Fun on the road: The play-filled moments that make us feel alive

Shutterstock: Royalty-free stock photo ID: 151371983

How often do we make time to play and have fun in our day-to-day lives? It’s all too easy to get mired in the slog of daily routine and adult responsibility. Travel breaks that routine. Whether you’re traveling solo or with others, there are those moments while traveling where you become fully, viscerally aware of how much fun you’re having. It’s exhilarating. It transports you back in time to your youth, where fun and play were the focal points of your existence. It’s in these moments where you realize that you’re not only feeding your adult self with a heaping serving of fun but your inner child as well.

We asked you, our fellow JourneWomen, how you’ve embraced child-like wonder, curiosity, and awe while traveling. Your stories made us smile, laugh, and feel brilliantly alive. That’s the magical thing about fun and play – when you share it, others feel what you feel.

Some of you find your fun in the company of creatures who understand its importance – animals.

Like Marilyn T., who had an elephant encounter of the touching variety while on safari in Chobe National Park in 2004. It was her first solo trip. She was intrigued by Africa – loved the movies, historical novels and nature programs that focused on it. “An elephant in full musth walked up to the van and raised his trunk. I could see his nostrils flaring with each breath as he sniffed the air, moving closer to me. While barely breathing, my heart was pounding. I made eye contact with him. He had beautiful dark brown eyes, surrounded by long eyelashes,” she recounts. “He sniffed a few more times, then slowly backed away. It quite literally took my breath away. I started to breathe again and experienced an adrenaline rush like rarely before. Such a thrilling and intimate moment!”

The best thing about the experience for Marilyn was the sense of connection she felt to an intelligent beast. “He could have tipped the van and trampled us all. He could have grabbed my arm and pulled me out the window. He didn’t. He was curious, and I was blessed with this experience,” she says. “I think all Canadians feel an affinity to wildlife. It starts young. We have been an outdoor family all our lives. I’ve seen moose, bears, wolves, and even a cougar in the wild. Living on the coast, I’ve seen orcas, humpbacks, and grey whales many times. Never this close up.”

The intent look an elephant gives Marilyn T. before reaching into the window of her safari van to give her a playful sniff.

Aurelia I. felt like she was coming out of her shell when she interacted with some gentle giants in Seychelles: “I felt like I was a kid again around these giant tortoises,” she says. “They even like having their chins scratched. Who knew?!”

Aurelia T. feeding some giant tortoises AND her inner child in Seychelles.

Since 2008, Dee K. has gone dog sledding in Alaska (Juneau), Finland (Helsinki), and twice in Manitoba (Churchill). The dogs are a big part of the fun and thrill for her. “It is rather exhilarating to fly past trees, buildings, and glide across the frozen ground,” she says. “The dogs are also excited to be running and they are having such a fun time, it’s catching to the passengers. The dogs will often glance back at you and the driver as if they want to see your excitement. Each time I’ve done the trip, I laugh a lot because I feel so joyous at being able to do it again. When we have to stop, it’s sort of sad, but then you get to visit with the dogs and share your experience with other people, which helps keep the excitement and joy around you longer.”

For some of you, it’s all in the adrenaline-pumping thrill of an extreme adventure.

Marion B. went skydiving in New Brunswick with two of her late husband’s military friends – Andy and Joe – to challenge herself and bring her husband’s memory a little closer. “Both men were supportive, encouraging, brave and crazy like me to take a trip to skydive for the first time. I flew to Fredericton to visit with Andy and his family for two weeks. During that time, we took a one-day road trip to Moncton, where the skydiving school was. We were given a two-hour class and suited up,” she recalls.

Before the jump, she was nervous and a little scared. But as she was freefalling, she looked up to the sky and clouds, and her only thought to break through the rush of adrenaline was that her husband was watching over her. “When we were coming down, I felt exhilarated but also thought this was the dumbest thing I had ever done. Similar to defying my parents by doing something scary without permission when I was young and foolish – only now I was 60 and still foolish,” she says. “Through the experience, I learned that sometimes you just have to do what others would challenge you about – and that I missed my husband so much and would do anything to be closer to him.”

