No, but it will help you appreciate the small things. Hot showers with bare feet. Being able to pee without balancing two backpacks on your lap because you’re afraid to put them on the floor. Being able to buy exactly what you want from the store without running around the city on a wild goose chase. Not getting kicked out of your room at 10 AM. And of, course, sleeping in your own bed.  It’s easy to let these little things in life escape you, but to quote another cliche, one day you’ll realize that the little things were big things.

Couldn’t have a post without him. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Couldn’t have a post without him. Photo courtesy of Katie.

I am leaving Scotland with a tan and I barely got rained on. I am not going to be eaten in the near future, unlike my poor friends, the highland cows. I just used a washroom in the Glasglow airport that won the “loolof the year award” (haha).  Even the bird poop on my head is supposed to be good luck. I haven’t answered any of the questions that plagued me on the beginning of the trip but how can I complain?

“Some days you start singin’
And you don’t need a reason
Sometimes the world’s just right
Your clear eyes ain’t even blinkin’
Got a heart full of grateful
For all you’ve been given
Some days you just get by
Yeah some days you’re just alive
Some days you’re livin
-Dierks Bentley

Song of the Moment: No– Jason Aldean & Living– Dierks Bentley
Book of the Moment: Making Sense of Life’s Transitions- William Bridges

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