Making trip goals has many benefits

The night before my first trip to Europe last summer, I was sitting alone in my hotel room after a great dinner with friends who were going on the trip with me when I decided to get started writing in my journal.  (It should be mentioned that although I love almost all aspects of traveling, being alone in a hotel room is not one of those; you feel unsafe and totally alone!)
After summing up “Day One” of travel – which was really just getting from Dodge to Wichita and all that jazz! – I came up with a list of goals for my trip.  I plan to use this list and revisit it each time I get ready to go on a world adventure.  Perhaps I will add more specific things I want to get out of each specific trip in the future.
Without further ado, here’s the list, with explanations below:
  • Find the best in others. * This was big to me.  I knew I was going to be traveling a with a diverse group of people (around 50 people of all ages and every other qualifier), including some I didn’t think I would enjoy traveling with.  However, by opening up my mind and heart to these people, I was able to more fully enjoy the experience and become good friends with some of those very people.
  • Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible – live it up!  * I always knew that I would go to Europe more than once, but I also knew that I wanted to minimize or completely eliminate any chances of regretting something…  And what better way to make sure you don’t have regrets than by doing something if you had any inkling whatsoever and had the time to do it?!
  • Be safe and think smart. * Unlike so many travelers, I really don’t spend a lot of time overthinking being safe.  As a rule, I know that Europe is probably safer than your average large American city.  And when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you call more attention to yourself.  That being said, I always keep an eye on my surroundings but wasn’t going to let worry and stress take over my trip.  As long as I have my money belt/neck pouch/whatever, the rest is trivia and can be replaced (but they better not take my damn camera!).
  • Have a good time but know when it’s time to hit the bed, because sleep is an important part of any trip. * Obviously, I wanted to do as much as I could in the short amount of time we were in Europe, but if you’re not awake the next day, what good is staying up late?  This gets compounded when you have fun roommates who like to talk, but one must know when to get to bed!
  • Help others if you have the know-how, and accept it if you don’t. * I consider myself a pretty good and experienced traveler (“This ain’t my first ro-de-o!”) who knows when one should and should not do things, and I wanted to help others like people had helped me before (stay on the right side of escalators, how to navigate airports and subways, that kind of thing), but I also needed to realize that I don’t know everything.  (Sometimes this is tough!)  I didn’t want to look like I was being a total know-it-all!  🙂
  • Keep the trip in God’s hands. * I know from previous posts it sounds like I don’t believe in God, but I believe I do (the whole organized religion thing is what convolutes it all, IMHO), and it doesn’t hurt to let someone else look on over it.  🙂
  • Have fun! * Yes, I wanted to learn and all that on this trip, but what good is a trip or vacation if it’s not fun?!  On this same note, I wanted to learn more about myself and feel that I did.
  • Write in journal everyday, regardless! * Yeah…  Uhm-hmm!!  I got through the first day in Paris, but I’ll have to rely on pictures and memories for the rest.  I will definitely keep a better journal and paste in postcards, tickets, stamps, etc. in my journal next time.  I tend to keep receipts and all that, but they end up getting thrown in a bag or box and nothing is done with them.  Pasting them in each day on that day will help a lot and will remind me of the small things!
  • Take everything in stride – if something doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to happen ; if it does, then it was. * Absolutely my biggest travel “thing.”  Years of disappointment over not being able to do certain things while traveling led me to this philosophy, and I honestly haven’t looked back since (except for now as I reflect!).
  • Have a fabulous time and stay in touch via email! + Stay on Facebook and phone only a few minutes a day – you are in Europe for God’s sake! * I told my family I wouldn’t call them and would only contact them via email if I had a few free minutes during the trip, and I stuck by this.  And since I didn’t have Wi-Fi or data for a good portion of the trip, I only posted on FB a couple of times.  When I’m on the road (at least in Europe), I’m on the road and just don’t think of home very much. (This sounds cold, but it is the best way to do it…  People spend way too much time away from their destination when they are on the phone or on the computer or constantly thinking about home; a little bit is fine.)
  • HAVE NO REGRETS. * See above.
  • Try new foods. * You know me!  When in Rome, do as the Romans do!  (Unfortunately, I haven’t – yet! – experienced this in that place.)
  • Love others and love yourself. * Why the heck not?!
Having these goals in mind kept my priorities straight on this trip and was a wonderful guide when I started creeping into negativity.  I would recommend making a list of goals like this before any major trip – it helps a lot!

