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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 14 - Time To Come Alive: "The Journey To Your Transformation" With Special Guest Francis Conrad, Transformational Travel Coach

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Time To Come Alive: "The Journey To Your Transformation" With Special Guest Francis Conrad, Transformational Travel Coach

I'm always so honored and excited to have new people to play with. I call this my playtime conversation. It’s a time to come alive. It’s an opportunity to become more conscious of ourselves as we have these conversations and you might be hearing new ideas and new perspectives. Also, become more conscious of your own. You also get an opportunity to connect with other people. That's why I always find wonderful human beings to have on this program because we have an opportunity to hear one another.

Finally, out of all of that, my hope is that when you finish a conversation or reading this particular episode, you have the opportunity to do something creative with your life. Whether that's creating something tangible or creating a new experience for yourself, that's the purpose of us taking time every week to come together. Before we move into our subject for the day and introduce our wonderful special guest, I'd like to take some time to get grounded and do a little bit of mindfulness.

I'm going to invite all of you to start off by making sure that you're seated comfortably and firmly wherever you are or if you're standing, make sure that you're planting your feet. Make sure that we're well-supported and grounded. If you like, you may close your eyes or you might soften your gaze wherever you are. Make sure you're in a safe space and take a couple of deep cleansing breaths.

As we go through this moment, I'd like for you to release any expectations of how it should feel and what emotion you should experience. You might be excited about something. You might be a little tired. You might feel a little restless. Put that off to the side for now and be present with your breath. We're going to do a brief, loving, and kindness meditation where I want you to think of yourself as the vehicle for wellness and wellbeing for the people around you, including yourself.

As you're breathing, I want you to take phrases, these sentences that I'm going to share with you, and send them through your own body but also to those around you. The first one is, “May I be filled with loving-kindness.” As you think that thought, take a nice deep breath and send that out to your own body as well as through the people you're around. The second thought and the phrase would be, “May I be truly happy.” You might repeat that to yourself again. Take another deep breath as you internalize it and as you also send that out.

“May I be free from all fear?” Take another deep breath there. Lastly, “May I be well in body and mind.” Take another couple of final deep breaths and allow all those thoughts and whatever feelings or emotions that come along with it. Embrace and accept them as they are. Now, you may open your eyes or refocus your gaze. Welcome back.

One of the reasons that I felt that loving-kindness meditation was appropriate was because back in October, I had the fortune of going to a conference in Arizona, and throughout the two-and-a-half-day conference, I had the opportunity to meet tons of people. There were almost 1,000 people in the room. There is a lot of energy and music playing loudly. We had all sorts of speakers and different levels of excitement in the air constantly.

There was a moment where I had the fortune of sitting next to a couple, specifically our special guest today, Francis Conrad, who was one-half of that couple. We had the opportunity to connect in a very brief time. I want to say that we were only sitting together for maybe 45 minutes, if that. I recall that there was this kind, very generous, easy, friendly, and pen feeling that I got in having you, Francis, in this case, having you sitting next to me.

We struck up a conversation. Although it was a brief conversation, we exchanged cards, but I'd done that with many other people throughout that conference, and somehow, we committed to staying in touch. Shortly after that, I think we may have sent an email or two. Although we'd never met before, we only had about 45 minutes sitting together. We've probably racked up more than ten hours of talk time. I calculated it. I went back and looked.

Some of our conversations have been so enlightening, especially when you shared that you are a transformational travel coach. I thought, “I need to figure out what this is about.” I wanted to make sure that I invited you to spend some time with us because you're a person that needs to connect with the community that we've created here in this program. Welcome, Francis[Ma1] .

Thank you.

Francis, when you think about that moment, I'm sure you meet a lot of people because you and your wife traveled tons. I'm curious about what is it that has you be so open and generous upon meeting strangers.

I hadn't thought of that before, but the first thing that comes to mind for me is that when I traveled, I learned that I was a very different person than I had thought I was growing up. I grew up feeling like I was shy and I wasn't as good as others. I was feeling like I was less. That left me when I traveled, and somehow, or the other, that opened me up to who I am. When I was thinking that I was not as good as other people, that's not who I am. I lived that way for a good part of my younger life.

