The Power of Perspective and How it affects Travel.

Our disposition has a lot to do with how we orient ourselves each day. Perspective not only affects every single decision we make, but also how others interact with us. Are you feeling happy and radiating good vibes? Or are you exhausted and cranky and come across as aloof or aggressive? How can we struggle one day and thrive the next? The significance of perspective is that there are many sides, and we can consider a multitude of them.

Immersing ourselves in different cultures, environments, and situations expands our perspective, offering each of us the opportunity for greater understanding, tolerance, and objectivity.

Our disposition has a lot to do with how we orient ourselves each day.  Perspective not only affects every single decision we make but also how others interact with us.  Are you feeling happy and radiating good vibes?  Or are you exhausted and cranky and come across as aloof and aggressive?  How can we struggle one day and thrive the next?  The significance of perspective is that there are many sides, and we can consider a multitude of them.  Immersing ourselves in different cultures, environments, and situations expands our perspective, offering each of us the opportunity for greater understanding, tolerance, and objectivity.

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My friend, Pamela in Salvador Dali's home in Cadaques, Spain

What is perspective?

Our life is made up of millions of moments.  These accumulated events, no matter how insignificant or grand, are absorbed in our psyche and shape how we view ourselves and others in the world.  With nearly 8 billion humans on the planet and no two people sharing the same collective experiences, it seems reasonable that there are nearly 8 billion perspectives that are completely and utterly unique.  And the greatest element of perspective is our choice to change it.

Why is perspective valuable?

Our disposition has a lot to do with how we orient ourselves each day.   Perspective not only affects every single decision we make, but also how others interact with us.  Are you feeling happy and radiating good vibes? Or are you exhausted and cranky and come across as aloof or aggressive? How can we struggle one day and thrive the next?   

The significance of perspective is that there are many sides, and we can consider a multitude of them.  Immersing ourselves in different cultures, environments, and situations expands our perspective, offering each of us the opportunity for greater understanding, tolerance, and objectivity.

How does positive perspectives help?

An optimistic perspective will make more of your days brilliant. You feel good about yourself, confident in your decisions, you have delightful interactions, and life just feels easier.  External issues are shrugged off and conflict is resolved with greater ease.  Your light draws people in. 

When it comes to travel, this positivity makes a big impact on your journey.  I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ing your way in a foreign country, being blindly optimistic.  Let’s face it- not everything in the world is good.  I am talking about how we handle the heavy blows.  Travel triggers such as fear, mindless bureaucracy, and swindlers – those drive my patience to full blown zero.  Yet, I recognize that I must stay alert to frustrations to keep my attitude in check.

Consider the last time you helped a friend, family member, or stranger who was appreciative of your efforts, and you walked away feeling like a goodwill ambassador.  Now, recount the last time someone went above and beyond to help you.  Were you grateful?  Relieved?  Even in awe of their kindness, and looking to pay it forward?  Now close your eyes and let that warm, cozy feeling roll over you. 

One of my most incredible travel experiences was when I was lost and asked for directions from a woman on a bus in Austria.  I could have let the anxiety about being lost take over, but she offered me directions and opened a conversation that ultimately led me to stay at her home in Africa and living and traveling throughout Africa for the following years. My husband and I experienced this wonderful heart-welcoming hospitality again and again throughout our 8 months locked in Botswana in 2020. Our belief in karma didn’t hurt- good things out, good things back.

Vietnam still remains one of my favorite countries largely due to the friendliness, generous nature, and helpfulness of the locals throughout my entire experience there. I have very fond memories of being gifted dumplings, a grapefruit, a bag of longan fruit, a beer, and some seriously potent home-brewed grain alcohol on the ferry to Cat Ba Island merely by sitting next to some locals. While my Vietnamese stretched as far as please and thank you, it is truly impressive how far a good attitude, genuine curiosity, gratitude and a smile can get you.

You never know who will cross your path, but with kindness, mindfulness, and emotional fortitude your journey will be far more vibrant and wonderful.

Before climbing Tafelberg, Cederberg, South Africa

How does a negative perspective hinder you?

The problem with perspective is that it can easily get distorted, misinterpreted, or yanked out of context.  With nearly 8 billion varying perspectives, conflict is bound to happen.  And unfortunately, our “bad days” and pessimism don’t only singularly affect us.  One person’s shit experience is passed off to the next person, who shares it with six others.  Unfortunately, negativity cycles faster than positivity.

The frequent reports about bad travel behavior exemplify how some peoples’ tea-kettle tolerance is whistling with fury. The world’s population has been cooped up, stressed out, constantly fed streams of conflicting, ambiguous, and ever-changing information. Travel was not always easy before 2020, but now it can feel even more overwhelming.  The industries and institutions we loved and took for granted became vulnerable and have had to claw their way back to business, adjusting to new guidelines and regulations.

Unfortunately, throngs nostalgic for their old lifestyle are unwilling to abide by the new and frequently revised rules, which often must be enforced by the workers who have no hand in making them.  These businesses and their employees have become the whipping boy for our own intolerance and frustrations. Airlines, restaurants, hotels, chains and corner stores… have all been affected by factors largely out of their hands and customer service has become the face to abuse when our perspective is distorted.