Choices & Decisions of Religion

             There are many reasons why an individual or family might choose to go to church – a feeling and sense of community, a true spiritual connection with their god when they are in his presence and perhaps even when they are not, seeing friends and catching up, finding hope when you are hopeless, and a host of others.  On the flip-side of this coin, an individual may use his or her freedom of choice to decide that church is not for him.
            I was raised Catholic.  My mother’s family has been a group of devout Catholics from the oldest generations on.  I went to Catholic grade school for nine years, where I went to mass at least two to three times per week, memorized prayers, learned about religion and theology, and other things you might traditionally expect.  I really enjoyed going to that school and am glad I had the opportunity and ability to go there.
            A little less than a year ago, after a series of internal conflicts and arguing with myself, I decided church wasn’t for me, or at least not the church I was going to.  When I went to church over the last several years, I was never focused on what was being said (and couldn’t, even when I tried) and never felt particularly moved or “with the spirit.”  As a semi-free-spirited person who holds his own beliefs, I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with many of the Church’s policies and stances on a variety of issues.  To name just a few…  I believe that marriage is a symbol of love and that individuals – regardless of gender – should be free to love the person they love without judgment.  I believe that hypocrisy is unacceptable…  How often does the Church preach to love your neighbor as you love yourself – to let God be the only judger – while, at the same time, I felt and saw that judgment on display every Sunday (perhaps not by the clergy, but certainly by the some of the other participants)?  Also, from the way I understand the Church’s teaching, only those who are baptized in that church will go to heaven.  If there indeed is a heaven, then I want my Protestant, Hindu and Muslim friends to go, too!  Why should we exclude people like that?  Furthermore, does not going to church make me a bad person?  Of course not!  Many of the best people I know don’t go to church, and many of them do; it’s not a good way to judge how good of a person you are.
On an even more fundamental basis, I believe that if a person genuinely gets something out of going to mass – whether it’s one of the reasons I stated above or another – then that is great; wonderful, even.  However, I also believe that a person can connect with their god on perhaps an even greater level on a very personal, one-on-one basis.  Perhaps it was the distractions at our $12 million church (OMG, I know) that kept me from getting the true message, but – using my freedom of choice as a reasonably sound adult who feels he is capable of most or all of his own decisions – I decided that I would no longer go to church.
However, was it as simple as saying I wouldn’t go?  Of course not.  I told my parents how I felt, and was consequently told (in not so few of words) that I would be cut off.  As I live at home and am going to school, they are paying for my gas and car insurance, which I am extremely grateful for.  However, for one of the first times in my adult life, I decided I had to stick my ground, regardless of its financial impact on my life.  I wasn’t going to let that threat (or promise, as my dad always calls it) let me participate in something that I was no longer comfortable with.  Over time, they decided that I had to make and live with my own decisions, and although they are sad about my decision, they have somewhat let it go.
On an even more difficult level, I knew I would face questions of where was I and things of that nature by people I used to see every weekend at church (some have been OK with it, others have been cold to me).  Even more difficult, this last weekend I attended my great aunt’s funeral, which was a traditional Catholic service.  With my devout uncles and parents who I love and cherish sitting next to and behind me, I had to make the choice of whether or not to receive the Eucharist.  Because “Amen” (what you say – many without really thinking about it? – after the person says “the body of Christ”) translates literally to “I believe”/”Truly”/”Very, very” and I knew that maybe I didn’t – matter of faith or not – I asked my mom what I should do, letting her know my thoughts.  I could either go to the bathroom during Communion, take the Eucharist and probably be sinning at the same time because I wasn’t in a state of grace with the church (I googled beforehand), or go up to the priest, cross my arms, and still receive a blessing.  I ended up doing the latter because I figured it would have to “come out” to my extended family eventually, and I felt that I needed to be honest with myself and the church and do the more difficult choice.  I’m interested to see how my family reacts to this – with understanding that I made my own decision, or perhaps a choice from a different variety of emotions.
So often, we do the things our parents do, act the way they act, or think the way they think, without challenging those beliefs or actions or trying them on for size.  One might say I made this choice as a rebellious act; although a small slice of rebellion is involved with any teenager’s actions, this decision was made with careful thought and making sure that I was true to myself.  I did challenge those beliefs that I always had because of my upbringing, and it came to be that I didn’t agree with many of them, although I did agree with others.
I decided a little under a year ago to be my own person.  If my family and friends really love me, then they will accept me for who I am – beliefs and all – and help me work through it if I need to.  The last thing this world needs is more complicated and tense relationships, so I can only hope that I can again stick my ground and explain myself if the chance arises, even if I don’t think I need to.  Sometimes people do things because they feel that’s what’s right, and if others disagree, that’s just the way the world works.  If a friend or family member is a true friend, they will understand; if they want to try to help you come back, that shows they at least care enough about you to do that.
Was this written to dissuade or judge people who go to church?  Absolutely not.  I simply made a decision, and I am living with it.  Will I change my mind in the future?  Any intelligent person will never shut their mind off to another way of thinking.  As such, I very well may.  However, at this time, this is how I feel. I’m not turning myself off from religion; I’m simply exploring and processing it on my own terms and time.