I traveled to Kenya in 2011 with Bold Leaders when I was 17, and I traveled to Nepal two years later. I called my BoldLeaders coach Michael a little bit before I left; I was nervous to be gone for two and a half months, with much of that time spent with no internet or phone service, no lights or plumbing. Over the phone, Michael guided me to take out a piece of paper and begin to draw. There were two paths in this drawing, starting on the left side of the paper. One started at the word “possibility,” and one started at the word “expectation.” Both paths went through an upset in the center of the drawing. But, the path that started out as possibility remained possibility on the other side.
These are not instructions to not plan; these are not instructions to fail to carry the medicine with you that will inevitably be needed when your sensitive American stomach can’t handle the untreated Nepali water you drink. I’ve needed to face threats to the safety of the group I was leading in Palestine and Israel, when shots were fired; to be very conscious of myself when my Peruvian classmates in Lima had to understand me through me gringa accent; to translate for an eager group of college students volunteering in Guatemala, while questioning myself why we were even there and if we were helping or harming by coming in and leaving so quickly.
Moments like these have required that I am prepared, yes. But when you focus on a predetermined outcome for travel in things that you can’t control – I WILL return fluent in Spanish, I WILL make a difference in this Nepali community, I WILL teach my group ways they can fight injustice – when the upsets come, they remain upsetting. I’ve learned to be conscious of my thoughts.
In minding the gap, I recognize that culturally, many people and I are not going to understand each other right away, and that it is always worth trying anyway. In being comfortable being uncomfortable, I accept that there is only so much you can plan for in life and in travel. Possibility is not one of those things, and it is something to embrace.