What 10 Countries in 23 Days Taught Me

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It’s hard to believe The Global Scavenger Hunt has ended and I’ve now been back to America for two weeks.

Two weeks!

I remember when we’d been overseas for two weeks. We were finishing up Egypt, about to head to Europe for the final big leg of the trip, and I couldn’t fathom another week of living like we’d been living. It didn’t feel as though we’d been gone 14 days; it felt as though we’d been gone months. One more week seemed like an eternity.

I just want to have my own room, be in my own bed, and sleep for more than four hours. This was all I could think at that moment when Bill announced we were (“already” but I heard “only”) 2/3 of the way through.

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Camels make not sleeping look better

We were exhausted, or at least I was exhausted. This trip was not a vacation. It was a test of skill, of stamina, of strength.

I was in yoga class last weekend and the instructor made us do 10-second chaturanga, which is essentially lowering oneself into a tricep push-up as slow as humanly possible. And then, once we’d done that five times, he changed the criteria: lower yourself down for five seconds, hold for one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, threeeeeeeeeee-Mississippi, then push back up to start.

We did that four or five times. Everyone’s arms were shaking. Beads of sweat spontaneously erupted on our foreheads. We all moaned and groaned each time he said, “Again.”

Then he said, “You have to push PAST the point of failure. That’s when you build new muscle. That’s how you get stronger.”

It occurred to me that that’s what The Global Scavenger Hunt is like.

It’s pushing travelers past the point of failure. It’s making us uncomfortable and tired and telling us to “just hold it there…keep holding…keep holding…now do it again,” and it is really freaking hard. There are days you want to quit. But at the end of it, we walk away stronger. Our muscles are bigger. The things that challenged us before suddenly don’t seem that daunting.

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Talking to strangers in Sri Lanka

For instance, one of my biggest travel fears–aside from public transportation–is arriving to an airport in a foreign country without someone to meet me.

It sounds dumb, but in all of my travels, I’ve always arranged someone to meet me at the airport–a friend, a friend of a friend, a stranger–it didn’t matter who. I just refused to show up alone.*

*once I’m settled, I’m happy to go off and do my own thing.

For instance: the first time I went to Ireland, the friend I was planning to meet in Dublin texted me at 2am saying she’d missed her airplane. I had already arranged a taxi for 5am to take me to the airport to catch my own flight, and you know what I did? I cancelled everything–including my flight (I rescheduled it for a ridiculous fee) because the thought of getting to Dublin and finding a hotel and figuring out what to do for an entire day–by myself– freaked me out to the point of “I can’t do it.”

Granted, this was early in my solo traveling career, long before I considered traveling alone to a non-English-speaking country. But even last year when I went to Greece, I required explicit directions from a friend of a friend telling me where to go from the airport in order to meet him, and this was the only time ever that someone had not met me directly AT the airport. I felt a sense of panic all the way up until we found each other.

The long story short is this:

The Global Scavenger Hunt has taught me how to land in any country, by myself, with nothing–and I mean no map, no hotel, no taxi, no Google Maps, no smart phone, no friends, no plan–and be able to figure it out.

 

I’ve always talked to strangers before, but this took it to a whole new level. I mean, look.

Mark and I compared it to running a marathon, because we imagined the emotional and physical strain was similar. At the end of the trip we thought, “THANK GOD THAT’S OVER.” We thought, “I am never doing that again.” We also thought, “I can’t believe I just did that. I deserve super hard high fives.”

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Like this

As I was on the treadmill, walking and thinking, because it feels weird not getting 30,000 steps/day now, it occurred to me why people would want to come back, and it’s not just the euphoria and runner’s high.

Everyone who survives this trip has made it to another level. If we want to exercise those muscles we just formed, we have to push ourselves again. We need a challenge–and just like at the gym, it helps to have a sadistic human being (“personal trainer”) standing over us saying, DO ANOTHER PUSH UP when we want to die. When our arms are shaking. When we long ago would have given up and gone out for a smoothie.

That’s what the Global Scavenger Hunt was. I didn’t always agree with it. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. But I know that because of it, I’m a better traveler, and a stronger person, than I was before.

(Just as a reminder: the most important reason we wanted to complete this trip was to raise money for orphans, clean water, and refugees. We will keep this window open for just a little longer, so if you have $10 to spare–or any amount you feel comfortable giving–we would love your support! Thank you!)

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