This post has been a long time coming.  And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve probably been avoiding it. Writing down my epiphanies in a personal journal is significantly less risky than publishing them on a blog for anyone with a pulse to read. There is a loose commitment in sharing them with the world — a sort of *accountability* that I’ll adhere to these new revelations. What if I don’t? How fraudulent would that be?! Sam and family venture off on this whirlwind adventure and nothing changes?! Ha! Joke’s on them!

Except that wouldn’t be true. We have changed. I’ve changed, and I wasn’t even sure changing was required. But that’s the cool thing about travel: you’re forever impacted and cannot go back and undo what you saw, heard, felt, experienced, endured, gained or lost. So, since some people have been curious about these epiphanies I allude to time and again, and since I’m in the mood these days to be vulnerable, I’m-a-gonna spill the beans. What do they say, “sharing is caring?” Did I just quote a children’s dinosaur?!

Epiphany 1: Forget “Once-in-A-Lifetime”

“It’s just a three-month adventure. But not a regular thing, no that would be silly… it’s once-in-a-lifetime!” This was my justified rationale over and over when explaining to clients, colleagues and even friends that we’d be away all summer. I would hear these words consistently echoed back to me: “Wow! What a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!! You’re so lucky!” “Yes, yes, it is. And yes, we are. We are very blessed, mindful and grateful.”

But while away, I began to wonder why we set these kinds of limits on our thinking? Who says it has to be? Would we want it to be only once then never again? Doubtful! And not even with just this trip of ours, it seems that “once-in-a-lifetime” is a cultural GO-TO rationalization for anything extraordinary that people want to achieve in life. The whole concept of a “Bucket List” implies you dream it, do it (if you’re so lucky), then move on. Why, though? Why play small? Why do we shrink away from our dreams… the things we’re passionately excited about? Why do we feel so undeserving? Where does all this insecurity come from?

A fellow advisor and friend of mine out in B.C. gave me a piece of advice in August 2015. We were at a Focus Group in Quebec City and everyone was asking about The Big Trip that was coming up, albeit still a year away. I found myself embarrassed to even discuss it and bumbled my way through a half-ass explanation. She pulled me aside later that night and asked why I didn’t share the full extent of my excitement and joy, my motivation and my hopes? Anyone who cared would surely feel happy for us,  and might also grab some inspiration and want to do the same thing with their family. She told me to never apologize for thinking BIG and wanting to cultivate time as a family. And for God’s sake, to OWN those crazy dreams of mine!

Subsequently, this concept of “Once-in-A-Lifetime” has played over and over in my mind since we left, and just a few weeks ago I was finally able to connect the dots over why it ultimately bugs me that we say these things. This quote might just change your way of thinking, and quite possibly, your life:


So I say, forget the limits! If we want to do something crazy like that again, we will find a way to make it happen!


No more playing small!

Epiphany 2: When you step away from your regular life, you can see the blindspots clearly. 

This was a ginormous revelation for me, and probably one of the best outcomes of our trip. Life can easily become a series of ever multiplying transactions… running kids here and there, working insane hours to get ahead and pay the bills, starting household projects and never getting them done, trying to carve out time to invest in your marriage and don’t even get me started about looking after our own mental health. It’s a serious Gong Show out there!!! Like, adulthood should actually come with a warning system similar to movies:

*ADULTHOOD*, rated C, for CRAZY:


But back to the revelation. When you’re swimming in a sea of chaos, you miss the blindspots. What do I mean by this? Well, on some level I guess knew things were out of balance, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it since I was just so damned busy all the time! FOR SURE too much time spent at the office and not enough time with my little one, Saffy. Remove myself from all the usual life hoopla, and I was also able to realize that I didn’t place enough value on the concept of “fun”; because really, who has time for that anyway? Indeed with every new experience filling up my Adventure Tank I became increasingly happier to be around. Results were not dissimilar for the rest of the family! Laughing and even just being in the present (and not on our devices) had become distant cousins to routine and rat race. I could see very clearly that we might have been living a life where achievement and constant movement were valued over standing still, taking reflective moments, being unhurried and having regular time to connect. We had become completely and utterly CAUGHT UP.

