Traveling is Life

Often, I am asked if I have always had a love for travel, and traveled a lot when I was younger.  Well, not really.  My family went on family vacations, but mostly road trips up the California and Oregon Coast.  We did go on volunteer trips every so often over Christmas Holidays to places like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Peru.  I didn’t appreciate these trips at the time, mostly because I was suffering from Stupid Teenager Syndrome.

My parents, although not wealthy, were comfortable, and I had more than I needed; love, security, and a nice quality of life.  They sent me to private schools, bought me an old jeep when I turned 16, and funded the 10-day trip to France with my high school French class.

I’ve had a good start in life.  I don’t have many reasons to frown, and for this, I am thankful.  But, even with my charmed life, I haven’t always been happy.  I fell into depression, dark and scary, after graduating from college, living through years when the ache in my soul outweighed every sunshine moment.  There weren’t any sunshine moments.  I was sad.  I was lost.  I was uncertain.

It was travel, that in a round-about way, saved me.  It is being a flight attendant that has saved me, a job that I thought I would hate.  Through working as a flight attendant, I have gained access to a world that I never knew much about, and never knew that I would want to explore to such an extreme.  I never knew that it could capture me so gently, yet hold a tight grip, and guide me back to happiness.

Flight Attendant in Spain

Admiring Catalonia, Spain

There are reasons why travel brings me this undeniable joy, and some of these reasons are actually scientifically backed (I know this from reading The Happiness Project).  Here are my reasons why travel makes me happy.

Travel + Me = Happy

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal Happy

  • Spontaneity:  The way that I travel requires spontaneity, well maybe not requires, but being up-for-anything is how some of my best memories were made.  If I hadn’t decided two days before that I should go to Iceland, or a few weeks ago, very last-minute to visit a fire station in Downtown Los Angeles, I would have missed out on seeing really neat places and meeting really great people.  If I had said, “Well, it’s not in ‘my agenda,’ I would have missed out on the laughter and experiences.  Even if those experiences are not your favorite, they can give you an appreciation for the predictable and scheduled parts of your life.  Spontaneous action creates surprise, an element of letting go of control of outcomes, giving more room for bliss.
  • Challenge:  Challenge and novelty are key elements to happiness.  When you are challenged, you may first experience frustration and anxiety, but when the situation is faced, and you accomplish what you hoped to, you have a sense of satisfaction, which is even more sweet because you had to work for it.  Challenges are constantly faced during travel.  I am always a step beyond my comfort zone, but I appreciate the challenges associated with travel.  I’ve gotten myself lost and then found again so many times, problem solved, and tried to communicate with other cultures and in foreign countries, and somehow, I’ve figured it out.  I smile knowing that I can face challenges, handle them, whether the outcome is what I hope or not, and be ok.
  • Connecting:  Humans are social creatures that crave interaction, and not just rubbing shoulders, but meaningful friendships and relationships.  Travel has a way of connecting people through a shared interest, shared experience, and shared understanding.  When we connect, we create a psychological space of safety so that we can explore and learn.  This blog has been a source of connection for me personally, introducing me to people who I would have never crossed paths with.  The travel that I have done has connected me in the moment with others, as well as after the moment, because I understand so much more due to my experiences.
  • Learning: Whether it is how to read a map, or deeper life stuff like purpose, travel is a great teacher, and has been that for me.  I’ve learned that I am more capable than I believe.  I’ve developed confidence, discovered I don’t need to take everything so seriously, and that maybe, I am in the right spot more than I had previously thought.
  • Trying new things:  When traveling, most-to-all encounters are new; from food, to stores, to activities.  Travel can be an information overload, but that is one of the beauties found in travel.  I don’t have to look for ways to reinvent my day, and make it different.  That is naturally built into travel.  That makes me happy.  Trying new things makes me happy, whether I am back home in Honolulu and going skydiving for the first time, or in Los Angeles going to an audition for the first time, there is just something about new things that make my heart skip.
  • Being adaptable:  Being adaptable and willing to compromise is a key to finding happiness, and when traveling, you have to be willing to go change your mind and accept the way a day may go.  Your flight will probably be delayed, you may miss your train, or you might make friends that invite you to go to a country that wasn’t on your itinerary.  When you are adaptable, you create room for new, unplanned experiences, and space for increased happiness.
  • Exploring:  Travel is exploration, not just of far off locales, but into your soul.  You discover.  Your eyes are opened to a new view, and you are changed.  Travel has allowed me to explore cultures, people’s thoughts, places, and myself in a way, and depth that I never expected, ultimately leading me to a higher level of happiness.
  • Understanding:  Travel has given me a different understanding of the world and the people in it.  This more open-minded attitude has given room for increased happiness in my life.  I have more acceptance for others as well as myself.
  • Surprise:  Travel is one surprise after another.  I have been surprised by the goodness of a taxi driver in Athens, by meeting my best friends on a random flight over four years ago, by the awe striking beauty of hiking in Hawaii.  I have been surprised by loving places in the world and also people.  I have grown up, and stayed a child.  I have lived places where I said that I would never live.  I have done things that I said I would never do.  My life is a surprise, and just thinking about that, brings a smile to my face.  Surprises make me happy.  When you travel, you will not be able to avoid surprises.
  • Relinquish control:  When you hold to suffocating control, you not only choke out the beauty of experiences, you diminish a sense of happiness.  I know this too well.  Travel teaches me constantly.  It whispers lovingly, but firmly that there is too much outside of my control that I have no influence over, that I am powerless to change.  It allows me to be free.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from the book, The Happiness Project:

“This is one of the paradoxes of happiness:  we seek to control our lives, but the familiar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness.  What’s more, because novelty requires more work from the brain, dealing with novel situations evokes more intense emotional responses and makes the passage of time seem slower and richer.”

Paris in the rain
Paris in the rain

Jimmy, happy even in the Parisian Rain

About the Author

Hello, I’m K. J. Watts, but my friends call me Kara. I fell into the sky and have worked as International cabin crew, on private jets as a corporate flight attendant, and earned an FAA Private Pilot Certificate. Over a decade ago, I started this blog, which developed into a love for writing and a debut memoir based on Flight Attendant Life. A California native, I now live in Sydney, Australia, where I enjoy spending time with my husband, writing, and surfing.

  1. Can I vote NOW? Best blog entry ever! (uh…’cept for the tiny grammar mistakes, but that’s cool too)

  2. Hey Kara,
    I just wanted to say that I love your blog!!! It helped me so much through the long process that takes to become a flight attendant! I can finally say I made it! 🙂 And just want to Thank you for sharing your life stories! Quick question: What camera do you use to take your pictures? Or do you use your phone’s camera?! I’m ready to start snapping away my own adventures 🙂 Thank you!

    1. Congrats on making it through training! I don’t miss those days at all. So much adventure in store for you:) Enjoy it, even the not so fun days.

      I most often just use my iPhone and Instagram. My camera broke awhile ago, and I haven’t replaced it yet.

  3. Excellent post Kara and seems like we think very similarly, especially in terms of the role that human interaction plays in travel. Connecting with people we would never have come across in life had we not been traveling is exactly what has kept me on the road for so long.

    (And thank you for the link!)

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