#59 (part of the summer Africa series)

Six days from today Laura and I will board a plane in Dallas. Many, many hours later we hope to step off a plane in Cape Town, South Africa. For the following eleven weeks we will explore a continent I have visited (briefly) twice, and Laura has never visited. Our time there will be bookended with ministry; we will be working with mission efforts in South Africa (at the beginning) and Rwanda (near the end) that our home church supports. These two works are special to us because both are led by students we came to know and love at ACU. In-between we will be doing fun and terrifying things, like hiking and kayaking (fun) and driving on the wrong side of the road (terrifying).

My experiences in Africa have been eye-opening and somewhat bittersweet; Africa as a whole presents more despair and misery than any other place I know of. My teenage daughter’s observation on our first trip pretty well sums up the cultural and economic gulf we cross to get there: “this family’s entire house is smaller than our swimming pool.”

Will I be writing while we are there? Funny you should bring that up. Amazingly, through the magic of technology, I have already started writing for the trip. I have a post ready to automatically appear next Tuesday, while I am (choose one):

  1. In the air headed east (if things are going well).
  2. Sitting in DFW airport (if things are going badly).
  3. Slowly becoming part of the eco-system at the bottom of the Atlantic (if things have gone totally sideways, in which case you should not expect any more posts on this account. Also, Ed, that power sander I borrowed a few years ago is in my storage shed; really meant to get that back to you. Sorry.).

Let me also point you to one of my favorite writers, my wife Laura, whose blog focuses on living life to the fullest: https://adventurouslivingblog.wordpress.com.  In fact there is now a single site you can visit to reach both our blogs:  http://markandlauraphillips.com/  Pretty creative name, eh?

You know those totally fake email responses you receive, along the lines of, “I am out of the office and will have limited access to email,” which is a polite way to say, “Keep your grubby paws off my vacation time” since we know that The Googles are everywhere you could possibly go? Well, about that. We will be going off-the-beaten-path on this trip (technically, the no path whatsoever route), which means that we will, in fact, be off the grid for days at a time. Since we are following our traditional “one bag per person” rule, it’s not feasible to take our satellite phones (no, we don’t have those), so the posts will likely be written somewhere pretty remote and then uploaded when we re-emerge from the jungle. Stay tuned. Good news: tons of amazing material to write about. Bad news: unpredictable scheduling. Now that I think about it, those two things pretty much sum up life in Africa in general

Let me briefly share two observations about this trip, which is the longest and most complex we have attempted. First, planning for a trip like this starts about a year ahead, and you always know it’s out there in the distance, and you look forward to it in a kind of non-specific way. This goes on for months, until the day you wake up and realize it’s just one month away. And suddenly it’s a week away, and you start panicking about some of the more obscure things, like the countries that require you to buy an entry visa, in advance, and if you don’t have one you wind up like Tom Hanks in that movie where he was trapped in the international terminal at JFK Airport, and eventually becomes so bored he starts remodeling the walls of the terminal. Only in this case the airport would not be nearly as nice and you would not get to hang out with Catherine Zeta-Jones like Hanks did. I panic less about this stuff than most people might because my wife is an insane planner, but it has definitely been stressful for her.

The second really odd thing about this trip is that I will be going eleven weeks without wearing denim. Jeans are the foundation of the Mark Phillips Signature (c) wardrobe collection, which means that on a majority of days in any given year, that is what I am wearing. But after much soul searching, and given our space constraints and destinations, I am packing two pairs of pants that dry quickly (unlike denim) and that convert from long to short (it will be winter in South Africa, but extremely hot and humid in Rwanda). Technically all pants can convert from long to short via scissors, but these pants also convert back via zipper. Amazing. Michael Scott needed these when he was Survivorman. This will be the longest I have gone without wearing jeans since I first realized I wanted Levi’s and absolutely no ToughSkins jeans with the reinforced knees from Sears, because, well, you know why. I am concerned about the impact this deprivation might have on my psyche, as well as my brand image.

So with all that in mind, let me share with you briefly some of the benefits of travel. As you read these, keep in mind that this does not just refer to the kind of gonzo travel we are doing this summer, which is a relatively new thing for us. Travel, in almost any form, is good for the soul, for reasons that research points out.

Keep in mind as you read this that Americans are far less likely to visit other countries than our neighbors across the pond. The British visit an average of ten countries in their lifetimes, the Germans eight, and the French five, while we manage to get to only three. In fact almost three in ten Americans will never manage to make it across the border at all. Granted, all the countries of Europe could fit easily into the Eastern half of the United States, so distances are just different here, but the result is that our perspectives are often more limited.

Reasons to travel (internationally or domestically):

  1. Physical health benefits. Women who rarely vacation are more likely to have a heart attack than women who travel at least twice a year. Men who don’t take an annual vacation are 30% more likely to die from heart disease. All work and no play, right?
  2. Reduced stress. 89% of vacationers report reduced stress levels after only one to two days of travel. Stepping off the daily 8-to-5 is restorative, and stress is known to worsen numerous physical problems.
  3. Improved creativity. People who travel overseas and engage with the people and culture show greater mental flexibility than those who do not. Nothing broadens your mind and opens your eyes like visiting a place where you don’t know all the rules by heart.
  4. It makes you happier! No surprise here, since you’re skipping work, but it goes beyond that. Planning the trip is often more fun than the trip itself, and anticipating a trip boosts happiness more than anticipating a physical purchase. And while we’re not positive which causes which, women who vacation frequently are much less likely to suffer from depression.

My favorite take on vacation comes from professional curmudgeon Andy Rooney, who observed, “Vacation isn’t better. It’s just different.” There is an awful lot to recommend doing something that is just different; if nothing else it keeps your brain from getting stale, and nobody wants a stale brain. Rooney also said that planning the vacation is the best part, though at this point in our year Laura would probably beg to differ, since she plans to have a crazy good time starting six days from now. I suspect she will…

For many of us, the work required to plan a vacation means we rarely get around to taking one. But remember that great childhood memories are forged in the kiln that is the dreaded summer vacation, and that your time is the most precious gift you can give others. Even a ‘staycation’ can have these kinds of benefits, if you are really willing to disconnect and really truly be present.

 

Get healthy, get happy, get out of your routine! Talk to you soon.

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The reference article I used.