Marion B’s tandem freefall jump in New Brunswick.

Others only need their best friend with them to feel young and have fun find them.

Susan S. met bestie Nikki serendipitously in 1988 on a bus from Perth to Darwin in Australia. “The rains hit and washed away part of the highway. The bus was returning to Perth and I had no money left – the bus drivers were splitting their duty meal so I could eat! Nikki volunteered to travel with me and pay for everything until we got to Darwin, where I’d had money wired to me,” she recalls. “We’ve been best friends ever since. She is one of the few people I travel really well with. We’re up for adventure and don’t like anything structured. We have a tendency to only get airline tickets, at least one night in a hotel and just let the rest happen. We’ve wound up in some interesting situations because of that!”

Susan and Nikki when they first started traveling together.

That fateful night in Rome at the first wine bar at which Susan and Nikki stopped.

For these two best friends, travel has become therapy – no judgment, no responsibility, no schedule. “We can remember what it was like to have fun before life and family got in the way,” Susan says. “It’s the impromptu concerts (David Bowie at Milton Keynes). It’s the free balloon trip in Niagara Falls because the guy thought Nikki was cute. It’s winding up on a convention bus with a bunch of men from Bulk Barn and going clubbing with them. It’s the wandering around Banff and discovering (only because we had no idea what it really was) The Great Divide. All the while, there is not an awkward moment or even an argument.”

Some of you stumble upon unexpected fun rather serendipitously while traveling solo.

Nancy M. was in Palermo, Italy in November 2018. At her hotel, she learned that Palermo was having a puppet festival with free shows. She attended one at the Puppet Museum and went back for another that was sold out. Fortuitously, she met a family who invited her to walk with them eight blocks away to a puppet show clearly designed for adults. “The stories are not something we would see at a children’s show in North America. They’re not PC. This show is about good and evil, battles from history, and a bit of romance. It was violent, and kids should be scared but they loved it – heckling the bad guys, yelling out comments, laughing,” she says. “The shows are traditional in nature and the dialogue is Sicilian dialect. A woman told me that even some Italians from Rome probably didn’t catch all of the meaning. But the action onstage speaks for itself.”

The experience brought Nancy back to her childhood when she attended a Ukrainian puppet show with a friend who had to translate the show for her, which led to a whole lot of shushing. “I still smile when I think of it,” she says. “I learned that you’re never too old to enjoy something like this. The shows are like living history and art at the same time. It was just amazing to be part of the audience. In almost all of the shows, I think I was the only tourist from outside Italy.”

A puppet workshop where Nancy purchased her own wee puppet as a memento of an amazing experience.

For others, a deep love for Canada’s game brings connection and fun all over the world.

Leslie Q. started playing hockey as an adult in her thirties, which she found a tad intimidating at first. She pushed nerves aside and decided to give it a shot because she loved the energy, enthusiasm and team spirit she felt every time she watched her son play – and because it’s a great way to stay fit, have fun and meet new people.

She got started in a women’s hockey league with a beginner’s division and currently plays in three different leagues – a co-ed league called Adult Rookie Hockey League, the Hamilton Women’s Hockey League, and a three-on-three league called Harrigan Hockey.

She discovered what fuels her fun in a group called The Women of Winter (TWOW), which organizes tournaments in different countries around the world to promote the game, share experiences, and exchange knowledge about the sport. “There’s nothing else that really compares to the feeling I get with these travel-and-play trips. It’s probably the combination of two things that I really love that makes it so special – being able to travel and see the world and play hockey with new people is an exhilarating combination,” says Leslie.”You get to be a big kid, see the world, stay fit and make lifelong friends. How much better can it get than that?!”

