Most of us fall comfortably into routines. We like drinking our morning coffee in the same chair, or having a particular salad dressing for our lettuce, or stacking the plates in a specific direction when loading our dishwashers. Some more than others of us are prone to repeating these routines; we like things done in a particular way. And pretty soon, we get “set in our ways. ” The danger of this is that we insist on our preferences to the point where we become rigid, unbendable, unlikable. But travel works against these tendencies.
Travel makes us ask what’s important. When we’re out of our routines and away from the places where we have control over the details of life, we are forced to be flexible, to care less about trivialities and more about what really matters. No, the hotel coffee isn’t as good as our own. The rental cabin’s kitchen is lacking a good knife. The heater is hard to regulate, so we are alternately hot, then cold at night.
But really, how much do those things matter? In Jackson, Wyoming, our hotel wasn’t fancy, but we were right across from acres and acres of a wildlife refuge for elk. We watched herds graze. There were moose!
The mountains across the valley turned purple at dusk. And in the morning we drove just seven miles into Grand Teton National Park to watch the sun rise on the mountains, turning the white snow on the peaks into silver.
Things go wrong; how will we react? Not all travel experiences are beautiful. We had a flat tire. This forced us to spend a morning at a tire shop in Lincoln, Nebraska getting four new tires.
I had altitude sickness. I did not want to be sick, but I was. How rude of me to decline a lovely meal that our friends in Colorado prepared for us; how sad to miss such great conversation over the meal while I slept off my nausea.
After driving for hours through desolate landscape, we were more than ready to stop for the day in Casper, Wyoming. However, at the first place we stopped, we learned there were no hotel rooms left in town. ( An Elton John concert. We had not thought to plan for this. Really? It was a weekday in the middle of March.)
But the problems? We got through them. We waited for our car to be fixed and we drank coffee, together. I adjusted to the altitude and we had fun strolling through the streets of Salida the next day. And together, we left Casper behind us and got through another long, difficult 100 miles of Wyoming before finding a hotel.
Like every other disagreeable event in life, problems test a relationship. Will we choose cheer over anger? Will we turn away from blame? Will we be kind to the other in adversity and walk through to the other side of this problem together? If we (or you) can answer yes both in travel and in marriage, these are the ways to survive, to flourish, to love.
Decisions, decisions. Meals, lodging, activities: multiple options confront at every turn. This hotel or that one? What do you feel like eating? Which café? Should we turn off here? Drive that far, see this site? Are you up for the sunset? Is this a good spot for a picnic? Again, the way we handle all these little travel decisions is a metaphor for the way to handle life together.
Here’s what we’ve learned after years of practice: we voice our preferences, and then we gauge the degree to which these things matter to the other. Sometimes he or I feels strongly. If it matters to him, we do what he wants; if it matters to me, we do what I want. ( If it matters to neither of us, well, we plunge in and take our chances….)
The southern entrances to Yellowstone National Park were closed, still buried under the winters’ snows. Dave had it in his mind to drive the 32 miles to where the road was closed- to get as close as possible to the park. I thought the plan was foolish, but it was important to him, and really, why not? To get to a sign that said ROAD CLOSED,
we drove through gorgeous forests on empty roads with lovely mountain views.
Sometimes I like to wander into book stores or galleries in little towns. Not interested, Dave waits outside, preferably in the sun.
Like all good friendships, honesty matters. And so does a little bit of sacrifice.
So as I report on our trip, it seems I have also reported on marriage. I’m glad I’m taking trips with my husband, David. Travel makes it clear that who we travel with, whether on road trip or in life is a pretty big deal.