Walking down a dirt lane on my way back from the beach, I stop. There’s a wild noise in the air, startling and raucous, thrilling in its immediacy. A stranger walking towards me stops, too, we lock eyes, and both of us break into childlike grins.
It’s a flock of green macaws, squawking so loudly overhead that it had quite literally brought us to a halt. We scan the treetops – and there they are, cracking away at their favorite snack, beach almonds. Furling and unfurling their brilliant feathers, screeching and preening. My mind is entirely focused on these birds and emptied of all other thoughts.
After a few minutes, they fly away, and we humans on the ground smile at one another and walk on. This was a moment of calm, even in the midst of all the racket – the natural world claimed us for a moment and held us, enchanted. Two strangers briefly united in stillness and a momentary connection of mutual understanding – without saying a word, we two knew this fleeting moment was more important than anywhere else we needed to be.
This type of encounter happened again later that very same day as the afternoon tropical rains began to fall. During a walk along the beach, two women had paused to gaze up into the treetops at a silent scene – a mother sloth with a tiny baby clinging to her belly was crossing, ever so slowly, from one canopy crown to the next. The only sound was the pitter-patter of the falling raindrops as this nearly always camouflaged pair briefly passed into view, before safely blending back into the foliage.
On my previous trip to Costa Rica, I realized this is one of the deepest reasons I’m drawn to travel. There’s a unifying thread that weaves together my favorite travel moments – a calmness, almost like a steadying meditation, a complete focus. To find balance, I have to find a way to let my mind rest, and I’m rubbish at meditation. When I try to create stillness, I fail. Well, sort of – I’ve heard it said that sleep is a good form of meditation too – but, I seem unable to remain in wakeful meditation! And yet, the fullness of my focus while in nature has the power to push any extra thoughts out, creating a mental spaciousness.
It happens to me not only when I am still but also when I am totally engaged in focused movement – crashing through class III and IV rapids, there is no time to think about anything else, no distractions. My heart and body are fully aligned as our raft bumps and swirls through the whitewater – everyone working together to make it safely through. And then, in a short section of the smooth river, like a vision, I look up to see a velvety brown boa constrictor, coiled and contented on the sunny rock she has claimed for herself. We all pause in her presence – nobody is fumbling for a phone. It’s too fast for that, anyway. We all drop this moment into our deep memory. This pause amid so much action has that same calming effect on me.
I probably don’t have to tell you how different this stillness is from day-to-day modern life. I’m a mom to an energetic (and opinionated) 7-year-old, and every moment is FULL, yet in a completely different way. Living in a busy city, juggling work and all the little details fitting (or just as often, not fitting) like an endless jigsaw puzzle of time and often invisible effort. Did we RSVP to the birthday party invitations for next week? Did I remember to book that dentist appointment? Are there clean clothes, where’s the bus now, when is camp sign up?
You get the idea. Everyone inhabits their own personal nonstop mind whirl, with a soundtrack of the insistent *ping* of their phone nudging us all out of our stillness. We have to fight hard for inner calm.
But not here. On an island in Panama, with a small family of howler monkeys swinging from branch to branch in a tropical downpour, there is nowhere else I need to be, nothing pinging my attention. It feels so unremarkably natural that you could blink and miss it. Or, scanning the savannah on safari in Kenya, maybe you find those two leopards stalking their prey along the Maasai River bank, or maybe not.
While omicron filled my days and hours with worry back home in Boston, it felt like the truest luxury to release myself for a brief time from the inner ticker tape. We watched a herd of elephants play in and drink water for an hour, shadowing their intricate social dances from a respectful distance. One 3-month-old baby elephant came bravely forward, trumpeting with his trunk raised high, with mom and aunties carefully watching and ready behind him. It was so new and yet familiar in its boldness to my own child – strong and independent, but still needing mama nearby.
Even when we don’t spot wildlife – our attention is fully attuned to these wild landscapes. Lana, our Private Travel Designer, and I were on safari together, and her enthusiasm for birds was impossible to resist. I found myself marveling at the magnificent plumage of all sorts of feathered friends of which I knew nothing before. In the rainforest on my own, I again found I was seeking out tropical birds, joyful at their flashes of bright color in the wall of green.
You can travel as a chance to disconnect, but that is not entirely accurate for me. It is reconnection I’m finding – with myself, or perhaps with a skill I had forgotten (ahem, surfing), with my family, or with a soon-to-be friend. There’s something about embodying these moments of internal quiet that happens organically for me while traveling.
It’s hard to explain on a phone call that, as a company, part of our mission at Elevate is to open possibilities for this stillness and soulfulness during travel. When you take the worry out, there’s time for more of the good stuff. It’s a secret ingredient to the feel of a fulfilling adventure – and to honor your most precious and limited resource – time.
I fervently hope you will discover your own pockets of time in which to cultivate wonder, connection, and peace. And find ways to bring them home with you.