Exploratory Gratitude

By Molly Stillwell

Growing up, I had a burning desire to escape my hometown and travel to exotic places where “things actually happened”. In the process, I criticized and rebelled against the space I found myself in, often telling my parents of all the other places I would live…anywhere I could to get away from Tacoma, Washington. I’m sure most of us and our inner-adolescent can relate in some way to this push for defining your own life and experiences beyond your childhood home, regardless of where ‘home’ may be. For me, this perspective came to limit my ability to see my hometown as anything else than a place to escape.

Then, in 2013, I finally got my big break as I flew to Singapore to take part in a leadership course, Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership. To say it changed my life would be an understatement. Not only did the course open up a whole new world of thinking for me, but so did my experiences abroad.

Since then, I have visited over twenty different countries, lived in a van in New Zealand for the better part of a year, and circled the planet twice. For every experience, in every destination, I have become increasingly grateful for the privilege I have to explore the beauty of the world, meeting new and amazing people, and realizing my dream of adventure. However, surprisingly—or maybe not very—what I have grown most grateful for is my home in Tacoma, Washington.

In this process, I’ve come to find the old adage true that sometimes it takes losing something (or in this case, leaving it) to realize how meaningful it truly was and the ways you took those benefits for granted. Stepping outside of our routine and expanding our awareness of the world can help us recognize this, which leaves us with the opportunity to then choose how we want to continue seeing our lives. Without the ability to adventure away from my home, I was not able to truly appreciate all the beauty my home had to offer. Now, although I continue to travel, I have a new pride for my hometown and a new excitement to return to when I do actually return.

Ultimately, I find travel to be so special because it offers us a positive approach to exploring new ways of being in our lives. Instead of changing through force, as a result of some traumatic experience such as loss, travel empowers me to have an active role in how I change and even allows me to make it enjoyable along the way. I am a different person today because of the travel experiences I have had and for this, I am truly grateful.

Follow Molly’s adventures @the_educated_traveler on Instagram!