"I'm sorry. It is too late. Your father passed away."
As I hear those words on the other end of the line, I am more than 9000 km away from my home country and I'm trying hard not to faint. After a long pause, I tell the person on the phone that I will book a flight and travel back to Europe immediately. I didn't expect saying this. Nor did I think I would actually go through with my intention. There are situations in life you think you are prepared for. But when they occur, despite your darnest efforts to convince yourself that you know exactly how you would react, the unexpected happens: you do what you least anticipated.
What surprised me the most was to be struck with symptoms of grief from the very first moment I heard these words. It did not make sense. My father and I were estranged. Why did I even care?
I cried all the way back to Europe: in the taxi, in the queue, in the duty-free shop where I bought a little clay angel to place on his grave, in the plane... I was going to bury my father. Even worse, I was going to bury what I yearned for all my life: the hope that we would ever have a normal father-daughter relationship. This hit me hard!
When I set off to travel the world 8 months earlier, I did not envisage that my father would come back into my life in this way. Just 24 hours before, when I flew from New Zealand to Guatemala, all I could feel was the excitement of doing this yoga retreat I had booked and travel Central- and South America as planned. I saved so many years to fulfil my dream of travelling the world. Now this? Life happens while you are busy making other plans, I guess.
But somehow travelling all these months before this happened, had taught me some important lessons. Without realizing it, travelling made me grow in a way that actually helped me prepare for this situation and gave me the tools I needed to cope better:
Travelling toughened me up.
I learnt that things go wrong and you just have to deal with it. It also taught me that everything always somehow works out in the end. If life gives you lemons, you indeed make the best tasting lemonade out of them! Travelling turns your anxieties into determination and confidence. So, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I pushed through this. I flew back, I confronted my past and I got closure. Sometimes things are not meant to be in life. I know in my heart that I have done everything I could all these years - the ball had been in his corner for more than ten years. Actually probably all his life. The only thing I could do now, is forgive and let go.
Perhaps, this was the greatest lesson of all: it does not matter how far you travel, you always take yourself and your past with you!
Travelling made me more patient.
Cutting ties with my father meant that I did not have a place to call my home any longer. In fact, I lost my home already when my mother passed away a decade earlier. My father had not only estranged me but everyone else in his family. And as a result, I was left to deal with this situation on my own. In essence, I was travelling to the country I was born in, but to check-in to a hotel made it feel as if I was going there on holiday. As if it was another stop on my world trip. But not a good one. Everything felt so incredibly surreal.
In the past, I would have freaked. I would have cursed for having to organize a funeral from a hotel room. I would have felt like a victim. But instead, I coped remarkably well. My experiences on my travels taught me to approach difficult situations with a mindset of acceptance. Most of all, it taught me that it could always be worse!
Travelling taught me to be more social.
Before I set off to travel the world, I sometimes felt uncomfortable around people. As an introvert, i often chose solitude over socialising. This was something I wanted to challenge. So, I did. I plucked up my courage and pushed myself to meeting new people. It was fate, that one day, I met a girl while couchsurfing in Australia that happened to know someone in my father's city who was looking for a housesitter! How big are the odds? I now had a much-needed refuge for a few weeks! If it wasn't for putting myself in unknown (social) situations, this would have never happened.
Travelling the world means you are constantly exposed to the generosity of people. You never know who you might meet next and how one encounter could turn out to be the biggest blessing in disguise!
Travelling made me appreciate the littlest things.
If you travel on a budget, like me, you have to rough it sometimes. I once woke up with a cockroach in my t-shirt in a bungalow in Thailand. In Nepal, I didn't have a proper hot shower for nearly two weeks. These experiences make you see the richness of all that we take for granted. You become so incredibly thankful for basically...everything. When I travelled back to Europe to say goodbye to my father, I was mindfully in tune with life around me and I tried to focus on all that is good. I was thankful for the evenings spent by the waterfront drinking an ice-cold beverage or dangling my feet into the lake while watching the sunset. I was overjoyed to eat all the familiar dishes that I had not tasted for so long. I could still see the light amongst the darkness I felt inside.
Had I not gone travelling and undergone a major personal development prior to this incident, I would have probably been so preoccupied with my anxious thoughts that I would have missed to be in the moment and not realised, that despite what life throws at you sometimes, you are still surrounded by so much wonder and beauty.
Above all else, travelling taught me that every experience in life is always what you make of it!
This article first appeared on alifefullofserendipity.com.