The beauty of our time away is it opened up our minds to other possibilities that could work for our family. And with clearer heads, we could see the dysfunction in some of what we had invited into our lives. We were the cause of our own chaos; feeling continual pressure to belong, keep up, get involved, be accepted, make money and live in this vision of an ideal life. I’m EVER so grateful to have had the chance to glimpse into the future and see the disconcerting path that lay before us if we didn’t make some changes.


Taking a step away gives you the space to see what you couldn’t see before.

Epiphany 3: Love what you already have. 

Ten years ago a therapist asked me, “Sam, will you EVER be happy?” She essentially implied I was incapable of it. WT actual F, and, thanks!!!!!! I hightailed it out of her office and found someone else. But there was an ironic element of truth to her question, and it came back to haunt me while we were away.

One of my goals for this trip was to figure out my purpose and get really clear on what I wanted to do with my life. To some extent, I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. Yoinks! Should I be admitting that?!! But I’m sharing it because I believe it to be true for most people.

Most of us are searching, and some of us are running. (I’m a searcher AND a runner. Good times!) We are looking for answers outside of ourselves in the hopes that somewhere OUT THERE, in the beyond, we will find solutions and clarity and, ultimately, peace. Yet even with all conditions being perfect — i.e. ample time to think, no stress of work, inspirational vistas abound in glorious unexplored parts of South America — there weren’t any easy answers for me. Sigh. How could this be?

It was only when I returned home that I was able to put the pieces together: LOVE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE, WHO YOU ALREADY ARE. In the re-entry of our regularly scheduled Canadian program, I was flat-out stunned by my appreciation of what we already had. Somehow I had lost sight of this over the years… We live in a phenomenal country. We are free. We have fresh air to breathe and ample drinking water!!!! (The quest for drinking water was a theme of our 3-month sabbatical; we honestly have no clue how blessed we are to be able to turn on a tap and have clean, beautiful, temperature-controlled water). We are also a tolerant, caring society. We celebrate diversity rather than impugn people for it. I was never so proud when travelling to proclaim my Canadian identity. Everyone who heard this would say, “Ah!!! Beautiful Canada!” This was usually followed by a questioning, “Toronto? Vancouver?” “Kind of near there, lol.” Some people even knew who our Prime Minister was, and I’m talking really obscure parts of Peru here. But beyond national pride, coming home meant taking stalk of our treasury of other blessings: a lovely home with a great view (not required, but appreciated), a dog that is practically human and gives more than he takes, friends who support us and want to hang out with us despite our regular inability to commit (you know who you are!), and extended families who love us unconditionally. To be blunt, we have everything we could need, and had it all along. Some point in the past we began to take our abundance for granted and that, in my humble opinion, is a slippery slope.

When you are in a constant state of wanting, you actually will never be happy. Who knew, lol.


I wake up to this everyday. Photo credit: Stu Adams.

Epiphany 4: Living simply vs living lavishly.

The amount of clutter, furniture, clothing, electronics, cooking utensils, gadgets and doo-dads a family acquires over the years is staggering. I’m thrilled to report that we lived without 80% of this STUFF and did just fine. Splendidly, in fact. I think as a society we have become so consumed with creature comforts and convenience that we have lost sight of what actually matters. I look around my home today, after 3-months of living out of a backpack, and desire nothing more than to purge, purge and then some. On a corner shelf near our kitchen table we have a display case full of crystal. Like, why? So we can show people that we are special enough to look after these sacred objects? We never use them. We just stare at them, when we remember, and, they have the added bonus of collecting dust. Not to discount sentimentality, but everywhere we look are THINGS we don’t use, and STUFF we don’t need. I think the number of “junk drawers” in our kitchen is bordering on four now. Why in the HELL are we keeping all this crap?

