Last week, we wrote about making a budget for travel. In this post, we want to share with you another tool that we use for shaping our travel life, as well as what we want for our family life overall. We call it “Our Own Ithaca.”

Over many years, I used to keep a journal (more like large, college-ruled, spiral-bound notebooks). Then, one day, I found myself tired of hearing myself and eventually burned all of my old writing. Journaling offered outlet, but not necessarily resolution, and I no longer felt that it was transformative. So I kept some blogs, I made my art and threw in some visioning for variety and, hopefully, insight. 

I’m not much on the life coach thing, but I like Martha Beck, whom I stumbled upon in a search for refocusing my purposeful life. Once upon a time, she liked vision boards, but she soon realized that there was more to envisioning your life than just a vision board. Mere visioning wasn’t enough: One needed to outline all that may lie ahead on the road to his or her own ideal life.  So she created a map, born from the dramatic tale of Odysseus in the Odyssey.

Odysseus just wanted one thing: He wanted to return to Ithaca to his wife and son after years of captivity following the Trojan War. However, in order to get there, he had to escape from an island, make his way over land and sea, experience starvation and near-death, face all kinds of people that wanted something from him, lose his way and supplies and figure out for himself who or what was true. It took seven years and a journey, many obstacles and interruptions and a little help from friends and family to do what he needed to do. Only then could his dream come to fruition.

It may sound a little dramatic, but it emphasizes that simply wanting something isn’t enough to get you where you want to go. It might take a while, there may be unexpected challenges, you may have to scrape and save and you may have to ask for help, so you have to have a realistic view of the path to your dreamed-of life.

I began a “My Own Ithaca” document in the spring of 2014. Before that, I had written about and painted through the ideas in my head. But when I stumbled upon Martha’s piece about a stronger, more complex living, working document, all of the random notes in my mind or on paper or on my computer found a better place to be massaged and sorted. This helped me figure out what I wanted to do, what I needed to do to get there, how I was spending my energy and what I was going to do about it. This certainly led to tiny living and getting back to travel, and it reshaped what I did in the present and more.

Martha’s idea is to make a map of the “Sea of Life” that includes creating “islands,” which outline what you want and the tasks or experiences you will need to fulfill in order to arrive at your ideal life. I opted for a written form of this experiment, making it into a living, working document that we now keep for the whole family. We review it every week and we refresh it every season. For almost two years running, we have a powerful visual mind map that explodes on page and keeps us focused, grounded, calm, dreaming and always shaping our ideal life. We share it through Google Docs and occasionally keep a printed version. It has become a fun bucket list for life. Here’s what it looks like.

Our Ideal Island. Martha would tell you that “your ideal life doesn’t have to look possible, just delicious.” What do you want for your life? Dream big. Do you want to travel, change jobs, live on the beach, speak a language? Whatever it is, don’t hesitate to include all of the amazing things that you want to be and do, because there is no dreaming police.

In many ways, we are living our ideal “island” life. We live tiny, we travel, we spend immense amounts of time together as a family. We each are doing much of what we love individually, too. More on our list includes living abroad; living in a location that gives us access to water, mountains and local food markets; building a creative work space for all three of us; traveling the world and further financial freedom. Other things on our list will take time, so we go with the flow and keep working toward all of our goals. This “Island” is for dreaming.

Our Island of Experience. Essentially, this means “you are here.” What does your current situation look like? Describe your environment and your state of mind. What are you doing? Do you like it or don’t you? Is there too much of something and not enough of another thing? Your life in the present is detailed here.

Our present experience describes that we enjoy camping and traveling, and we are looking forward to spending time in California and the desert. It includes the adults’ attempts to balance work life and play life and time for selves. It says that attaining steady cash flow can be a drag. Mostly, it reflects the ebb and flow of life, the basic challenges and working with them on a daily basis. It is a good place to reflect.

Our Island of Enhancement. We like this “island,” because it is a good place to conjure up things to do that will make you feel as close to your ideal place as possible.

For instance, we want to travel to Australia for a year and go back to Spain and France as soon as possible, in no particular order. However, right now isn’t possible, because we can’t afford to do all of that right now. Perhaps next year we can. In the meantime, we do things that immerse us in other cultures. We practice languages from all kinds of resources, we listen to varieties of music and watch foreign films. We watch travel shows and research places online. We read travel memoirs. We keep traveling the U.S. until we aren’t supposed to do that anymore. We maintain a lifestyle of freedom as much as possible, which allows us to play a lot and do what we truly want to be doing, so it’s fun most of the time. Enhance your life so that it feels more and more like you are living your ideal life. This “island” is a great place to play.

Our Island of Enlightenment. Martha calls this “a place where you’ll unload encumbrances.” If you have baggage, a bad habit, financial debt, fears to overcome, poor relationships — things that you don’t want in or for your life or make your path difficult — then this “island” is where you take note and purge. We don’t always know how enlightenment will come to us, or when, but we can be honest with ourselves about the things that we carry with us — often of our own making — and dump them overboard.

As much as we would love to be traveling abroad right now, the best way for us to focus and build our business is to be in the U.S. and travel slowly. It is ideal for the business, but it isn’t necessarily our ideal travel life; it will enable us to get there. Perhaps you are in a bad relationship, and staying in it prohibits you from doing what you want and need to do for yourself. Acknowledge that you need to deal with it. Maybe you hate your job. Acknowledge that changing jobs would be a good idea. Want to run a marathon, but still smoke? It would help to quit smoking.

Or maybe you want to travel to Austria (ideal island) but have an immense fear of flying (island of experience), so you tackle your fear by taking a “fear of flying” class (island of enlightenment) and take short flights in and around your locale in order to practice traveling (island of enhancement) and eventually go to Austria.

Get it? It’s fun, and freeing. It is an incredibly creative experience to shape your life and be so utterly aware of it.

If you like to make maps, go to Martha’s Ithaca page (it was an Oprah favorite for you O people). However, your mind map is just as easy to create and probably more accessible if you write it in something that you can add to and reference. It will ebb and flow as certain plans and ideas are achieved and others are not. When your dreams aren’t fulfilled, it is a great resource to return to for balance and calm. It will keep you focused on your goals — perhaps even surprising you with some new ones! — while giving you space to live, play and work. It will show you who you are, what you need, what you don’t and what you should be doing. It is much like a financial budget, but rather this one is a budget for life. A bucket list, and more.

Dream big. Have fun. Make it happen with a bucket list for life.

Liza Beth Rumery

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she like to make food, ride bikes, study languages and hang out with her family.

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