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Photos of the valley

January 12, 2011

From the first days of planning that trip to the day when it’s time to finally leave for the long-awaited vacation, travel is exciting.

I remember when I was in college, I decided on a whim that I was going to Estonia.  I had two months to find the money, get my passport (I had never had one before), and get all the things I would need for the trip.  When the day finally came to fly from Atlanta to Tallinn, I couldn’t wait to land.

Upon arriving in Estonia, every one of us were in awe that we were actually in a former part of the Soviet Union.  And all around us, there were many examples of the communist regime that had ruled just a few short years earlier.  Being in a new place, seeing new sights, discovering history, tasting new foods, hearing a different language – nothing can be more exciting to a traveler.  Especially if you are experiencing a different culture in a foreign land for the first time.

The trip is a whirlwind of experiences, sights, activities, and people.  You’re tired but it’s a good tired.  And as the trip comes to an end and it is time to head home, you savor the last few moments of that trip.

You get home, try to recover from jet lag, and are so excited that you relive your memories by sharing with friends and family.  You are already thinking about that next trip.  Then reality sets in and you get back to the daily grind.  Your memories and pictures of that trip are treasured and you are so moved by that experience, you can’t wait to travel again.

The mountain top experience

The photo above is me finishing a 5 1/2 hour hike – an  elevation climb of 2,000 feet up to the 10,000 foot peak of Round Top.  Some of my best photos from that hike were the views from the top of various lakes, the Sierra Nevadas, and Lake Tahoe.

The photo above was taken near the end of the hike showing what I had accomplished.  One of my favorite photos (seen in A new year, a new challenge, a new direction, and a new blog) is the view from the top.  Both of these photos reveal how many of us look back on our vacations – our favorite memories from the high points of the trip and the picturesque ones that make our trip look so beautiful.

Our memories are like those travel photos – remembering the best moments and celebrating what we did when it was all over.  But do you ever remember this photo?

Reflections from the valley

This is the photo of that steep uphill climb after hiking for 2 hours, unsure if I can finish the task.  This is that photo where we were so sick from food poisoning that we didn’t think we would make it.  This is that photo that shows us lost, not knowing where to go, in a bad area of town, and no one can help us because we don’t speak the same language.  This photo shows us the place where our camera and wallet were stolen leaving us with barely enough money to get through the rest of our trip.

Do we remember these photos?

When we return from our trips, we need to reflect on the valley.  Inevitably, every trip has something that didn’t go well and where our resolve was tested.  Do we look back on those photos and remember what lessons we learned? Are there travel tips we can use for our next trip?

“Sorry.  I didn’t learn anything from getting my money and camera stolen except that there are people out there that will take advantage of a tourist.”

So you didn’t learn anything from that so there is no need to look at the photo right?  The great thing about conflict (OK, it’s not great but bear with me) is that even when we can’t do anything to change the situation, it can be a moment where our character is tested and molded in the face of adversity.  Maybe there isn’t anything you could learn from it but maybe you became a better person for it because you learned how to cope and get through it.

You want everything to go exactly as planned with no bumps in the road or unexpected turns?  Great!  Stay home and don’t travel!!

I recently read a story about Todd Wassel who almost died on a boat in Vietnam.  He survived – 70 others didn’t.  Could he have done things differently to prevent the near tragedy in his life?  Aside from not getting on the boat, could he have prevented the hurricane?  So what did he learn from the experience?  Todd’s biggest lesson?  Maybe it was that he survived and has the scars to prove it.  Scars develop character.

While our mountaintop and picturesque photos are the ones we love to look at when the vacation is over, we need to remember those photos in the valley as well – looking straight up the mountain at the painful climb we had to endure.

Sometimes there aren’t lessons to be learned.  Sometimes these moments just teach our character to endure.  These are great photos too.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 12:46 am

    “scars develop character”- I like that. Sometimes we have to live through tragedy to really know who we are as people- there is no longer the “what we would do” situation, we know what we did. Great piece and I loved reading Todd’s too.

    • January 13, 2011 11:33 am

      I actually wrote that line with Todd’s story in my mind. I will be the first to admit I hate when things don’t go the way I planned. So this post was just as much for me as it was sharing it with others.

  2. January 13, 2011 1:31 am

    Very true Jeremy. Travel, or life for that matter, is never perfect – presenting challenges and valley’s all the time. If we are negative about all imperfect situations, we will pout and go downhill, but if we can learn and develop (search for positive) from tough situations – we can overall benefit and become better people.
    Great reminder!

    • January 13, 2011 11:41 am

      I wrote about this but I still wrestle with it. Life is going to have ups and downs. It’s not about preventing them from happening but how we deal with them. I guess that’s the moral of the story. And in the end, it should make us better people.

  3. January 13, 2011 2:26 am

    There is much wisdom in your words.

    • January 13, 2011 12:04 pm

      Thanks Inka. I think I wrote this more for myself than anyone else.

