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Finding Meaning when Your Travels are Filled with Fear

Learning to escape while staying safe in your big, beautiful life

I snapped the buckle into place and turned to watch baggage handlers toss suitcases unceremoniously in the cargo hold. The gnawing in my gut had risen to a slow burn in my throat. What was I thinking, leaving my family for this silly, selfish trip? Arriving in a foreign country at midnight by myself – hoping to catch the last ferry and then find my way to a hotel. By myself.

So much I didn’t know, so much I couldn’t control, so much that scared me.

sunrise at the beachMy original itinerary to a conference in Mexico had me arriving at 3 pm, early enough for margaritas on the beach before meeting friends for dinner. But the flight was over-sold and I was bumped to a flight 8 hours later. I was already uncertain about this conference that promised a gathering of like-minded and like-hearted women. It didn’t fit into my normal mold of networking and skill-building with easily measured take-aways. It scared me. And now my travel scared me.

My journey had become so complicated.

I spent the afternoon in the airport lounge, ignoring that sick feeling that made me want to forget the whole thing and go home. Maybe this was divine foreshadowing, a message from the universe of a plane crash or some other equally terrible thing. I should view being bumped as an early warning system – stay home and avoid all that tricky emotional stuff.

Arriving to no one

ferry to Isla du MujeresI arrived in Cancun 45 minutes ahead of the last ferry departure and fought for a taxi – they refused to drive me because they thought I was too late. But after a lot of pleading and arguing and praying, I made the ferry and got safely to my destination, Isla Mujeres. I stood on the deck during the ride, enjoying my Titanic moment on the front of the ship, alone and feeling pretty darn badass. So far so good.

After more negotiations for a taxi, I arrived at my new home for the weekend – one o’clock in the morning. Safe.

The next morning, I woke at dawn, shaking off the nerve-wracking unpredictability of my travels to take in the sunrise and all the island – and this conference – had to offer. After stopping for directions, I set off on foot to the conference – getting lost only once.

Be open. Breathe. Smile.

Categorizing the women who greeted me is nearly impossible. Other than breasts and vaginas, it was a smorgasbord of generations, career choices, sexual preferences and cultures. I met women who worked outside the home, women who’d climbed the corporate ladder and women who’d struggled from job to job their whole lives – women just starting out and women already finished with their careers. But they were here for a reason, a reason I had yet to discover.

Miriam LandryOver the course of three days, I met women I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. There was Claire Cook, author of the book that inspired the movie, Must Love Dogs, and Miriam Landry, fledgling author who touched my heart with her intensely fragile, yet amazingly big dreams. I met Mary Carwile who overcame her fear of flying to become a flight attendant for 15 years before retiring and then writing a book. Dina Hayes, Professor at New England School of Law, shared her work as a human rights lawyer. A Mayan blessing on International Women’s Day felt like a baptism.

When Katie Milton began her session, she asked us to close our eyes – and then she began to sing. Her voice swirled around my like a prayer and while most women did as they were instructed, I opened my eyes because I wanted to see and hear her gift. I watched her hands shake. Used to singing in front of many groups, this one unnerved her. Why? Because this song mattered to her. Unlike the pop songs she sings in bars, this one laid bare her true voice.

Lisa Koch had everyone clapping and singing and laughing to fun songs that addressed some very hard, emotional issues.

power phrasesAnd then there was Shelley Roberts, who took us to the dark side of what it means to be a woman of power – and then delivered beautiful and bold inspiration to help us all move forward together. Shelley wrapped up her session on power by asking us if we knew the phrase for power in its plural form (like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows).

Power pluralized is an order of angels.

A parked car – your getaway vehicle

From the speakers to the attendees, the strongest message I received was the absolute and universal need for an escape hatch. I don’t mean a “50 ways to leave your lover” kind of escape, but rather a place to come to peace with our thoughts and feelings and hopes.

time for sharingFor some women, traveling to exotic destinations might serve as a parachute, a launch into a bigger and more authentic way of living. For some it might mean being more open to their power, whether it’s a yet-to-be-written book, being a more compassionate volunteer or learning how better balance work and life. As the days wore on, I listened to women share their dreams, some simple, some complicated but all very real.

Claire Cook’s getaway car really was a car, where she wrote her first novel while waiting for her kids to finish their swim meets. For me, it was a locked bathroom door and a journal hidden in the cupboard behind the toilet paper. That small, cramped bathroom gave me space to write what was in my heart, it was my gateway to being published in a Chicken Soup for Soul book and the hundreds of other publications I’ve contributed to since then.

Claire cautioned us to protect our dreams. “You can talk an idea to death, choking it before it ever has a chance to blossom,” she said. And then she shared her five simple tips for pulling the rip cord on that parachute:

  1. many words of wisdomRise above the negativity. Make your choices and then own them.
  2. Be more you instead of following someone else's dream.
  3. Confound expectations. If everyone's already doing it, you need to add originality to succeed.
  4. Do nice things for other people. When you're stressed, doing something nice for someone else can be the energy you need to help yourself.
  5. Find a computer mentor to help you through the world’s new and exciting digital landscape.

Escaping mediocrity and sharing your voice with the world is both exhilarating and terrifying. And it can be a whisper or a prayer or an order of angels but the result is the same. “Your voice can take a moment or a lifetime to find,” said Katie. “And once you find it, sharing it with the world can be a blessing to both you and the world.”

moving forward and homeHome and planning my next travel, I’m still not sure I can define my biggest takeaway – and maybe that’s okay. Maybe what I needed was affirmation that following a silly, selfish dream can lead me to amazing journeys, both in my heart, my career and this world. And maybe that’s enough.


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