I like to travel. Well, I did, before having kids. Now-a-days, my travel consists of trips to and from school and the weekly grocery run. But there was a time when crossing large bodies of water and infusing myself in different cultures in new continents was something I got to experience in person, not just watch on the Discovery Channel. In fact, in my three plus decades, I’ve visited quite a few unique and memorable places. France. Spain. Mexico. The Bahamas. Canada. Jamaica. And my favorite, Australia.
While extensive travel isn’t a part of my lifestyle presently, if social media is good for anything, it’s does provide a venue to live vicariously through others. As I sit with three screaming kiddos running a muck throughout the house, I can drift off into another’s paradise when they share photos of their honeymoon experience in Punta Cana and comical commentary about a recent work trip to Europe. I may not be able to be there in person, but the palm tree selfies and monument observances bring back memories of some of my adventures.
It’s funny. Memories that is. Many times we spend countless hours and more dollars than we wish to admit planning for trips that we count down to in such anticipation. Whether it’s international or domestic, unless you’re stuck traveling with a stowaway you’d rather not, vacations are times we all get excited about. You get to spend time with loved ones and pray that when you return your relationships are in still intact. You get to put your normal routines on hold and experience life in ways like never before, which includes getting out of routine only to work for three weeks afterward to get the rest of the family back in the previously stated normal routine. You get to forget work for said number of days, even though you know when you return you will question if the trip was worth it as you dig out of more emails than you knew an inbox could hold.
But it is worth it, right? Because your making memories that will last a lifetime! I am sure that’s some travel agency’s motto right there. And I’d bet that the memories that they sell you on are those that leave your heart warm and a smile on your face that can’t be wiped off. Because that’s what we all want. That’s why we spend a small fortune doing just that. But memories are finicky little things, and if you were to take a moment to think back to some of the most memorable experiences you’ve have, it’s actually not those that you would have thought your brain would have saved space for. In fact, when things in life go perfectly as planned, you may not recall each detail about the experience vividly, probably just remembering the feeling you had at the time. But when your experience has a kink in the system, that memory can’t seem to be wiped off the slate.
I was in high school when I first boarded a plane and left my family to spend 10 days with people I somewhat knew in places I had only see in school books. Our French and Spanish classes united and took a summer trip to the countries we had spent several years learning about. I am sure the trip was educational, however what I remember most was a few experiences I never wish I endured. I remember calling my parents about half-way through the trip in tears as I explained to them that while everyone else was taking in the scenery and practicing their language skills, I had had nearly every bodily fluid make its way on me.
You see, on the extensive flight, I took Dramamine which not only catered to my motion-sicknesses needs but pushed me into a heavy slumber. So when the kid in the seat in front of me didn’t get up for the duration of the flight, I didn’t notice since I, too, was plastered in my space. However, when I saved my back from the confines under the seat in front of me, the overwhelming urine smell and lovely toxic stain became my best friend on the trip with no washing machines. While the rest of my classmates enjoyed the architecture of Paris, I will forever remember Notre Dame, because it was the place one of the ten thousand pigeons shared their left over lunch with me why way of a bowel movement all over my clothes. No, those two experiences didn’t put me over the edge. But getting puked on by another classmate who was trying to nurse a hangover from the night before did. I was out of clean jeans and sanity. I may not remember the taste of the food or the brush strokes of the famous artwork in the Louvre, but I’ll always remember my multiple misfortunes.
My trip to Mexico was my last before becoming an adult where I would have real worries. I’d be trading in school stress for work stress and pile on top of that a healthy dose of mortgage and endless bills. We spend our whole lives wanting to grow up that the moment we do we realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. So a lot was riding on that trip, and the trip delivered. I know, because I have the pictures to prove it. But the memories I have of getting chased by locals to our rooms and the pizza we scarfed down covered in sand from falling off the balcony reminded me of how the whole “all-inclusive” concept it a total marketing ploy.
Upon graduation, my dad and I took a trip around the world, literally, to check Australia off his bucket list. After two years of saving and a day tossed away to air travel, we set foot in the land down under. The trip of a lifetime – and one I will definitely never forget! Especially the time that I lost dad in the mall in Sydney because he exited his restroom on the opposite side I exited mine. And this was a decade ago, when no one had cell phones so if it weren’t for the locals seeing us panic that lead to our reuniting, I may still be wondering the mall halls with a search squad. Or the fact that our Catholic guilt is so strong that every Sunday, no matter where in the world we are, we go to church. In Sydney, we found a Catholic Church in walking distance from the hotel that was stunning… all except for the crazed 20-year-old that stood in the front nearly on the alter during mass staring at all in attendance like he would pull out a grenade at any time. I looked around, realizing that obviously he was a regular since everyone else continued with the knee-stand-sit Catholic pattern, oblivious to this threat. Yes, I will remember the kangaroos and the outback, but I will never forget the hiccups.
Every trip has them. Hiccups. And they aren’t ones that holding your breath will fix. During them, you may be mortified, or willing to do anything to fix it. Like when I was in Canada with my cousin, dad, and grandma and I nearly relocated to the shower with a blanket and pillow to drown out my grandma’s snore. Or when no one told Cory and I that it was over an hour drive from the airport to Ocho Rios in Jamaica to get to our resort, on a bus with no bathroom. Looking back, I am thrilled no one did tell this bathroom-stressed gal because I would have peed my pants just thinking about peeing my pants.
I guess a vacation is really just an analogy for life, right? Think about it. You plan. You experience. You learn and grow. Sometimes there is tears, sometimes there’s laughs, and sometimes there are both at the same time. But if there is one thing that can be guaranteed on both accounts, it’s that perfect isn’t feasible. I don’t even know why the word exists because it’s definition doesn’t. Nothing is perfect. No matter how much we try, we can’t be. No matter how much money we spend, something will go wrong. And even if perfect was something we could attain, is it really something we would want?
I laugh now about my trip to Europe. When I see a bird fly by or sit close to a kid on a plane, I recall those unpleasant memories and giggle to myself. Or when someone brings up their beautiful escape to Cancun, I grin, remembering the level of starvation that I experienced as a vegetarian in a country my stomach wasn’t prepared for. And Australia… I will forever be bonded with that place, yet I thank God, literally, that I wasn’t bound inside that church for longer than the length of mass.
I’ll take imperfect any day if that means that I got to make memories with my dad, just me and him, as we experienced a world of “no worries” down under. And I’ll accidentally eat squid when I thought it was onion rings, if that meant I got to spend some quality time with three of my friends as we lived life to its fullest. I’ll listen to my grandma snoring every day, because in retrospect, I’m just grateful that I have a grandma – and that she loved me enough to allow me to be a part of her experience too.
Making memories isn’t about the perfect. It’s about what you do with the imperfect. It’s now really about making lemonade out of lemons, but how messy you get, how much sugar you add, and how many laughs you bring as you do it. Toss away any expectations you have for life, because the only thing you should expect is to expect the unexpected. And I tend to think that it’s during those times that we realize most who is really in control. And I can tell you for sure, it’s not us.
Stop being rigid or particular. Stop stressing about what you want to happen and just be grateful that something is happening. Don’t sweat over a stain on your backpack, even if it means you reek for a week. Laugh more, even if that means laughing at yourself. Experience more, even if it means taking a chance that something won’t go as planned. That’s what memories are all about. So take a leap of faith and know that even if something as catastrophic as a hurricane rains on your parade, literally, I can promise you this – you will have a plethora of memories that you are bound to never forget.