It’s been almost one year since we arrived back in the US after our whirlwind year of travel. One full year of settling back into jobs, routine, and life in the states. Throughout those 363ish days, I’ve put some unnecessary mental pressure on myself to reflect on lessons learned from our year abroad. I’ve feared that if I didn’t dig deeper into the why, how, or what next, that I’d lose the chance to ever discover them.
Of course, deep down, I know that I will never forget that year. I will never forget following a dream so passionately and blindly that nothing else mattered. Derrick and I felt so sure of our decision that it stuck no matter what obstacles came at us (and trust me, there were plenty). It’s a type of confidence that is so rare for me that the decision to leave is one of my most vivid memories from our trip.
After 363ish days, I’ve realized it’s going to take me a lot longer than that to unpack (pun intended) our year of travel. However, there is one conclusion that I keep coming back to the more I reflect. One theme that I believe helped get us out of our cushy comfort zones and into a pretty wild adventure.
It all started in Italy...
We arrived at our Airbnb in Arola, Italy one evening in early February. We watched the sun set as we drove our tiny rental Fiat from Rome to the Sorrento Peninsula for the next leg of our Italian road trip. Derrick had found a private room rental on Airbnb in a home that overlooked the Amalfi Coast, the Gulf of Naples, and Vesuvius, which looked impressively menacing even from across the bay.
Our host was Antonio, a 25-year-old Italian man who greeted us with fresh salami, cheese, and jugs of red wine. We later learned all of these delicacies had been made by him and his family on the land they owned in Arola.
“You can drink three of these without getting hungover!” Antonio laughed as he poured us another glass of his family’s wine out of a massive jug (I still don’t know if he was talking about the glass or the jug).
After enjoying a delicious homemade pasta dinner, courtesy of Antonio, he invited us to check out his family’s restaurant and wine cellar so we could replenish our stock. We drove the 5 minutes to get there and spent the rest of the evening enjoying fresh wine straight from the cask in the cellar of Torre Ferano, a Michelin Star-rated restaurant that his family owned. When I asked Antonio about the inspiration behind the restaurant he said, “my dad couldn’t find restaurants he liked, so he started his own.”
Antonio was a student at the University of Naples and his zest for life was infectious. We spent many evenings discussing education, health care, and the various cultural differences between growing up in Italy and in the US. On nights when we’d drank too much wine (most nights), we’d even touch on subjects like philosophy, world issues, and existential meaning with Antonio taking on these topics in his non-native language.
Antonio had bold plans and lofty dreams, but you could tell they were never too big for him. If you’d ask him questions or offer suggestions, he’d always answer with “sure, why not?” No idea was too big or unattainable. I don’t even think impossible was in his vocabulary.
The Power of Curiosity
I wanted to paint the picture of Antonio and his life in Arola because I think it has a lot to do with his outlook. He watched his family succeed in a very small town simply because they chose to. Life in his neighbor city of Naples (Napoli) is considered rebellious and unruly by Italian standards and I believe this environment helped him remove boundaries and face life’s challenges with confidence. It also helped me realize how much our environment in the states had impacted my outlook.
Antonio’s mantra taught me a lot about the way I wanted to live my own life. I’ve had over a year to reflect on our time in Arola and the question of “why not?” continues to come back to me in many ways. Antonio would always say it with a big shrug and an even bigger smile. Like he knew you’d never be able to give him an answer for why his goals couldn’t happen.
I remember so many doubts, fears, and challenges that could’ve easily derailed us in the months leading up to our trip. There were too many “what-ifs” and “should we reallys” to count. Of course, our desire to realize this dream helped us overcome these obstacles to embark on one of the best years of our lives, but I was never fully aware of how we did that. Looking back, it appears we just kept blindly moving forward.
I can’t help but assume it came from our own subconscious mantra of “why not?”. We’d spent an entire year listening to the advice of others who had succeeded in our dreams before us. They’d already paved the path for successful adventure that looked far different from our day-to-day. It’s hard to imagine we weren’t thinking “why not us?” all the time.
I’d like to tell you that I’ve put this mantra into practice and come out far better for it. But, truthfully, it’s a constant work in progress. I’m only now starting to understand the power of this simple question when it comes to achieving goals. The magnitude of looking at challenges and doubts in a different light. I think most of us get caught up in convincing ourselves that we’ll never get “there” but neglect to actually ask ourselves, or the universe, why not.
As Derrick and I navigate this next chapter of our lives, we know we want to keep travel a big part of it. But we have goals to help us achieve this more sustainably. Goals that often feel bigger and more challenging than traveling in the first place. But these goals have also pushed us to realize that we’ve already achieved something that felt too big to overcome simply by wondering why we couldn’t.
So, more than a year later, my new goal is to get comfortable with being curious. To understand what doubts are holding us back and why. I realize this isn’t groundbreaking stuff. I just know that getting curious and challenging ourselves to find an answer to “why not?” led to one of the most exciting and rewarding years of our lives (so far).
And if you think that can’t happen for you, then maybe you should start asking yourself, why not?