Remember the time you were stuck at the side of the road all night, trying to hitchhike your way to Andorra? Then there’s the time you spent four hours in a Madrid train station, trying to buy tickets, only to be thrown out by the ticket seller because you were a weeping wreck. Or how about the time you somehow lost your money and tube pass and had to hike four hours across drizzly London, using an A-Z to find your way back to your squat?

(No, not that kind of squat!) This life-sized artwork graced the wall of a cat piss-drenched room in Amsterdam. It was too big to remove & hide.

These lowlights of our trips can be excruciating in the moment, but later prove to be some of the best things that happened to you. Why are lowlights (as opposed to highlights) so great for the adventurous traveler? Here are five reasons the lowlights can be the real reason we leave home.

1) Lowlights give us great stories to tell once we get home. The drama and the tension make for the kind of tales that have people on the edge of their seats, listening for the next juicy tidbit. There’s only so much zest in a story about how you enjoyed the perfect setting in a villa in Italy, but the story of your all-night trek in Istanbul makes you a hero.

2) The lowlights of life show us who we are. They push us past our comfort zones and reveal us to ourselves in ways that highlights don’t. Maybe you don’t want to discover that you’re not capable of keeping your act together when faced with difficult circumstances, but at least you’ll know that.

3) Lowlights grow us. Being revealed to ourselves, we’re given an opportunity to grow. We can see our faults and foibles in high relief, and perhaps by the next lowlight we’ll be a better version of ourselves.

4) Lowlights give us the kind of thrill we often seek when we travel. Many frequent travelers are the types who veer toward, rather than away from challenges. If we admit it, the lowlights are what prompt us to leave home in the first place – seeking gritty, uncomfortable situations.

5) Lowlights let us appreciate life more. There’s nothing like being without housing, food or shelter to remind us that our cozy life back home isn’t the way everyone lives. Being forced to endure difficult scenarios can help remove us from our normal comfort and safety zone, and give us more empathy for the less fortunate.

What lowlights have you experienced on your trips and how have they impacted you? Take some time to jot a few lowlights in your journal, along with their accompanying lessons. You’ll get more from your adventures and transform those painful experiences into something of value.


You can find these and other tips for making the most of your trip in Cynthia Morris’ e-book The Graceful Return: Relish Your Journey After You’ve Come Home. Cynthia has experienced the lowlights mentioned above and many others, and she continues to travel and write about it. She also offers coaching and workshops on writing, arts and creativity. You can find her creativity guides and more at www.originalimpulse.com.


  1. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Cynthia, thank you for sharing your spot-on wisdom about an idea I always seek to impart in my travel workshops. It’s an honor to have such an experienced traveler and talented writer as a guest at Girls Trek Too

    One related tip I always like to share is that a sense of humor and spirit of adventure are important survival skills… for facing those lowlight moments.

    When I was a TV reporter, I did a story on a Coast Guard survival weekend. One of the commanding officers explained that those who went into these weekends with the attitude that they were on a fun camping adventure, would typically be picked up on a beach a couple of days later sitting around a warm fire, hydrated and healthy. Those who were fearful and negative couldn’t get a fire started or a shelter built and were dehydrated and hypothermic. Tangible evidence that, although attitude can’t solve everything, it really does make a difference.

  2. Amber

    I couldn’t agree more. I know so many of our family trip stories – the truly funny ones we love to tell – are from the unexpected awful things that happened. My family has always been good with rolling with that sort of thing and it has made my adult life so much easier.

  3. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    When I travel, I, too, tend to remember the hilariously awful things that happen. One of my favorites was the unlicensed tour guide in Rome, whom my then-boyfriend and I dubbed the Angry American Ex-Pat. Here’s a snapshot of our day from my travel memoir (the names have been changed):

    The pace never changed. On this walking tour we didn’t walk… we RAN… or faced the wrath of the shouting Susan: “Pick it up guys, we’re running behind!”

    I muttered to Sean, “She probably moved to Italy after she lost her job as a prison guard.”

    Oddly, even though we only spent five minutes at most sights, the fact that we were behind schedule never changed. Maybe she shouldn’t have crammed fifteen sights into four hours.

    At the Trevi fountain we barely had time to toss coins over our shoulders to ensure our return to Rome, before Susan barked at us to “get moving!” At the Bocca della Veritá, or “Mouth of Truth,” we each swiftly stuck our hands into the mouth of the beast to prove our honesty, while Susan looked at her watch with exaggerated patience. I whispered in Sean’s ear, “Do you think that mouth only bites the hands off liars, or assholes, too?”

    At Circus Maximus, she asked us to gather around. Then, as she began to talk, she cut herself off and abruptly insisted, “Would you all please stand on one side of me instead of scattered around, so I don’t have to keep turning my head!” Half the group scurried to obey. She then told us about Ancient Roman events at Circus Maximus, such as chariot races and feeding Christians to lions. She said the Romans used to put the heads of Christians on poles and set them on fire, to use as torches for evening events. Sean whispered in my ear, “That’d be another way to keep her from having to turn her head.” – from They Only Eat Their Husbands

    Long story short: we ditched her at the Roman Forum, took a licenses tour of the Coliseum, and then necked in the stands. As I put it, “Our freedom felt so much sweeter after she’d taken it away.” Looking back, I now realize, it also gave us a chance to discover our shared sense of humor.


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