  4. January 13, 2011 2:29 am

    The not-brilliant times when traveling are the ones that really shape your character.
    Nice reminder to remember the low points as well as the highs. Although the photo analogy doesn’t work for me because there are no photos of the time I had the runs on the side on the Himalaya, in full view of the rice farmers below, or of the time I nearly ran over a little old Vietnamese lady on my motorbike. But they were both learning experiences, let me tell you.

    • January 13, 2011 12:05 pm

      My apologies. I only had a photo showing the uphill climb we sometimes have to face. No photos of the runs! Ha! :) See, even low moments in travels can be looked back upon with some humor and amusement!

  5. January 13, 2011 3:17 am

    A nice reflection on leafing through photos.

    • January 13, 2011 12:06 pm

      Thought you might appreciate the photo analogy! :)

  6. January 13, 2011 10:42 am

    Sometimes we all go through stuff like this in order to learn and understand life. Glad you’re doing great after everything and may you have a wonderful 2011 in safe and happy travels.

    • January 13, 2011 12:07 pm

      Thanks David. Highs and lows are a part of travel and life. It’s how we deal with them that is the key.

  7. January 13, 2011 11:34 am

    There are no mountains without valleys.
    In theory the bad things should make the good ones stand out so much; although often it ends up the other way around. Great times make the bad ones hurt far worse.

    Reflecting is quite helpful no matter which direction you do it in.

  8. January 13, 2011 12:43 pm

    Excellent post Jeremy. We couldn’t agree more. It is our experience that the difficult times are often the most valuable, and learning to see the value in these experiences is life altering.

    We recently wrote a post on gratitude. We try to be grateful for every experience and honor that there is no good or bad – there just is. The mountain top is not more valuable than the valley and visa versa. And we know that every experience – every valley and every mountain top – is an important experience because it simply is the experiences we are having.

    Okay, I’m getting pretty deep here.

    • January 13, 2011 12:57 pm

      I actually wrote this post for me. When I look back, I do learn a lot of lessons from traveling. However, I tend to remember trips as better than they really were. I just finished a book encouraging people to live their lives like a movie. What we have to realize is that we can’t avoid the negative but it’s how we deal with it when it comes that matters.

      I can get easily frustrated when things don’t go as planned. I admire your attitudes and write stuff like this to remind myself of the same things.

  9. January 13, 2011 2:57 pm

    That trip to Estonia changed your life! Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    • January 13, 2011 3:22 pm

      Indeed. You can’t forget your first real travel experience – especially one like that!

  10. January 13, 2011 3:26 pm

    Isn’t it the things that went wrong that we do remember vividly and talk about most often?
    But whenever it does, there’s always something you can learn from it, as this post is about, even if just scars…which develop character.
    I’ll get around to blogging on how I deal with adverse events Jeremy, or how to ‘sense’ the outcome of any situation you face.

    • January 13, 2011 4:05 pm

      I think the things that go wrong we look back on later and remember. However some may choose not to remember the bad stuff at all and just look back fondly on the good parts. I think there are lessons to be learned even when there are no lessons to be learned. When there is nothing else we can take from a bad experience, our character is the one that grows from it.

      • January 13, 2011 7:51 pm

        I think most of us here agree on that.
        And it is only a bad thing, if we take / learn nothing from it. So in that sense we have no bad experiences. Only learning experiences.
        I once listened to a marketing guru spouting on about he had never made a mistake… and I went ”Yeah Right?!”

        But when you think about it, he’s absolutely correct.

      • January 13, 2011 7:52 pm

        I left out that he went on to say, that his ‘mistakes’ he calls ‘learning experiences’.

  11. January 13, 2011 7:52 pm

    i love that you went to estonia! had a professor at berkeley (visiting) from estonia who was so great & quirky i’ve wanted to go see him there since. you endured some tough stuff, and i think “street smarts” acquired from being the victims of theft is pretty important. it’s hard to imagine when it’s you and your stuff, but i always try to remember that it could have been worse and still find a way to be grateful. love this line- “You want everything to go exactly as planned with no bumps in the road or unexpected turns? Great! Stay home and don’t travel!!” i would go one step further and say don’t leave your house! crap happens everywhere! :)

    • January 14, 2011 12:17 pm

      Estonia was the first country I ever visited (well I did go to Canada but it’s my first flight out of the country). And just to clarify, not all of those experiences I listed were mine. Those were just examples of the low points of a trip. I have had my share for sure and I remember them vividly. Having the right attitude is great and necessary when you travel (or just leave your home). That’s why the main audience for this post was me! I need the reminder! :)

  12. Andrea permalink
    January 15, 2011 11:02 am

    Great post! We’re only three weeks into our long-term travels and have already had some challenges. They always teach you about yourself and the world.

    • January 15, 2011 10:00 pm

      I am sure you will have many, many more “photos of the valley” on your trip that you can share and grow stronger from! :)

  13. January 29, 2011 2:27 am

    Great post Jeremy. I like how you incorporated the idea with photos. Beautiful. I always remember the struggles and I embrace them as I know they have helped to make me a stronger person

  14. February 5, 2011 7:18 pm

    Always good to look back and say “I did it, struggles and all”. Good post!

  15. February 23, 2011 12:51 pm

    Looks like a great place to hike!


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