The same goes for clothing. I’ve realized I don’t need 70% of what I own. It’s just taking up space and cluttering up not only my closet and mind, but the basement stairway come laundry time.

When we were living in the little farmhouse in Peru, in the tiny village of Sillacancha, we were blessed with comfortable beds, a few lights to turn on, a table, couch, a very modest kitchen and a clothesline. I was initially shocked and questioned whether or not we would survive the minimality of it all. There wasn’t even a …. wait for it …. TV. GASP! SPUTTER! CHOKE! However, inside of just 2 weeks I began to see the value in having less.

It kind of goes back to Epiphany 2, only with a twist. I found that we could think more clearly because there was less stuff junking up our minds. I’m finding myself having to resist the temptation to put everything up on kijiji and live simply in a van, down by the river. {God I hope someone got that reference, btw I’m really dating myself here!!!} But seriously. What all do we actually need? We need the basics. Food, shelter, clothing, water. And Love. We all need love. The additional tools, gadgets and random items we continually bring into our home might serve an initial purpose, or so we think; but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what void we are trying to fill in the deliberate acquisition and ultimate hoarding of that item.

Epiphany 5: Trust your own intuition. 

I’ve struggled with this one time and again throughout my life. I think my first conscious understanding of “intuition” was at some point in high school. How cool was it that we all possessed this inner voice capable of guiding us to our truest desires? And yet, I questioned mine all the time. Should I send a candy-gram to this boy? (Definitely a bad idea at the time, looking back, lol.) Should I throw my name in for student council? (Yes, but you didn’t. Chicken!) Should I throw the worms out the window instead of dissecting them in Grade 10 Biology class? (Probably not the wisest choice after they landed on the head of a teacher down below!) My inability to put confidence in what I knew to be true in my gut led to a nasty habit of people polling. Asking others, 24/7. Phone a friend! Reach for a lifeline! Can I get an audience 50/50! And in recent times, the modern-day move of asking the Facebook world!

All of these strategies directly competed with my own deep-rooted inclination to just trust myself and my judgement. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some awesome decisions in my life. But NONE of them were decided on my own. Mega consulting was required, and sometimes I even went against that whisper of a voice based on external feedback.

While wandering the side-streets of Cusco following our triumphant survival of the 80km trek to Machu Picchu, our family ran into this sacred little place called The Healing House. I was drawn to it at first because they had a table set up right on the cobblestone street where several children were making flowers out of cut-up ends of plastic pop bottles. Recycling at its finest! But secretly what attracted me was the young lady sitting cross-legged on a stool, offering up a free reading of Angel Cards. I felt a magnetic pull in this direction and I will quickly jump to the relevant punch-line here. Tears stung my wind-blown cheeks as she turned over the PRESENT DAY CARD that read “Trust Your Intuition”. Interestingly, the card was facing away from me and I wondered what it meant. Apparently, if the card faces away from you, it means that whatever is contained in the message is possible, but there’s a blockage of some sort preventing it from occurring naturally. AHHHH. Hmmmm. Interesting.

I found myself moved to tears over this. Yes, I’m a weirdo. But it caused me to reflect further on why we second-guess ourselves in life. It was then and there that I decided to make peace with my heart-centred, fluffy nature, and just own it. I’ve been told throughout my life that I have keen insight and give sound advice. Sweet. Awesome, even! I needed to begin to listen to my own advice, and that’s what I’m doing moving forward.


My 3-card spread. So profoundly meaningful I had to take a pic.

Epiphany 6: All people want to experience joy. All people will help if approached with respect. 

I’m not sure why this is even a so-called “epiphany.” How arrogant am I, are we, to think that the pursuit of happiness is only on our radar screen here in North America? Completely untrue. And maybe this is an unfair presupposition. I think what I’m trying to articulate is how connecting it is to see others in the far corners of our world what want we want, just in and through different means.

