Traveling is like real life in a lot of ways. Sure, I don’t have a “job” or a “bed” or a normal routine or even a set of keys that jingle with me everywhere I go. But I still wake up in the morning and brush my teeth and struggle with the same anxieties that haunted me back in my old life halfway across the world. I still have good days and bad days. Oh, the good days are great! But I still have days where I feel uncomfortable in my skin, or restless, or annoyed, or sad. I try to make the most of these days–I view them as learning experiences, as hurdles that make the happy times even more profound.
So I’ve stopped expecting this to be a trip untainted by sadness or free from emotional difficulty. I’ve stopped expecting strings of perfect days. And I’ve started savoring the moments of pure, unadulterated joy. Sometimes they’re tiny and insignificant to anyone but me. Sometimes they’re huge life events or revelations or dramatically beautiful landscapes. And sometimes, like yesterday morning, they’re like little presents from God, delicately and deliberately hand wrapped and unexpectedly delivered to my doorstep.
I awoke yesterday in Vientiane, Laos–after a night of freezing under the breeze of a super-powered AC unit–with an hour and a half to spare before leaving for the airport. I wanted to at least get a glimpse of the city (we had less than 24 hours there) as well as a good dose of caffeine, so I happily hurried out of our little ice box and into the city. It’s a lovely place: nothing too exciting, but calm and beautiful and a nice little dose of city after lounging at an organic farm by the Laos riverside for a week. Honestly, it kind of felt like Florida, and I kind of liked it. I wandered to the riverside, turned down a little side street, and ran into the most adorable little cafe I had ever seen. The sign read, “common grounds cafe and bakery playground and kids area”. Of course.
I was greeted by a reasonable level of air conditioning, a friendly and clean aesthetic, and lovely music. The menu was written on the board in multicolored chalk, and tubs of homemade peanut butter were showcased just under a row of perfectly frosted cupcakes. There was local art on the walls. There was espresso. It was like my own tiny little version of paradise. And it was quiet enough to classify my quick breakfast as alone time.
I sat down at a little table, looking out at the street through the front windows and sipping probably the tastiest cappuccino I’d had in months. If I hadn’t been carefully planning how to spend my last few thousand Laos Kip (they had to last me through snack-buying at the airport), I would have ordered five more. Each sip was savored, each bit of foam carefully devoured with consideration of its ratio to coffee and sugar. The multigrain toast with homemade peanut butter and jam (which tasted like it actually had fruit in it!) arrived at the perfect time: late enough for me to savor my first few hits of caffeine while staring wistfully out the window, early enough that I could enjoy my appetizer and main course simultaneously for at least a minute or two until my espresso was no longer. I carefully spread the peanut butter and jam onto the toast, enjoying the fact that I was enjoying such a perfectly kid-friendly treat while seated at an establishment that advertises as a playground. There’s something so comforting about a PB&J, so simple and perfect and reminiscent of your mom serving up a plate of love as you came in from outside (or, uh, up from the TV room).
With a day of travel ahead of me, I knew these precious moments of calm and quiet and peace had to be savored, that the pure enjoyment of being exactly where I was was something special. I drank in that sense of excited gratitude, saying a quick prayer of thanks for this tiny moment of pure joy. Something so fleeting, so meaningless to any passerby, was enough to make my week. Enough to make me look back on my less-than-24 hour trip to what many people have told me is a boring city with nostalgia and appreciation.
Sure, the big moments and the sweeping landscapes and the epic experiences are fun. I’ll certainly be telling my kids about the times that Mariel and I had to run off of a bus in the middle of India in the middle of the night and pee behind a wall because we wouldn’t see a bathroom for hours. Trust me, I’ve got some good stories. But these little bits of happiness that are all my own–these are different types of treasures, the types that are special because of how unremarkable they are. Divine sparks of happiness gifted to us sporadically, which we can only respond to with a smile and a quiet “thank you” and a squeeze of our eyes to stow away the feeling for our own personal records.