C’mon Get Happy with the Wanderers-in-Residence

March 20, 2014 G Adventures

Today is the International Day of Happiness. Officially endorsed by the United Nations in 2012, this day recognizes that that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right.

It’s written in Hindu scripture that “there is no happiness for the person who does not travel”—so today we’ve reached out to none other than our Wanderers-in-Residence for help in capturing the essence of happiness on the open road.

So, c’mon and get happy with our well-travelled Wanderers as they share moments of personal joy from around the globe.

Jodi Ettenberg at the wheel in Morocco

One of the happiest moments I’ve had on the road was when I rented a car and drove from Marrakech down to the Algerian border in Morocco. Algerian pop music was blaring from the radio, the weather vacillated between rain and sun, and the route was a giant arcade game of ‘Frogger’—dodging 18-wheelers and goats and so much more. Windows down, with a smile plastered across my face, I loved every moment of that 12-hour drive. I arrived in M’hamid exhausted but exhilarated, having seen the landscape from city to mountain pass then down to the Sahara all in a day. One epic, happy day.

Driving through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Driving through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Nellie Huang dancing for days

Just two weeks ago, I had the fortune of experiencing Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. Carnaval is celebrated throughout Brazil with weeklong street parties, samba dancing and music. And Rio’s Carnaval is the largest and shiniest celebration of all.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the week was the ‘defile’ (samba parade) at the Sambadrome, which is known by many as “one of the biggest shows on Earth”. With a stroke of luck, I scored a last-minute ticket.

When the parade started, the crowd went wild. The Carnaval’s king and queen appeared in their shimmering diamond-studded costumes, dazzling the audience with lightning-quick samba moves. Behind them were troupes of costumed dancers: young girls decked out in silver dresses, gym-pumped men in brown feather headdresses, dazzling women in glitzy rhinestone bikinis—all gyrating to the same rhythm.

Surrounded by a sea of dancing people, I found myself shaking my hips and singing along. I couldn’t stop cheering, singing and dancing. By that point, I had been moving for days—and nights. And while I was exhausted from the round-the-clock partying and dancing to the beats of the Brazilian bandas, I wasn’t ready to stop. At the world’s biggest party, I was happy.

Snapshots from the Sambadrome at Rio's Carnival.

Snapshots from the Sambadrome at Rio’s Carnival.

Gary Arndt on the road

I don’t have any particular place that makes me happy. What makes me happy is being free, which is the number one reason why I travel. I think you can be happy anywhere if you are free. When I’m on the road and I have no particular destination and no responsibilities, I am at my happiest.

While most people in the world today are in a state of political freedom, few people have achieved a real freedom—one unencumbered by possessions and worry. I can’t say every moment of every day has this level of happiness for me when I’m traveling, but I have only experienced it when I am on the road.

On the road in Death Valley, California.

On the road in Death Valley, California.

Daniel Noll’s path to happiness

On ascent night, our group of five began at midnight with the goal of arriving at Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit at sunrise. Audrey and I were joined by Jo and Damian, a couple from the UK, and Maija, a young woman from Finland. My story was just one of many on the mountain that night. Each of us knew struggles. Together we did, too.

A couple of hours into our ascent Jo sat down for what looked like a rest, but in the process she broke down. Through tears she said she could not go any further. We all knew how she felt. The darkness, the fatigue, the thinning air—they work together to break down dreams.

She and Damian would stay behind as our guides urged Audrey, Maija and I to carry on. Despite having climbed other mountains before, the rise to Kilimanjaro’s glaciers left me feeling a special pouring of all that I had left into the darkness of the ascent so that I just might be made whole again at sunrise.

As the faintest bits of first light hit a few hours later, we reached Gilman Point (18,638 ft). Maija, our Finnish companion, shared something she’d kept to herself to this point: news that her father has passed away unexpectedly just the week before. She’d made a decision to climb the mountain in honour of her father, an avid adventurer.

In a sort of coming to terms, she seemed content to stop at Gilman Point, two hours south of the summit, to appreciate a moment of happiness. We encouraged her to continue with us.

When the three of us reached the top, we celebrated. We cheered, we laughed, we cried. Moments like that, one finds emotion for all things.

Unfortunately, we were only three.

But only minutes later, we looked back just down the summit approach trail. And lo and behold, there were Jo and Damian.

As happy as I was to be on the top of that mountain, a happiness much greater included my wife, a young woman struggling with the death of her father and a couple carving their way through sheer will.

This was an experience of happiness earned, a shared happiness.

Happiness earned at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Happiness earned at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

What makes you happy?

To paraphrase inveterate adventurer Richard Burton, one of life’s greatest joys is setting off on a new adventure. After all, shaking off the chains of habit and the weight of routine is one of the quickest paths to happiness. What was a moment that you felt happy while you were travelling? Let’s hear your answer in the comments below!

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