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Lessons Learned from Leaving the Country

I just returned from a two week trip to Europe. It had been a long time since I had last nurtured my travel bug, so the trip was extremely exciting to plan and to execute. I think everyone should leave the country at least once in their lifetime. Add a place to your bucket list, pin a photo on your dream board, tell your friends where you want to go. Have fun dreaming and then doing... it's worth it. Here's why: when you get outside your comfort zone, your horizons (mentally, socially, emotionally, physically) expand. Expansion provides more understanding, and more understanding creates more love and compassion. So wiggle your way into the great unknown.

I gleefully traveled to four countries where I'd never been before: Hungary, Austria, Turkey, and Croatia. While there are countless lessons I learned by leaving the country, I'll cover just one from each country:

1. Hungary. I was sitting in an empty tram when a woman boarded the car and sat right next to me instead of taking the empty seat on the other side of the car. This was a little confusing for me as I assumed everyone likes their personal space (including me, I guess). After two weeks of welcoming the neighbor and also choosing to be the neighbor, I realized it was fun... and normal. Try it next time you have the opportunity to be close to someone. For example, in a conversation do you square your shoulders to their's and look them in the eye, or do you stand at an angle with your head turned so you can look away at any moment?

2. Austria. Classical music makes the soul come alive. It's been a while since I've seen an opera or listened to classical music. I just don't make it a priority like I used to. But in Vienna, the place of Mozart and Strauss, it felt very necessary. One of the best moments I had was the night we attended an orchestra/opera/ballet showcase. I realize I need to take more advantage of the cultural and musical events in my city, many of which are free.

3. Turkey. Cats are everywhere in Istanbul! I couldn't believe it. I expected restaurant owners to shoo them away, but instead they fed them. I expected signs that said 'don't feed the birds', but instead there was bird feed being sold on the corners. I witnessed a museum security guard taking a break from his duties to play with a stray cat. It reminded me that we are all connected, and animals are a vital part of that story.

4. Croatia. This country was my favorite stop. I learned from the people the beauty of moving on. This country has had such tragic warfare, and it was surreal for me to see the ruins of war that has happened in my lifetime. What stuck out to me, especially in Dubrovnik, was the resilience and kindness of the people. Our kayak tour guide told us that the people just want to put the past behind them and move forward. It put my own little "tragedies" into perspective.

Bonus lesson: Traveling is so much more colorful and comfortable in ToeSox!