Lessons from seven months in Peru, and the value of travel

Machu Picchu in the morning before the crowds arrive
Machu Picchu in the morning before the crowds arrive

I’ve been back in Montana for a month now, trying to figure out a new routine in a place I’m grateful to call home for its beauty, the chance to ride or hike for hours from my back door, and a great community of people that extends across an entire state. More importantly, I’m trying to integrate the lessons I learned about the value of living simply, focusing on the moment at hand, and the importance of new (and occasionally scary) experiences during my seven months in Peru. Clearly the most beneficial lesson I learned during my time in Peru wasn’t necessarily about any one place, it was about the value of travel and all it contributes to a life.

Peru Women
Traveling to new places, especially those outside a set comfort zone, is a perfect rapid fire learning event. From the moment the pressurized and polished jet lands on a runway in a place far, far from home in every sense of the word you’re jumping into new geography, new cultures, new language, and new perspectives with both feet. Hopefully, by the time you arrive you’ve managed to hit the hold button on work and other daily distractions so you can fully enjoy how ever long you have to be so far from the familiar. I’ll readily admit: there was definitely an adjustment period learning to live without all the amenities and conveniences of life in the United States when I first arrived in Peru. While you can certainly be guaranteed a hotel that offers the best in the majority of cities you’ll visit during your trip, standards are certainly different when it comes to restroom comfort in most public places…and it might take a while to get used to the relative chaos of Latin American traffic patterns. It also might take a while to get used to the herds of sheep and llamas grazing only a mile or so from the city center, or the breathtakingly beautiful peaks that are visible when the clouds part.

Another lesson I learned when I made an on the spot decision to buy my plane ticket was there is no better time than now. No, really – right now. It would be hard to deny that it can be difficult to find the time and money to make travel happen. It would be harder to deny the pace of the world changing is accelerating. Every day globalization and technology make it easier for us to be in touch with people in far flung corners of the world – it also makes it possible for new generations of ancient cultures to let go of the traditions that have defined their way of life for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And then there’s the simple fact that ecosystems and landscapes are changing. I’m not saying to make vacation plans on ‘doom and gloom’ either; I’m just saying that if you want to see glaciers on mountain peaks a stone’s throw from the equator, you might want to book your trip to the Sacred Valley or the Cordillera Blanca sooner than later.

Peruvian Andes
And, as I try to figure out my next steps career-wise and life-wise I need to remember the important lesson that more and more people seem to be catching on to all the time: regardless of how much I have in the bank, it’s not new possessions that will bring happiness, it’s the next new place I’ve never seen before, the next new mountain range waiting to be skiied or climbed, it’s the memories and the lessons that can’t be rivaled by any experience other than travel. Check out this NY Times article on consumer spending that does a great job of summarizing what’s become obvious to me: spend your money where your heart wants to be, and you’ll actually get some meaningful experiences in return