A few months ago I posted a piece on the benefits of traveling with intention before I struck out to spend a couple of months in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.
To summarize the point of said post, setting specific intentions for travel provides the opportunity to head into it with clearly defined goals as to what you’re trying to accomplish, whether that means enjoying particular experiences, finding success in business, or even just relaxing. This allows you to plan accordingly and prepare yourself mentally.
I went into my trip with a number of specific intentions, and now that I have returned and found a free moment, it’s time to reflect on the outcome.
The Benefits of Reflection
Reflection is the other half of intention. You can set all of the intentions that you want, but if you don’t take the time to sit down and consider how successful you were at achieving them, you won’t give yourself the chance to capitalize upon your efforts.
This reflection involves:
- Looking at whether or not you were successful.
- Identifying what you did right.
- Identifying where you fell short.
- Determining next steps.
- If necessary, setting new goals.
So how did I do at tackling my own intentions? Let’s go point by point:
- Working on my fiction: Success
My primary goal involved spending a few months someplace where I could live cheaply and find relative social isolation so that I could focus on my fiction writing, and that was a huge success.
What started out as an endeavor to work on a number of short stories turned into the launch of a novel. I began with rewriting a 4k word story that I imagined would end up somewhere around 10k words, and that snowballed into something much grander in scale. At this point I have 40k words, and a solid idea of where it’s going.
Next steps: settle in my new apartment, complete the first draft, edit, rewrite, publish.
I learned two important things from this experience: first, that I can write a novel, and second, that it takes a high degree of isolation and focus.
- Improving my health both physically and mentally: Success
Initially upon arriving in Puerto, I enjoyed a few of its more hedonistic offerings, which culminated in winning a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style shot contest. The ensuing hangover seemed like a good sign that it was time to start on my health-related goals.
Again, I enjoyed a high level of success. I quit smoking, ate an incredibly healthy diet, exercised extensively every day, grew my understanding of yoga, barely drank at all (that’s right – no cervezas or margaritas for Nick), practiced mediation for the first time in years, went swimming regularly, enriched my knowledge on various interesting subjects, honed my abilities at chess, and generally improved my body in mind. As a result I feel and look better, enjoy a higher degree of mental peace, and have packed my brain with useful and interesting information.
Next steps: keep it up.
- Recording music: Fail
I packed along half a suitcase full of recording equipment then bought a guitar immediately upon my arrival with the intention of writing and recording new songs, and failed at both. In fact, I never once used the equipment, and rarely played the guitar.
This happened for a number of reasons. First, I found myself so engaged in my writing that it ate up all of my creative time. Second, guitars were difficult to come by, and though I purchased the best one I could find it simply did not have the sound quality or playability that I seek in a recording instrument. Third, my living situation didn’t lend itself to recording – unless I wanted to have a lot of background noise, which I did not.
I learned that I should not try to spread myself so thin when it comes to goals. My main intention was to write, and had I gone into the trip with that alone in mind, I could have left all of the recording gear at home which would have resulted in a significantly reduced packing load.
Next steps: record once I get settled in my next apartment.
- Improving my Spanish: Somewhat successful
I grew up in a town where Spanish is prevalent, and I spent more than a year living in Spain, so I thought that going to Mexico would provide me with the opportunity to improve my language skills. It did and it didn’t.
First off, the Oaxacan accent proved to be so novel that I spent the first month trying to get an ear for it, and finding that no one could understand my Andalusian slang. Once the accent began to click and I sorted out which phrases were universal, however, I made a lot of progress. But not nearly as much as I hoped.
A second reason for this involved how little I was actually interacting with people. In the past when I’ve traveled I’ve spent significantly more time out among locals talking and experiencing the culture. In this case I was focused on my work, and living like a hermit doesn’t provide much opportunity for conversation.
Next steps: continue practicing, which will be a lifelong pursuit.
- Experiencing the food: Big success
You’re damn right I experienced the food. Enough said.
- Visiting historic sites and wildlife preserves: Somewhat successful
I had intended to spend a lot more time exploring the surrounding region, but again, the hermit life doesn’t lend itself to much of that. I got to know the town very well, and enjoyed a great many of its markets, beaches, and whatnot, but I didn’t get the chance to visit some of the renowned natural preserves and ruins that are scattered about.
Next steps: visit again sometime down the road when I’m not engaged in a book.
- Learning about the local and regional political and cultural situations: Somewhat successful.
Again, the hermit life didn’t lend itself to this intention, but I did happen to be visiting during a particular tumultuous time.
The CNTE teachers’ union had gone on strike as part of an ongoing battle against the government over educational reform. This hit a boiling point when teachers who had blockaded the highway to the capital were fired upon by state police, resulting in many deaths. The fighting and blockade continued, and as the days passed Puerto Escondido’s main grocery stores began to run out of various foods, such as fresh meat, eggs, and produce. I’m sure that opinions varied, but all of the locals I spoke to said they supported the teachers even if the blockade did limit access to food.
As a side note, I found the most logical way to procure eggs ever: follow some chickens home, then buy eggs from their owners.
To do this story justice would take a lot more research and space than I have time for here. Suffice to say that I learned a great deal about the Oaxacan people based upon how they reacted to the crisis.
How do I feel about my trip? Overall, it was a success.
For the most part my intentions came to fruition, if not always to the scale that I had hoped or expected. But my main two goals were complete successes – my fiction is now taking the center stage and progressing well, and I’ve hit a new level of physical and mental health.
My point in sharing all of this is to show the value in reflecting upon the outcomes of our goals. From here I will be better prepared for future travels, and to capitalize upon the gains I’ve made.
So what’s next for me? More writing, more healthy living, and more travel.
In November I’ll be going to Paris for a few weeks with a friend of mine, and although I’m sure writing and health will be considerations, I suspect that my intentions will be dramatically different for this trip.
Paris is a city where decadence takes the center stage. And you better believe that I intend to enjoy that decadence.