Pisac, Peru: several hundred locals spanning all generations had gathered together in celebration of the festival of a Virgin. Dammit I wish I could remember which specific biblical virgin! I don’t think it was Mary. At any rate, I was awestruck by their commitment to the party. Everyone was ALL IN. I mean, the entire town, and then some. People in meticulously painted masks and beautifully sewn costumes riding on horses… toddlers on their mothers’ backs… school-aged children playing pick-up soccer in the middle of the celebration using nothing but an empty plastic water bottle. So. Much. Joy!!!! There wasn’t a roller-coaster or large screen with flashing lights in sight. And yet here they were, united in their own happiness, dancing in the streets, all businesses shut-down to join in the festivities. It could not have been more of a cultural departure for us, but as observers we absolutely loved it. The kinetic, “up” energy generated by these people was palpable.


Ready to celebrate the virgin!


No unhappy faces in here!

Further, I was stunned by everyone’s willingness to help us. I think I shared this observation in another post: literally, there were no assholes on this entire trip. Everywhere we went, despite language barriers, lack of proper currency, or not even knowing what we were looking for, people went out of their way to help us. In Guayaquil on our last days — killing time and counting the hours to board the plane home — we met a young man in a shawarma restaurant. Out of money and patience, with the sun setting quickly in an unsavoury part of town, we had skulked into this nondescript establishment and spent our last few dollars on some grub. The stranger in question sat at a neighbouring table; he heard us speak English together and asked if we needed any help. Even though we were already WITH SHAWARMA, thus quelling my HANGRY outbursts, we took a few moments to share our story with him. And he, in turn, shared his with us. He was born in Ecuador, but grew up in California. Love had brought him back to his home country and he and his girlfriend had been out for stroll when they got the munchies. Nothing really profound here, right? But he waited patiently until we were done, insisted on giving us his name and number and an open invitation to reach out to him if we ran into any situation needing help throughout our remaining days in his country. Moreover, should we ever find ourselves here again, by all means were we invited to look him up and he’d do what he could to make us feel welcome.

I recall commenting on this very open and trusting nature of most people we had run into, and his answer was that he would hope for the same level of care if he was ever back in the States. All of this friendliness and trust just makes me realize how connected we all already are, as a human race. All of us, in our own quests for joy, all looking for respect from others and hoping to make our mark in the world.

Epiphany 7: There is renewing energy when you are outside. 

This one is a no-brainer, but so many of us fight it every step of the way. We sit in front of our screens and mindlessly flip from channel to channel waiting for something to peak our interest in our quest for temporary distraction. Or we toil away at the office, even on gorgeous, sunny, week-end days (guilty). Why we fight the call to nature is beyond me, and I’m chastising myself here.

While away, I was never happier than when I was outside, drinking in the lush surroundings and savouring the crisp air. I felt alive, unburdened and connected to something greater than myself. Ideas would come to me and anxieties would leave. It was as though the fresh air was some kind of two-way, cleansing membrane: good stuff got through but bad stuff got out. I realize this is NOT rocket science. But for me, it was a kind of hit-you-over-the-head realization. There are zero downsides to getting off the couch and getting outside, and yet so many people resist it. When we look at our external environment, and I mean REALLY look at it, we welcome beautiful into our lives. Over the years I’ve been thoroughly guilty of ignoring the benefits of getting outside and had instead prioritized things like a fully completed TO-DO list or a clean house. These are fairly satisfying. But they are so temporary and do very little to feed the soul.

And before anyone calls bull-shit on this epiphany, I do own the fact that I’ve done my fair share of mountain-climbing and other crazy, outdoorsy type things. However, I tend to go months and even years being All-Or-Nothing Sam, stock-piling my desire to be outside for something extravagant down the road. I don’t think this is necessarily the best strategy! I’ve recently started meditating outside on a daily basis. The dual benefit of quieting my mind and being outside of my four walls is unreal. So, people! Put down your devices and go for a walk. Make it a priority to spend a little bit of time outside every single day. Zero downside, unless you’re in immortal danger and something is chasing you!!!


