I started working on our family’s travel plans for Semester at Sea six months or so before we left the US on the adventure of a lifetime. As I pored over apps like Travelocity, Hopper, and hotels.com to try to find the best (i.e., cheapest) deals and arrange for the two-week excursion scheduled to take place prior to our arrival on the ship, I was dumbfounded by a simple and rather annoying condition to European air travel: maximum bag weight. Perhaps this outs me as a naive and unseasoned world traveler, but I’d never run into such a thing before.
While Semester at Sea was extremely generous with what we were allowed to bring on board (though I’m still a little bitter that I wasn’t allowed to bring a drone to get some kickass footage of the ship out to sea), the airlines I was booking with all had a strict restriction of 20kg per checked bag, and when I started reading the message boards on sites like Trip Advisor, I read horror stories of how much others had been charged for going even 500 grams over weight. See, our extremely tight budget didn’t make room for overages like this, so I panicked.
As a result, we spent the better part of our summer reading blogs from previous voyagers that included packing suggestions and test-packing our bags. Each time, we weighed ourselves first, then stepped off the scale before getting back on while holding our bags and subtracting the result. After plugging the numbers into my conversion app (seriously, US, why can’t you just convert to the freaking metric system already?), each time, we were consistently over by at least five pounds.
We unpacked, reevaluated, repacked, and repeated this process more times than I even care to remember, but in the end, we felt confident that we’d finally found the perfect balance, where we had all we needed while remaining under the weight limit. However, our bags were stuffed so tightly that the zippers audibly begged us for mercy the day we drove to Seattle to hop on a plane bound for Iceland.
After five days in Reykjavik, we immediately realized our overstuffed bags were going to be a problem, thanks in large part to a contingency for which we neglected to plan: souvenirs.
In our desperation, we reevaluated what we had brought once again and jettisoned the unnecessary, commencing the process of packing and repacking. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN! This scenario repeated itself again in every other stop we made prior to finding ourselves aboard the World Odyssey: in Norway, in Krakow, in Berlin, and lastly, in Bremerhaven, where we boarded the ship.
Somewhere amid all this madness, a profound moral struck me regarding our fumbling attempts at preparation and packing. Midway through our voyage, a blinding epiphany hit me during a furiously competitive family Uno session up on Deck 9, and I discovered the ultimate metaphor for the most important lesson I’m taking away from Voyage 127 of Semester at Sea. This lesson consists of only two words, which is strangely ironic for someone as prone to verbosity as myself.
Ready for it?
Here it comes: Make room.
Make room for the unknown. You may not recognize the importance of this right now, but when uncertainty strikes at the most inconvenient time, and you realize that you DON’T have room to deal with it, then you will most DEFINITELY understand the significance of doing so. Like water, which always finds its way around, under, over, or even through obstacles, learn to go with the flow and make room for the unexpected.
Make room to listen. Sure, there’s moments when our brains might be packed full with a seemingly endless to-do list, and our phones might beg for our attention with a never-ending notification stream, but sometimes, life’s most significant moments sneak up on us: moments where a loved one needs a listening ear, moments where someone’s story causes a seismic shift in our perception of the world, and moments where a potentially lifelong friend is ready to share their story. As those moments arrive, we need to be mindful enough to notice them and ready to jettison the unnecessary so that we can surrender ourselves to those moments.
Make room to give freely and generously. I was absolutely awestruck by a gesture my children made the night of the crew talent show. Over the course of this voyage, they have befriended so many of our wonderful crew members, whether it was learning and practicing Spanish with Pacheco and Belkin from the pool bar, absorbing the beaming warmth and kindness from servers like Perry, Ingrid, and Dexter, bantering back and forth with Linval before meals and trying to sneak their dirty dishes past him to bus their tables themselves, laughing hysterically at David’s humor while waiting for him to finish making a plate of fries, or so many other countless positive interactions with an amazing and supportive crew. When they found out about the auction, they asked my wife and I if they could skip Christmas this year if they could win one of the paintings and give back to the crew fund in the process. Keep in mind that my children typically start planning their wish lists in July, and they came up with the idea to give all that up and blow our family’s entire Christmas budget (and then some) as a means to help the crew who have given them so much joy. Of course, now, we have to make room for the painting as well, but that’s another story, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t weigh that much.
Make room for hugs. The day my daughter and I stood around for nearly eight hours while out to sea, holding signs advertising free hugs, we originally did so because I had tasked my interpersonal comm students with the challenge of committing five random acts of kindness in one day, and I’m not one to ask students to do something I’m not willing to do myself. As the day went on, however, what my daughter and I discovered was that kindness is one of the only gifts that doubles when given freely. Five minutes into the activity, we found ourselves smiling uncontrollably, and it was the result of seeing the simple joy that genuine human contact generates. And, if hugs aren’t your thing, consider making room for high fives, fist bumps, or at the very least, authentic smiles.
Make room for memories. I know I’m constantly harping on the idea of being mindfully present and learning when to put the f**king phone down and make yourselves aware of life as it happens around you, but I do so for a couple of very important reasons.
First, life is pretty freaking amazing, isn’t it? Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist monk who inspired the latter part of Martin Luther King’s career, said:
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle, but I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day, we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. ALL is a miracle.”
If that isn’t enough to inspire you, then perhaps consider the words of the immortal Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.”
Second, I talk about this stuff all the time because I need the reminder myself. We’re all equally prone to the addictive nature of technology, and I am certainly not immune, so this is a wake-up call for me as well. It’s far too easy to reach into my pocket and snap a pic of what seems like a really profound moment. But sometimes, maybe discretion really IS the better part of valor, and absorbing life as it happens without succumbing to the need to document every last second helps us make room for more lasting memories.
So, as I and all the other voyagers of the 127th voyage of Semester at Sea prepare to disembark this voyage with the intention of embarking on life’s many other voyages: voyages of learning, voyages of discovery, voyages packed with self-growth, development, struggle, and curiosity, I call on us all to remember to make room.
Make room for the unknown.
Make room for conversation.
Make room to give freely.
Make room to love others.
Make room for our potential to grow and flourish.
When we do, we will discover a paradox: the more room we make for possibility, the fuller our lives become.
And there isn’t an airline in the world that can overcharge for that.