I am a reluctant adventurer.
Home and work are my safe spaces, and routine is the glue that holds my comfort zone together. Change creates anxiety and leaves me disoriented, anxious to return to the familiar.
That is one reason — but not the only reason — that I travel. I need to push myself beyond the sheltered comfort of my life. When I say travel, I’m not talking about taking a vacation. A vacation is just a visit to some other safe space away from work and home.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking a vacation. Downtime is essential for mental and physical well-being.
But my long absence from work was not a vacation; it was adventure travel. I went to Africa on safari in Rwanda and Zimbabwe. It was an expensive, high-risk-high-reward experience that had been on my bucket list.
I have done adventure travel before — to parts of Central America, South America and Southeast Asia — and less challenging trips to parts of Europe. (If you think Europe isn’t challenging, try driving through Italy!)
I got off to a rough start this time, as often happens with adventure travel. The dramatic shift in schedule and the stress of something so completely foreign left me wishing I had never left home and swearing off any future trips to far off places. A stomach issue, which seems to crop up every time I travel, made matters worse.
At one point, I said to my wife, “Maybe my adventure travel days are over.” But I know this about travel: You must push ahead and give it time. Stick with your plan and wait for a natural pace and feel of the experience to kick in, and that is what happened.
In Rwanda, we hiked up a mountain to walk among the gorillas made famous by conservationist Dian Fossey and the movie based on her book, “Gorillas in the Mist.” The hike took all day and at times, our guide had to hack through the forest with a machete to clear a path. The gorillas seemed largely unaffected by our presence, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for us to see these amazing primates in their natural habitat.
In Zimbabwe, we went on game rides in Hwange National Park. Our open-air vehicle bounced over rough dirt and soft sand roads to get close-up views of elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, wildebeest, hippos and many more animals in the bush. Our guides knew how to keep a safe distance, but each still carried a rifle just in case.
All the travel was a challenge. It is not easy to get from Morgantown to the Rwandan mountains or the plains of Zimbabwe and back again. Our three flights to get home added up to about 24 hours in the air.
Adventure travel to multiple locations wears you down, makes you weary, but I am also fulfilled by the experience of travel to new and dramatically different places. As someone once said, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
I’ll keep that in mind as I return to the comfort of home, the pleasures of my job and the security of my routine … and await my next reluctant adventure.