Planning Long Term Travel Part II: Patience

Regardless of how long it takes to earn your freedom, remember that you are laboring for more than just a vacation.  A vacation, after all, merely rewards work.  Vagabonding justifies it.

-Rolf Potts, Vagabonding:  An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

After our long-term travel decision had been made, there was an initial flurry of planning that led to a stagnant period of waiting. Unlike the comparative ease of preparation, waiting turned out to be hard work and required a certain capacity for patience before hitting the road.   So, while patience is a virtuous teacher, waiting is her killer final exam.

Why wait? As mentioned in the previous post, a bit of planning was needed to extricate ourselves from our lifestyle. Jobs, cars, homes and a houseful of possessions- all of these needed to be dispensed and while getting rid of stuff is easier than losing weight, it does takes time.

Equally important, we needed funds for the trip, with extra for a return to the US someday. Saving money definitely takes time and patience, and while there were things in our stripped down lifestyle we needed to get used to (like sharing one car), the learning curve wasn’t as steep as we thought it might be. Turns out, we didn’t miss a bigger apartment, shopping at the mall or frequent dinners out when the trade-off was freedom of time.

So, while saving money is one form of patience I can manage, there were other examples where I had to dig into my reserves, which are about as deep as the California water table.

One involves the selling of my condo. Perry and I had agreed in June 2015 to leave in April, but unaware we would have that fateful eureka moment, I had made the regrettable decision to extend the current lease on my condo the month before, requiring a ten month wait before I could sell it.  My eleventh year of home ownership proved to be the most tiresome and expensive one yet, with financial obligations ranging from major (assessment for historic brickwork repairs) to minor (bathroom and kitchen maintenance). Every email from the management company raised my ire as I watched precious funds meant for the road flow out the door.  

Breathe deeply, Paula.

Anticipating that a long fuse is a critical skill in approaching guaranteed mishaps on the road, I worked on my patience during the everyday, garden-variety irritations we all encounter: a traffic jam, picking the wrong line at the supermarket, navigating an automated phone system or getting your car dinged in a parking lot. I tried to approach such situations with a shrug and a smile, pretending I was in a foreign country and these minor calamities were just part of the adventure.  And while I definitely improved my approach, let’s just say I won’t be nominated for any Zen Master awards anytime soon.

However, of all the effort I put into cultivating patience, work is where I really learned to embrace it, and appreciate it more fully.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just turn into some kind of Pollyanna. I still felt irritated during unproductive conference calls or bored during interminable PowerPoint presentations (performance metrics…zzz), so I’m not pretending that I magically transformed into the patron saint of patience.

But my attitude in how I approached these situations changed. Recognizing how this job would fund my travels, I adopted an attitude of gratefulness. And while that might sound trite, my daily gratitude exercise proved very effective in creating a positive mindset. I didn’t worry about having visibility, securing the best projects or being promoted- I simply appreciated things for what they were and was grateful for whatever learnings I could glean. I found an additional upside to cultivating this ‘skill of appreciation’, as my newfound outlook was mirrored back at me by my colleagues, where we formed strong relationships and even stronger results. This attitude wasn’t just some feel good woo-woo either, as I achieved better performance in the last few months than I had in the last few years.  Sure, knowing the end in sight was a contributing factor, but I'm convinced my 'gratitude adjustment' was key.

Gratitude is a bit of squishy thing, so you might be wondering how that works, practically speaking. I use a gratitude journal, which Tim Ferriss calls Gratitude Training and the premise is that by focusing on the positive, you can dramatically improve your happiness and success. Thus, my daily ritual involves answering these questions:

  • What am I grateful for? (AM)
  • What would make today great? (AM)
  • What were three amazing things that happened today? (PM)
  • How could I have made today better? (PM)

I can feel anxiety and stress melt away (similar to meditation) when I do this, so even with confrontational customers, office politics or marathon conference calls, frustration and irritation are kept in check.

As we begin our travel adventure, I’m still working on my patience, especially when it comes to waiting, but I’m packing my newfound impatience-busting secret weapon: gratitude.