She has been to Iceland twice (May 2015 and October 2019) and to Austria and Germany (September 2016) with TWOW. “I remember getting on the bus after arriving in Reykjavik and feeling all jittery and nervous because I didn’t know anyone on my team. It felt like getting on the school bus for my very first day of school,” she says. “But as soon as we got to the arena for our first game, I felt at ease because everyone was so friendly and welcoming. It was so much fun getting to know each other and as we got through each game the feeling of camaraderie grew more and more. I also felt like a big kid while we would sit together and watch the other teams play. It was fun goofing around and strategizing about our next game.”

When not playing hockey, she’s fed her inner child with whale watching, hot springs, snowmobiling across glaciers, taking a cable car ride up Germany’s Tegelberg mountain and sliding down the summer toboggan run, and touring Neuschwanstein Castle – a highlight for a self-admitted castle lover.

Leslie and her husband enjoy a snowmobile adventure tour on Langjokull glacier in Iceland.

 Leslie’s team in the 2019 TWOW Tournament in Iceland.

“It was so refreshing and exhilarating to feed my inner child by participating in these tours. In a world that’s filled with so much ‘busyness’ and hustle and bustle, I think it’s more important than ever to take the time to let your inner child out,” she says. “Coming back from these trips I felt so energetic, pumped and alive, so it was a great way to bring back some of my spunk.”

Fun and play aren’t exclusive to travel. We have magical opportunities to create space for both in our lives, every day. Some of you are exploring ways to do just that.

Dee K. retired five years ago and has been traveling wither her husband for the fun of experiencing the world and everything it has to offer. “I think feeding your inner child or having play experiences is what keeps us young,” she muses. “Too often in our adult world, we focus so intently on job and obligations and procuring things that we forget about just living in the moment or experiencing things around us.”

Marion B.’s skydiving adventure ignited a flame of courage and daring inside her. Since that adventure, “I have learned to travel solo and enjoy my own company on travels to Italy, the United States, Mexico, and other places in Canada so far,” she says.

Inspired by her globetrotting hockey adventures with The Women of Winter, Leslie Q. makes an effort to incorporate a bit of fun and play in her life on a more regular basis. “I try to get out for local hockey tournaments, skills and drills clinics to meet new people.

“I also try to get out of my comfort zone and try new things that allow me to be a big kid at heart – things like fun runs, obstacle runs or mud runs, going for hikes, joining groups that allow me to network and grow but that also include ‘fun’ activities are on my radar now that I know how great the benefits are,” she says. “There are lots of ways to get out and play, but I think the hard part is giving ourselves permission to get away from the day-to-day grind and actually just have fun.”

Our tips for embracing fun on your travels

  1.  Keep your eyes and mind open:
    Fun is around almost every corner if you’re paying attention, and don’t heed the voice of your inner killjoy. You know the one that tells you you’re too much of something and not enough of the other.
  2.  Reconnect with your inner child:
    We all have things we loved to do when we were young. Things we longed to do. Things we put aside because someone told us that we weren’t talented enough or that we shouldn’t be frivolous. Well, screw that. Be frivolous. Do something for the fun of it without fretting over the result. Don’t worry about what anyone else but you thinks.
  3.  Step outside of your comfort zone:
    Comfort brings us a false sense of security. It’s where our ego would have us live to keep us safe and stuck. You don’t have to go out and be a daredevil if that’s not who you are, but if something scares you just a little, play close attention. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, check in with yourself and ask if this is something you want or need. Then just hit go and do the damn thing. You won’t regret it, unless you play it safe.
  4.  Say yes more often when locals or friends invite you on adventures:
    When someone who isn’t selling something tells you there is an experience not to be missed, don’t miss it. Follow your intuition. Your gut tells you when it’s time to take yourself and life less seriously and have a bit of fun. Listen and let go of all the no-no-I-couldn’t-possibly’s.

Amanda Burgess

Amanda Burgess is a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure; co-founder of the Sharyn Mandel School in Gobele, Ethiopia; and Acting Editor of Journeywoman. Follow her and her adventures on Instagram @unshakeable.me.

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