10,000 Steps to Happiness
"I love to travel, but hate to arrive" - Albert Einstein
It seems the unforgettable moments of life unravel in the most unexpected scenarios. We, human beings, often believe the arrival of an event or destination is the pinnacle of happiness. We visit Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. We go to Chicago to post a picture next to the Bean and we assume that the destination is the important part of travel and life.
I've come to agree with Einstein, though. Arriving at your destination means the journey is complete - you've reached the end of exploration and let's be honest. .. Exploration is the fun part!
As part of my One Year Challenge: Travel Every Day (read more here), I spent all of February dedicated to walking almost everywhere I went. The goal was to walk 10,000 steps a day, rain or shine. Here's what I learned:
It's Hard to Get 10,000 Steps a Day
At least in Atlanta. Known as a city with traffic and terrible public transportation (although it is getting better!), I don't have the benefit of walking to work like my New York or Chicago friends. On a typical work day, I would have no more than 4,000 steps completed by the time I got home, usually around 6:00 PM. And that was me trying. I caught myself taking the long way to the bathroom, break room, cafeteria. Basically anything that would make this a little easier. Once home, my activities left me with 6,000 steps to complete in 3-4 hours.
New Perspectives in Your Backyard
As I was walking for at least an hour every evening, I began to explore my neighborhood in much more detail. Streets and buildings I had passed thousands of times, yet paid little attention too, became my new obsessions. I had no idea there was a gorgeous new restaurant just down the block from me. I didn't realize our local grocery store had free wine tastings on Thursdays. Every day I would learn more about my neighborhood and romanticize about all of the options closer to me than I realized. Half off tapas every day until 7:00 PM AND a patio? COUNT ME IN.
My neighborhood became as fascinating as the streets of Rome. Travel introduces you to the new, which delights and sparkles in a way the normal forgoes. Yet when you approach something familiar with a new pair of eyes, from a new angle, the streets of Atlanta were just as interesting as any town I've set foot in.
Physical and Mental Changes
Walking every day, whether with friends or alone, became a mindful way to mentally work out my emotions, talk through my day and reflect on my goals. While I was attempting to physically improve, I didn't realize the largest impact would be on my mental well-being.
My time dedicated to walking became something to look forward to. I spent less time watching TV and mindlessly scrolling through my phone. Instead I began listening to entrepreneur podcasts, planning out career moves and tackling emotional challenges I had often pushed aside. Sleeping at night was smoother and my overall happiness improved.
Of course physically, I felt great and distance walking became easier every day. While I walked only city streets in February, the 10,000 steps a day was the best preparation for my trip out to Zion National Park in early March. Hiking 6-8 miles a day felt like a breeze compared to past preparations vis StairMaster and elliptical.
Almost all of my top travel memories include human interaction or delightful surprises. My favorite part of Panama wasn't seeing the Panama Canal or even the local tribes. It was on the side of the highway in a converted gas station, now restaurant, where the owner plugged in his karaoke box and our group belted tunes with the locals for hours. Paris tops my list of travel destinations not because of the Eiffel Tour but because of how I feel when I'm there: surrounded by beauty and ethereal.
Life is categorized by culturally acceptable milestones - graduations, marriages, birthdays, promotions, etc. These pinnacle events, that in themselves are nothing short of miraculous, truly are only a fraction the entire experience. Graduation is a celebration of years in the making, not just the ceremony. I remember standing at my graduation and being proud, yes. Yet I wasn't overwhelmed by a sense of happiness or fulfillment. I had been working four years to graduate - accepting my diploma was a given at that point and graduation was just the public display of that work. A wedding too, is public celebration of the lives and dedication, often years, two people have made. It's a fun party sure but the real beauty is the work and love two people have committed to prior to any celebration.
All this to say, our society often celebrates the arrival of a journey rather than the journey itself. Travel veterans will tell you the best part of any trip are the unexpected moments - and this challenge reminded me that little beams of happiness and unexpected surprises bring awareness and fulfillment to the soul.
Are you up for the challenge? Join me on my year long journey of travel adventures, doable in your every day life!