I took a trip recently to Carmel, California. It’s a quaint coastal town of art galleries, restaurants, shops, and scenic beauty. My family used to live just north of Carmel, and we vacationed there often.
I stayed in a local establishment and visited countless galleries, chatting with owners and artists. The purpose of my trip was to indulge in some alone time to paint, write and think.
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We often overlook the power of alone time. Most of our lives are filled with family obligations, work, appointments, and online activity. When we finally take a vacation, all the planning, travel and logistics can leave us exhausted. We end up missing a lot.
“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” — George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Traveling on vacation with a partner or family has its rewards, but also a few drawbacks. You make concessions on where to go, what to eat, and what to do.
It’s different when you’re by yourself. You have total freedom to do whatever you like and to be alone with your thoughts. The trick is to actually slow down and embrace the solitude.
They weren’t having much fun
I was enjoying a latte and shortbread cookie in a Carmel bakery, alone with my thoughts, when a French couple energetically strolled in.
They approached the counter and ordered a menu item from the kitchen. It was early evening and the proprietor told them the kitchen had closed. They could purchase coffee drinks or pastries, but nothing on the kitchen menu.
The French couple was visibly upset. They gestured at the menu sign and began speaking rapidly in French. The bakery owner said, “I’m sorry, is there something in the display case you might like?” but the couple spun around and headed for the exit.
I don’t speak French, but when I left the bakery I saw the couple on the street corner, arguing. The man pointed one way, and the woman pointed the other way. I presumed they were debating where to eat.
The argument went on for a bit, and then in exasperation, the woman held up both her arms in some kind of surrender and followed the man as he stomped off.
They weren’t having much fun.
Little demons in the luggage
We’ve all been here, haven’t we? On a trip with our significant other. Perhaps an overdue vacation to get away, relax and recharge our engines. But then the plane is delayed, the oysters you ate didn’t agree with you, and jet lag makes you both cranky.
You argue about which show to see. He wants to sight-see and you want to shop. You get lost on that coastal drive and he left the sunscreen back in the hotel room. She did all the planning and is mad because he wants to hang at the bar.
Before long, you’re bickering. The little resentments that exist in all relationships are supposed to stay behind when we vacation, but sometimes they tag along, like little demons in the luggage.
It’s best to work out who is doing what before the vacation, and agree to compromise with one another. Give one another space to do what you want.
Most importantly, whether traveling with your significant other or alone, there’s one thing you can do that will prevent you from missing out on life:
Let go of control.
Release the stress
It’s weird and counterintuitive, but things seem to go more smoothly when you give up control. When you let things happen naturally instead of trying to make things happen.
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” — Steve Maraboli
When I first arrived in Carmel for my brief, personal get-a-way, I felt strangely alone. A bit adrift.
I’m used to traveling with my wife and enjoying her company. While I looked forward to hours of gallery hopping, I found meals by myself were less enjoyable. I avoided expensive, fine restaurants. They seem less appealing when you’re alone.
Toward the end of the first day, I decided to let go of all control and expectations and just immerse myself in the experience. When I did this, I started to relax more.
I took my time in coffee shops, observing people and writing thoughts in my Moleskine notebook. I enjoyed long conversations with gallery owners and artists. I found myself reminiscing about the past, and family trips to Carmel when I was a boy.
If you try to control every aspect of your life, you’ll miss out on a lot. Peace and serendipity seem to find you more when you let go and settle into the moments.
A more peaceful state of mind
My mini-vacation was a helpful break. While I missed my wife, son and dogs back home, the time alone allowed me to think and reflect. Time seemed to slow down. At night in my hotel room, I read for hours and filled pages in my notebook.
On the last day, I left Carmel in my rental car to drive back to the airport in San Jose. I left early and found I had a few hours to kill.
Having let go of any itinerary, I found myself driving through my childhood town of Los Gatos, and onward to the town of Saratoga. Without much thought, I drove to La Madronia cemetery, where my Dad and maternal grandparents are buried.
It was a beautiful day, as I listened to the birds and felt the breeze blowing through the trees. Here’s a short video capturing the moment in the cemetery.
Had I carefully planned out my Carmel trip, I doubt I would have thought to visit the cemetery where my Dad is laid to rest. I’m so glad I let go of control and allowed my short, personal vacation to meander and find its own way.
“Letting go helps us to live in a more peaceful state of mind and helps restore our balance. It allows others to be responsible for themselves and for us to take our hands off situations that do not belong to us. This frees us from unnecessary stress.” -Melody Beattie
If you keep trying to control everything in your life, if you don’t learn how to let go and trust in the moments, then you might miss out on the magic of life.
If you’re on vacation and you take a wrong turn, why not see where the unexpected road leads? If your spouse orders the wrong meal, don’t get mad. Go out on a limb and try the dish. You might discover something delicious.
Explore moments as they occur
Obviously, we can’t abandon all our responsibilities in life and just see what happens. But not everything requires control. Vacations (and life in general) can be more fun when we let go and open ourselves up to new experiences.
Carving out personal time to slow down, stop planning and just explore moments as they occur, can calm our minds and allow new ideas and thoughts to percolate.
For example, one Sunday afternoon I let go of my compulsion to plan and “be productive.” I started experimenting in my art studio, trying new techniques with my landscape painting. The result was the painting “Reflections”(featured at the top of this article) which sold a few weeks after I painted it.
Give it a try. Stop trying to control everything and just let go once in a while. It’s incredibly freeing, you might discover new things, and a little bit of magic just might come into your life.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading.
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