5 Ways Summer Camp Prepared Me to Travel Around the World

Wearing my McGaw YMCA Camp Echo cap after climbing a waterfall in Salento, Colombia

Wearing my McGaw YMCA Camp Echo cap after climbing a waterfall in Salento, Colombia

I spent 16 summers at Camp Echo in Fremont, Michigan. I started as a counselor and my final season was the Main Camp Director, responsible for overseeing several dozen staff and almost 200 campers between the ages of 8 and 14. The experiences I had over those summers are a bedrock of my character, my personality and my outlook. I am grateful everyday for the people and experiences that helped me grow into the person I am today.

As Jess and I continue our trip around the world for 2016, I think often of camp and the ways it has made me someone capable of saving, planning and executing a trip like this.

1.     Attitude is everything.

This isn't even the ugly stuff. I woke up in Medellin with over 200 bed bug bites on my back, arms, sides, shoulders, hands and feet. I couldn't sleep for two nights because of the itching.

This isn't even the ugly stuff. I woke up in Medellin with over 200 bed bug bites on my back, arms, sides, shoulders, hands and feet. I couldn't sleep for two nights because of the itching.

Working with kids taught me very quickly that no one can stop you from having a bad time once you decide to do so. The meaning we make from our experiences is up to us. Travel is a constant experience of upset expectations, frustrating surprises and, sometimes, instances of incredible grace. To stay happy, centered and excited on a trip of this length my wife and I have to work constantly to keep our heads in the right place. To stay grateful, excited and open to people and experiences. Camp taught me how to do that better than anywhere else.

2.     Experiences matter more than things.

This is the sum total of our remaining possessions. 80% clothes, 20% kitchen. No furniture, electronics or books remain.

This is the sum total of our remaining possessions. 80% clothes, 20% kitchen. No furniture, electronics or books remain.

My wife and I saved for about two years to afford this trip. We’ve given up our home, our jobs, and all but a few boxes of personal possessions because we believe that this moment in our lives is unique and precious.

It’s a little weird getting off the merry-go-round; socially, chronologically, culturally, it seems like we should be doubling down on our careers, paying off our school loans, making up a baby room and getting ready for a good two decades of nesting. Instead we’re blowing our down payment for a house on sitting in public squares drinking coffee or watching sunsets from mountain ridges. We’re confident we are making the right choice. I’d give anything for one more summer of being a 20 year old Senior Counselor. When you get down to it, memories are all we really have. We’re excited to be making great ones.

3.     What you improvise is often better than what you plan

We didn't expect to spend the evening drinking and shooting pool but this ended up being one of our favorite memories of Colombia.

I’ve planned Evening Programs, Cabin Groups and Low Ropes Progressions. I’ve led trips and trained staff and written detailed missives on how to properly clean the boys bath house. But I’m perfectly clear that the most magical things are the ones you didn’t expect. Our itinerary this year is vague and purposefully so. The real gift of going so many places and having so much time is that we can find the things we didn’t expect and follow them.

What fun would life be if everything happened as we expected? What would be the point if it all played out just as we’d pictured it? Why go anywhere? Try anything? That faith in what we can’t anticipate is the motivation for going and the magic of being here. Camp taught me that things won’t turn out how you expected and that is often the greatest gift of all.

4.     Relationships make life worth living

I'm so very fortunate to have found someone who wanted to take this journey with me and who makes such an excellent partner for doing so.

I'm so very fortunate to have found someone who wanted to take this journey with me and who makes such an excellent partner for doing so.

I’m traveling with my wife. At home we might spend 3 or 4 solid hours together on a normal day. On the road, we spend 22 or 23 hours a day within 5 feet of one another. Camp has shown me that that kind of proximity is a powerful experience, one that can be good or bad.

I don’t think I could have chosen such an excellent partner and friend without the time I spent knowing people and being known as I was at camp. I learned to be a better version of myself, one worthy of and able to reciprocate the type of love that all this time together requires.

5.     Outside your comfort zone is where growth happens

Kicking off our trip in January was the culmination of a lot of scary decisions from quitting our jobs to selling our stuff.

Long term travel requires that we give up the ability to make certain choices that we are accustomed to making. Our choices of food and clothing, our ability to speak the language or navigate on our own are all very limited. Our expectation is that by giving up some comfort we make room for ourselves to grow and that that growth will have a far greater and longer lasting impact than any missed TV shows or comfort foods. By being uncomfortable we will gradually widen the breadth of circumstances in which we are comfortable in the future. I know this because of the challenges I faced as a camper and staff member. Difficult things have a payoff and we can actually nurture and empower ourselves to grow by choosing to step beyond what’s normal and expected.