Mayra Barragan, PeruLife is about moments: of beauty and of emotion; in unique places and with special people. To live our best life we have to try, hard as it may sometimes be, to ground ourselves in the present, awaken our senses, and soak up those moments. 

I understand this now, but didn’t always. I used to drift through days and weeks, moving through my routines with ease but without thought. Before I knew it, months and years had passed: I had graduated from college and bought an apartment and a car; I went to work during the week and ran errands on weekends. Time was moving and yet, I couldn’t recall any particularly remarkable moments. All of my memories seemed to have blended together.

Italy. Photo Credit: Mayra Barragan

That was, until last year. Now I can say with confidence that the last twelve months of my life have been different. I can stop to reflect on and retell specific moments. What changed? Discontent and tired, unwilling to spend yet another evening in a windowless conference room typing away on Excel spreadsheets, I decided to detract myself from my routines and live more spontaneously. I decided to embark on one year of travel.

“It is not always better to move quickly through days, trying to accomplish as much as possible in each 24-hour window. It is okay to move slowly and delight in the present.”

My first stop was South Korea; I accepted a teaching job so that I would continue to have a steady income and be able to save for additional travel. I spent one year there, in the town of Busan, working with the most incredible little kids and immersing myself in the culture. From there, I flew halfway around the world to England, traveled east through Southern Europe, stopped off in Israel and then Turkey, and then proceeded to South America. As I write this, I am still on the road; my journey will only come to an end in a few more weeks.

Cappadocia. Photo Credit: Mayra Barragan.

People will often ask me to name my favorite country from my travels and I struggle. For me, what stands out most are not particular destinations but, rather, specific instances in which I was able to slow down and savour the environment. Those moments taught me that it is not always better to move quickly through days, trying to accomplish as much as possible in each 24-hour window; it is okay to move slowly and delight in the present.

I think of the time in Tuscany when I did yoga, sitting atop a hill as the sun was setting, overlooking the vineyard I was lucky enough to call home for a brief time. I breathed in the fresh air as my eyes soaked up the mountains in the distance. The deep orange sun contrasted against the bluish-purple sky and then disappeared right before my eyes. I could hear the beating of my own heart with every deep breath I took. I lay down on the vibrant green grass, the feeling of it on my skin like a soft blanket and remembered, in that instance, smelling the scent of the grass for the first time in years. It was a Monday, and I reminded myself of how much I used to hate Mondays in my old, repetitive life. Soaking up the surreal scenery, I realized I could get used to Mondays like this.

“…all I need to do is awaken my senses and intentionally focus myself on the present – the moment. It is then that I feel most inspired and most content, knowing that I am living my very best life..”

I also remember the time I was sitting alone at a fruit stand in Rio, inhaling the delicious smells of fresh acai smoothies. I was surrounded by the heartwarming sound of children laughing in the street; engulfed by the pulsating energy of the city. And yet, I was sulking. My iPhone and debit card had just been stolen and I couldn’t focus on anything other than my own wallowing. I was consumed with self-pity and simply felt defeated.  Then, out of nowhere, three of my hostelmates appeared. “Just try to forget about it,” they said. “There’s nothing you can do. Focus on the ‘now’.” They convinced me to head to Ipanema beach with them and, boy, was I grateful; as I watched them surf, gazing at the clear blue waters as they rose and crashed, I began to feel more at peace. Realizing that I was on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, watching my friends as they let the waves carry them to their adrenaline-induced-happy-place, I declared my wallow session over.

El Salar. Photo Credit: Mayra Barragan

Appreciating moments isn’t always easy; it requires intention. Even while traveling, trudging along with my massive backpack, focusing on trying to get from point A to point B, I sometimes find myself getting caught up in a monotonous cycle. But there’s a little trick I like to use in order to remind myself to pay attention to the present: I picture my former life, remind myself of my old routines and then look around. I feast my eyes on my surroundings; I breathe in the smells and listen to the sounds around me. It doesn’t matter if I am in the thick smog of the city or in the serenity of the countryside; all I need to do is awaken my senses and intentionally focus myself on the present – the moment. It is then that I feel most inspired and most content, knowing that I am living my very best life.

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Mayra Barragan hails from New York but currently resides in Miami, FL. She is an accountant by trade, though her passions lie in writing, traveling, and surfing. She is co-founder of Sprouting Scholars, Inc (http://www.sproutingscholars.org) a non-profit focused on providing education for children who cannot afford it, and maintains a travel blog of her latest adventures at http://www.wanderingsofatraveler.tumblr.com. Follow Mayra on Instagram and Twitter @mayrita1881.