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Reflection: 20 Weeks in Panama

One of the first things I noticed while coming into this backpacking adventure was that being a writer doesn’t make me a blogger. I was never really able to differentiate between the two until I was about a month into my trip, realizing that over those 30-something days, I had only put pen to paper in terms of logging my experiences. Now, almost five months after originally leaving Phoenix, I’ve made time to do some catching up. Here is a synopsis of what has gone down since I’ve been gone.

When I first landed in Panama City, I knew it would be a roller coaster ride. I wasn’t sure about the duration of the ride and I didn’t know whether it would be one of those lame-ass kiddie rides or one that people lose their shoes and heads on. As you may have guessed, it was the latter.

My head is still intact but I have been through a couple pairs of shoes. In fact, the only thing that I can guarantee wasn’t left behind is the vast knowledge I’ve picked up over the past four and a half months. These life lessons I absorbed are the traveling essentials that I will always have room for in my luggage; they can’t be stolen and I’ll never lose them, unless of course I suffer from a traumatic head injury, but let’s keep this optimistic! I’m a firm believer in the notion that everything happens for a reason, and I always try my best to see the silver lining amongst even the darkest of clouds. As a traveler I’ve experienced this often. Situations such as missing a bus, needing to switch dorm rooms mid-stay or getting completely lost while trying to find the meet-up spot. Due to embracing “inconveniences” like these as blessings in disguise instead of letting them discourage me, I was able to grow and learn from the experience by keeping an open mind and an open heart to whatever was to come. Doing this enabled me to see some incredible things and meet some incredible people who I otherwise would have never known existed.

During my time spent in Panama, I was able to befriend a small crew of like-minded travelers, all from different walks of life. We collectively shared the many stories from our pasts and all the dreams that would some day paint our futures. The one consistent wave length between us all was the urge to explore and share our passions with as many people in as many places as possible. This led to the spawning of a project that I’ve always flirted with but have never known how to execute … until now.

The result is that I’ll be spending some time back in Phoenix, preparing for what I can easily say will be the most epic experience of my life. The goal is to travel through every country in Latin America, taking as much time as needed and documenting every moment along the way. This journey will challenge me beyond anything I could have ever imagined and at the same time will allow me to share my story, and my passions, with everyone I connect with along the way. This network of other travelers that I met is loaded with talent from every corner, with our collective bag of tricks oozing from the seams. Imagine the Power Rangers of travel, just without the amazing skin-tight costumes. Although I'll be traveling solo, I'm very much looking forward to collaborating with them and many others that I'm sure to meet along the way!

While I’m back, I’m planning to transcribe my most recent journey through Panama from paper into pixels in an effort to share more specific slices of my experiences. In the meantime, I’d love to share a more broad version of what I experienced and how it has lead me to be where and who I am today. Since being in Panama, I’ve learned many different things from many different people. My Spanish has definitely improved, I can make some pretty kick-ass Shakshuka, I know waaay too much Australian slang, I’m now SCUBA certified, and I know how to say “You are beautiful” in five different languages, which at times proved to be much more useful than the rest.

Those are examples of the things I’ll hopefully never forget, but as far as lessons learned, there are a few that stem much deeper. They are the type of lessons that develop over time, day by day, as you process brand new life experiences and turn those experiences into wisdom to utilize in the future. These are the type of lesson that you don’t even realize you’ve learned until much after the fact when you are in that specific situation, once again, and can say with confidence, “I’ve been here, I’ve done this, I got it.”. Whether it's as trivial as trying to find contact solution in a small town where NOBODY speaks English (the Charades were hilarious), or negotiating the safety of a friend in the hands of some bad-blooded people, who swear he was looking at the wrong girl in all the right ways. These are the type of things that you can only learn and experience first hand, and they are the lessons you don’t need to study in order to never forget.

I’ve put together a list of things I’ve picked up on along the way. Some are things that I went into this adventure knowing, and some are things that I could have only ever learned through what I experienced along the way. These are what I will without a doubt be taking along with me on every open ended journey from here on out.

-Go with the flow: One of the first things that I realized on this trip was that, just like rules, plans are made to be broken. Having a general knowledge of your current and upcoming environment never hurts, but there is definitely something magical about going into a situation with no reservations, no expectations, and an open mind. You would be blown away with the variety of experiences this world has to offer if you created the freedom to always be able to say yes.