You can’t fake this joy! It’s not even sunny outside. But she’s loving life.


Zero downside. Get the “F” outside!


You can’t tell but she’s grinning from ear to ear behind this leaf.


She looks miserable, doesn’t she? Yup, wishes she had that 3DS with her.


I am invincible!

Epiphany 8: Don’t mistake having less for being unhappy. 

My family and I have been to third-world countries before, so this is actually not a new epiphany for me. But it’s an observation that was underscored time and again while we travelled and I feel it’s so important it deserves to be shared.

We are conditioned to believe that our way is the best way, that having all this stuff will fill us up and make us happy. Sadly, sometimes we equate our self-worth with our quantity (and even quality) of possessions. Our super-sized lives are huge contributors to our version of success and we are forever in pursuit of more. If this fallacy we believe to be true were in fact true, then the opposite must be the case. Surely, the people in “those other countries”, the ones with just a sweater or two to wear and house the size of most of our kids’ bedrooms, are enormously miserable.

Not the case, at all. In both Peru and Ecuador we came across varying levels of lifestyle and, as some would argue, poverty. But I have to tell you, I didn’t see too many downtrodden faces. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I saw hard-working people, selling their wares, their fruit, their knick-knacks to feed their families. There was a lovely humility and strength in the Peruvians we would see at various markets. And in Ecuador, everywhere we went people seemed genuinely happy.

I’m not minimizing their struggles at all. I couldn’t possibly even imagine what they go through since I’m not in their shoes. {Recall that the Pacific West Coast of Ecuador endured a devastating earthquake just months ago rendering hundreds of people dead and thousands without a home or business.} Without doubt, however, having less one does not necessarily equal being in a state of dissatisfaction or sadness. Luxuries and stuff do not equal happiness. Millions of people could not be wrong!


This beautiful woman walking about in Cotacachi, Ecuador. I think she was selling peas. You can almost see her vibrant spirit leaping through that black turban.

Epiphany 9: There is a WHOLE WORLD out there. It deserves to be explored.

Someone asked me why we would want to go to Ecuador, of all places. “What’s down there anyways? Why?” Our planet is a gloriously diverse globe of energy. To stay on our own tiny dot and never traverse up or down or to the left or right of this dot is to rob us of a richer life experience. When we travel somewhere new, we develop a greater consciousness of ourselves and our humanity. We can connect the dots and feel good about our similarities and marvel at our differences.

And to answer the specific question of Ecuador, to my family and I, it is probably the most beautiful place on Earth (that we’ve seen thus far!). Where else can you go and experience: the Andes Mountains, an arid desert, lush vegetation and the Amazon Rainforest, charming Pacific coastal communities and, of course, the Galapagos Islands! We were consistently moved by all its raw biodiversity. Our previous frame of reference for The Most Beautiful Country in the World had always been Costa Rica; well, that all went out the window once we stepped foot on the Andean soil in Ecuador. This little country has it all. And the cherry on top? The kindest people I’ve met. I can say this with total confidence, too, since we logged more than 7,000 km in a 4×4 exploring the country from east to west, north to south.

For anyone uncertain at all, be it due to earthquakes or volcanoes erupting or the dreaded Zika virus, we never let any of these things interfere with our attitude or desire to see and learn more. There is inherent danger everywhere in the world and not once did we we question our choice. Our kids have developed a finer appreciation for all the blessings they have. I also believe that getting them outside of their comfort zones will help shape them for years to come.


Piper and I in our ultimate happy place. Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador in the background. I will return to conquer her one day!


This image was taken at high altitude on the highway… roughly 12,000 ft.


Discover. Explore. Breathe!

So, get out and travel! Or, do something your friends and family tell you is crazy. Just don’t settle for ordinary and don’t limit your thinking! We are proof that if you can see it happening, the universe will work its magic and reorganize your life to bring that dream to fruition.