changed by travel

Changed By Travel: Leah Abrahams

Photo: Elizabeth Hay Photography

Photo: Elizabeth Hay Photography

The summer I turned 18, I had the life-changing opportunity to go live and work in Costa Rica, on a small sustainable farm located near the surfer hub Dominical. My friend’s sister had traveled to this same farm a few summers prior, and I fell in love with her tales of a simpler life: fresh mangos picked off the trees, daily yoga sessions in the garden, and fresh, organic meals every night. The deal looked like this: Travelers were to perform several hours of work each day in exchange for free room and board. Before departing, I knew there would be plenty of farm work involved, but for some reason I pictured this element as somewhat of an afterthought— a supporting plot line to the scenic trip I would be taking. 

The farm was breathtakingly beautiful: Acres upon acres of lush greenery, cascading waterfalls, and tropical wildlife surrounded me at every turn. But shortly upon arrival, I quickly learned just how much manual labor was required in a given day. On day one at the farm—after being roused at 5:30AM by the sound of roosters—I was tasked with making cinnamon from scratch. Using a machete, I was instructed to shave the bark off several trees, and transport it in wheelbarrows up a steep hill. Although stimulating at first, I found that after merely an hour my arms were burning, my skin was sunburned, and I was ravenously hungry. I couldn’t believe that I had six more hours of work ahead of me — all I could think about was a cold shower, a nap, and clean sheets.

Our tasks on the farm ranged from shoveling manure and transporting up to fifty pounds of supplies to chopping down trees and picking fresh peanut plants. For the first few days, exhaustion overtook me and deeply tested my resolve. But by day four of five, I noticed a subtle but major shift: My energy levels were increasing, even though the work was getting more challenging. I wasn’t hitting my mid-day slump anymore, and I was waking up fully energized and clear. This, I realized, was the product of having developed a daily routine: rising with the sun each day and going to bed as soon as it set was putting me more in sync with nature, and giving me a natural energy boost that I hadn't experienced since I was a child. I quickly became hooked on this new feeling I was experiencing: I thought about the days that I needed coffee just to get out of bed in the morning and vowed never to go back to that state.

It has now been 10 years since the summer on the farm, but the importance of cultivating healthy and mindful habits has stuck with me. I learned that the rituals we followed in Costa Rica were similar to those of Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old traditional medicine system from India: Sleeping from the hours of 10pm to 6am for sustained energy, eliminating caffeine, eating a nourishing, mostly plant-based diet, getting sufficient exercise, and learning to take restful breaks. In Costa Rica, a common saying is "Pura Vida" or "pure life" and this is indeed what we cultivated by following some simple yet profound daily practices. 

We worked hard on the farm, and yet when our bodies grew tired, we rested. This taught me the importance of listening to my body, as opposed to pushing through and drowning out its messages with sugar or false energy boosts. Years later when I entered the corporate world, as my co-workers began to reach for energy drinks or coffee when the 3pm slump hit, I knew that the best re-charge was actually to do less, and I would take a brisk walk around the block or spend 10 minutes meditating. I still to this day wake up around 6am without an alarm, and try employ a "lights out" by 10pm rule in my home. The lessons I learned on the farm not only helped me to become #changedbytravel by shifting my perspective, but also taught me how to attain ultimate productivity and focus thanks to the cultivation of a healthy, regimented lifestyle.

Changed By Travel: Lena Franklin



Gazing upon water buffalo in rice fields. The scent and sights of incense wafting through the air. The hypnotizing hum of an open market. Vietnam is a seductive assault on the senses. Growing up with a Vietnamese mother and American father, both of who loved SE Asia, I learned to embrace the organized chaos of my maternal homeland. And somehow, each time I journeyed back to Vietnam, there were always personal transformations to be had.  

My 2008 trip to Vietnam flashes like a vibrant picture movie in my mind. After my mom and I spent a week visiting my family in the Mekong Delta, we jumped in a van along with a handful of adventurous aunts and cousins (in typical Asian fashion!), and headed for a remote beach area on the Gulf of Thailand bordering Cambodia.

Hours (and many Vietnamese pop songs) later, we arrived in a small beach town/fishing village nestled into the side of a limestone mountain. Inside this mountain existed an ancient Buddhist temple, hundreds of years old. As we began wandering around the marketplace, we bought various tropical fruits and trinkets. Then, we spotted a peculiar stand where the vendor was selling rare looking birds and mammals for medicinal purposes. The sadness was palpable.

A light glimmered in my mom’s eye and I knew we had a plan! Using what money we had left, we bought as many of the birds and rare squirrels as we could. Operation freedom began! My inner-PETA-loving self was elated! Carrying cages of squirrels and birds, we began scouting the jungle area around the temple. Unbeknownst to us, two Buddhist monks had witnessed our strategic purchases and ushered us into the jungle at the base of the temple’s entrance.

In noble, focused silence, the monks gathered incense, a gong and a pair of pliers. They began chanting. The chanted vibrations penetrated every cell in my body. Blessing the sentient beings before us, one monk pried the wires open, releasing the animals back into the sanctuary of their natural habitat, their jungle home.

Through presence, these monks witnessed the desire of our hearts. Through action, they displayed the purest of compassion. Beneath words and tears, we sensed the simultaneous beating of our hearts. Through the present moment experience of my senses, my lens of the world was transformed. In that moment, I pledged to share the spiritual beauty of SE Asia with those in the West and, yet again, I was #ChangedByTravel. - Lena Franklin

Want to travel with Lena? Take a look at our upcoming small group tours to Asia.