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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 bare 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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5 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.

  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!

  3. January 13, 2011 2:26 am

    There is much wisdom in your words.

  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.

  5. January 13, 2011 3:17 am

    A nice reflection on leafing through photos.

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