-Travel smart, see more: I often hear stories of people going to beautiful foreign places and never leaving the all inclusive resort. While some may say that this is the smartest way to travel, I would argue that it’s simply the most comfortable way to travel. By all means, enjoy your free drinks and such, but know that there is a whole other world beyond those gates. It’s just as safe on the other side if you have the right level of awareness and knowledge of the area. Allow the locals, not the internet, to show you the ropes.

-Be open and kind to everyone; Karma is King: I’ve always believed in Karma but it wasn’t until traveling solo for as long as I did that I was really able to see it in action. I was relying on complete strangers on a daily basis to help me get by, and it took much less effort than I could have ever imagined. The simple truth is that being open and kind to everyone you meet goes a very long way. I found myself in the presence of kindness almost everywhere I went, because that is what I projected. The power of manifestation is exponential when your only consistent support comes from within. Your perspective controls the atmosphere around you, so make sure you’re always feeding the good beast.

-Be open to new experiences and opportunities; step out of your comfort zone: I’ve joked with people that the only way I survived as long as I did was by saying “Yes” to everything. Well that turns out to be pretty close to true. I saw and did things that I would have never imagined being a part of, all because I took a risk and stepped out of my comfort zone. One of the coolest parts about traveling is having the opportunity to make tomorrow completely different than yesterday. We are all creatures of habit and it’s very easy to fall into a routine. By making a conscious effort to challenge the norm on a daily basis, you can easily open your mind to opportunities that you may have never known existed. For example, try taking a different route to or from work. Be patient, be observant and appreciate every aspect of the change of scenery. You might be surprised by how much this can effect your day in a positive way.

-Travel with purpose; identify and share your passions: For me it was writing … and the occasional back flip or handstand! The obvious and effortless reward of traveling is the ability to soak in and appreciate the new surroundings and experiences that are sure to consume you. The much more rewarding aspect of traveling is not in what you absorb but in what you put forth into the people and places that surround you. I’ve always tried to keep in mind that the memories of experiences you have with others are created from more than one end. Almost every story that I can tell from my journey has a similar version, from a different perspective, being told by someone else, somewhere else in the world. Being aware of this has helped me to be more mindful in my contribution to others while on the road. I was able to find many opportunities to give back to the communities I transitioned through in various ways. These unique experiences tend to shine much brighter than the rest because in my heart I know I made a difference, even without receiving validation.

-Don’t lose sight of where you call home: A rarity that I discovered through conversing with people from all over the world, was that I’m able to say, with confidence, that I truly love my city. From the memories of my childhood, to where it thrives today, to the promising potential of the future, Phoenix has never ceased to amaze me; and I will always do my best to amaze Phoenix in return.

I was shocked to discover how many people were traveling not just to grow, but also to get away from wherever they used to call home. For me, hearing first hand stories of “turmoil back home” really put things into perspective. Suddenly a bike lane being closed or my favorite bar running out of my favorite beer didn’t seem like such a big deal. I’ve now seen what “Home is where the heart is” really looks like, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Having the ability to adapt to change, not only physically but emotionally as well, is one of the strongest traits that someone can possess. I will always have the deepest level of respect for those who are able to adapt out of necessity; those who take it upon themselves to muster the strength to change their lives for the better, even when they sometimes have to do so completely alone. Creating beauty out of destruction is quite a work of art.

I’ve always loved coming back home after being on the road, especially after extended amounts of time. I love the endless storytelling at happy hours and house parties with all of my closest friends. I love going to my favorite restaurants and getting that meal that you simply can’t find anywhere else. I love losing track of time and space, zoned out on a long bike ride or hike. I love going to all the amazing shows at all the amazing venues in town, eyes closed and with a smile on, soaking in the magic of music. All these things and so many more are what I look forward to when I’m gone, and being able to immerse myself in them once again is more refreshing than desert rain on a thirsty saguaro.

People have been searching for the meaning of life since the beginning of time, but in my eyes, it’s quite obvious. I believe that life is about one thing and one thing only. It’s something that everyone wants and that everyone can have. It’s something that people live and die for. It’s one of the only necessities in life that is completely obtainable for everyone. It’s not material in it’s purest form, therefore it can’t be purchased or sold. It’s something that is given and received all over the world, every second of every day, and yet some people are still blind to it’s significance and power.

Achieving bliss is possible. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. It’s through the power of Love. I will never let that go.

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