Hanging Piece by Kendell Geers in Zeitz MOCCA, Cape Town, South Africa.

Reflecting on moments of negative perspective.

Have you reflected on moments and thought “I could have been so much cooler, I should have said this, I would have done that.”  Of course, you have. Everyone has. I think of them as cringe-worthy pinecone memories- they are sharp and sticky in my mind.

One of my worst experiences happened in India. I was feeling raw and beat down after weeks of having my guard up. India is a place where humor and lightness is a must.  It was monsoon season and I had been waiting for several days for the water levels to drop so I could cross a river to get to my next destination.  But nature had its plan and boat taxis weren’t running. When the day came to cross, the man running the guest house which I had waited out the weather, and I’d come to trust told me the price of the boat. When I got to the small dock, I boarded the small boat, handed the man my money and was told I had to pay double for the weight of my backpack. I am a small girl… me plus my backpack equal 65 kg., smaller than most of the men on the boat. It struck a nerve with me- I had enough. This was where I would take my stand.

He kicked me off the small motorboat and I tromped down the dock to the next man standing in front of his boat taxi. As I negotiated with him, the first guy yells over and demands for him not to take me. The first man’s boat filled up, set across the river, and I was left standing on the dock humiliated in front of several fishermen who had witnessed this westerner having a tantrum of principles. Upon his return, I swallowed my pride, shamefully crawled back to him with my tail between my legs, offered him the overcharged amount and an embarrassed apology and crossed the river. While I didn’t throw fists, some expletives may have been tossed around to someone who may or may not have deserved my contempt.

Looking back on it now, could I have handled it better? Absolutely. Could I have smiled, shrugged and thrown him a few extra rupees? Sure. Could I have approached him with kindness rather than irritability?  No question.  What’s done is done. Did I learn a hard life lesson that day about how your outlook on life affects where you are in relation to the rest of the world? Undeniably.  And do I still wince thinking about it.  Yes, but I am owning it.

Seeing it from the boater’s perspective, maybe the extra weight could have made space for a child, maybe he hadn’t worked in a few days and wanted to charge inflated rates for crossing the river.  Maybe he saw a westerner and thought she has money, I can charge her more.  Whatever his reasoning was, perhaps too many others had exhausted his tolerance and he was taking his own stand.       

Without these embarrassing moments we wouldn’t grow.  We wouldn’t recognize our own intolerance.  We wouldn’t know that we need to find ways to cope so the next time we want to cross the river we can do it “cooler.”

How to shift your perspective immediately to the positive?

When you notice you are feeling overwhelmed and in a negative space take a moment to chill.

Here are a few tips on what you can do:

Deep breathing.   A few deep breaths and your heart rate will slow, blood pressure will drop, stress levels will decrease, and your clouded brain will get fresh oxygen that can clear your mind. 

Smiling.  It releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that makes you feel good, but it also makes you appear more approachable.  Smiling at strangers will often lead to one of three reactions:

  1. Mirrored. Genuine and unpretentious.
  2. Bewildered.  Um… Do I know you?  You are looking at me funny.
  3. Snarling.  Then that asshole is in for a treat.  You can walk away unaffected, and they can continue to be in their shit space, OR you can dole out some of your sacred sunshine and turn their day around. 

Being mindful and meditate.  If you notice your initial reaction came out like a gut punch, reel it in and take a step back for a few moments.  Sit quietly, let your mind clear. Taking that time can help reassess the situation.

Being conscious of mood cycles.  Many medical conditions impact people’s moods- Hello PMS.  Understanding whether you are being impacted by external factors or if you are internalizing events can help with your perception.  Having the support of a medical professional can help get you resolve it through therapy and/or medication.

Shutting down our inner critic.  A friend calls this the “shitty committee,” often driven by fear or misunderstandings and lathered up by our own inner dialog.  Basically, bitch sesh, party of 1.  It takes a conscious effort to break free of these progressive negative thought patterns. I’ve heard plenty of stories about people feeling judged for eating alone in a restaurant. Let me tell you, that family at the next table over, laughing and having a good time, doesn’t give a shit if you are eating by yourself.

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How travel impacts your perception.

The more you are open to new experiences and people, the more you broaden your view of the world. Travel opens your eyes to how people live in other places, in other conditions.  Conditions far different from your own and how they deal with problems many of us would never face. Such as walking great distances for drinking water or being a child and supporting siblings. 

We learn what holds significance or value.  That having loving, people in your life and enriching experiences carry more weight than this season’s fashions and newest restaurants.  You are more likely to experience gratitude for the things you have when witnessing how so many people live fulfilled lives while having far less.

You feel humbled by nature and see humans’ environmental impacts and the Earth’s incredible beauty and resiliency.  

You will have some understanding of what inequality feels like and what it’s like to be a minority. 

You will learn how small and insignificant each of us is, as well as how much of an impact we can have on someone else’s life.

Travel gives you the gift of stepping into a new realm of discomfort and therefore shapes yet another new perspective.

We as humans are complex beings, but we have the capacity to be compassionate and kind.  We can adjust our views in life in a multitude of ways.  So, the next time you are feeling particularly sour, consider that perspective is a powerful lens, but you can always adjust the focus.

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