Travel connected me to something. That's why I kept going back because I was learning more and more about who I was when I traveled in a way that opened me up so that I could become more and more of that in my whole life then. What was it that helped me to be myself when we met? Maybe it was travel. All those people who helped me to open up, to be myself, and to feel comfortable with people I didn't know that I met traveling. You were just another one of those people that I met on the road. The road happened to be a workshop.

I have a feeling that as a result of that, it triggered something in both of us that we both naturally are connectors. We're both naturally people who feel comfortable and are willing to reach out to strangers because in the end, we're not strangers are we? I think in the end, what we learn about ourselves is that it doesn't matter where I go in the world. I've been in Indonesia and different places. I think that when I'm over there, this is extended family.

I have a huge extended family and some parts of the family are pretty crazy. Isn't that true for most families? You know that we've got all of our different family members. That's where I learned and that's the secret to travel is that the more we travel, I think the more we become connected to who we are and we can grow and expand and become more.

NQS 14 | Journey To Your Transformation
Journey To Your Transformation: The more we travel, the more we become connected to who we really are and we can grow and expand and become more.

I absolutely agree. You told me that you were the second born out of fourteen. You probably do have extended family all over the world, that family of origin. I'm curious though; what is it about that you said that connection? We're all connected anyways. Can you say more about that?

Let me approach it one way. If you think about my role, I was the second oldest in the family, with fourteen, which meant that I was the helper. I was my mother's helper. At a young age, I started watching and caring for my younger brothers and sisters. What happened in my family is that I gave up my own childhood, in a way, you could say, so that I could be there to take care of the rest of the family. I didn't have a sense of how to have my own goals. I didn't have a sense of who I was. I didn't have a sense of even things that I wanted for myself because everything was for everybody else. That's the way I said I started.

Now, I'm going to take you over to Italy. This is my second time traveling. I'm on my own. I go to Italy. I loved Italy. It's the early '70s. I'm on a train coming up from the Southern part of the boot and we got to a place called Bari. The train stopped and nobody knew what had happened, but it didn't move and they told us to get off the train. I got off the train, and I remember it was a hot day. We all ended up underneath this huge tree and a trainful of people standing around it, most of them speaking Italian. I don't speak a word of Italian, so I'm looking for somebody who might speak English.

I ran into this young guy, and he was about my age. He was maybe a little bit younger. We started talking because he was so excited to be able to speak English with me. He said, “Why don't you come with me?” I did. We got in his Volkswagen and we started going down the back roads of Italy between these farms and picking up his friends. By the time we got to his house, there were eight of us in this little Volkswagen.

There was a guitar sticking out the window. The next thing you know, we were all in his room. His story was that he wanted to learn English so badly that all of his English came from records. He had all these records from singers from the United States. When he'd meet somebody like me, he would get to practice because I spoke English. We spent three days together, and during the day, we would run together with his friends all over Italy.

These small farms and be in and out of people's barns and stuff. Every night, we would come back and there was this long table. His mother would make these huge piles of spaghetti and things. She would feed us and then we would stay on the floor or the couch in his room, on his bed. We were all over the room. We'd wake up in the morning and we'd keep going. What I think of is that thanks to that family, I learned that everything I could have possibly felt that I missed in my own family, I got there in Italy.

That was my first overseas family experience. They fed me and I had friends. We ran around and I could be myself and be like a kid in the family. That's one of the things that travel has done for me is whatever I felt I might have missed in my life, it wasn't missing. I think that's true for all of us that whatever it is that we're yearning for, it's available to us and there it is. It found me. This guy came and found me. He took me home and his mother fed me. For three days, I couldn't have been a closer member of a family and I just loved it. I still think of that family.

Whatever it is that we're yearning for, it's available to us.

What's interesting is you and I have had these conversations about which cultures would likely offer that type of experience. I'm like, “Italy, of course.”

That's probably why, in the beginning days, I always went to Italy when I traveled, and then I would end up going to other places because some places are easier to travel by the culture. What's unique about Italy in my mind is that the Italian people live in communities. I'm thinking here in Arizona, where I live, the Navajo, their house is a mile away from their next-door neighbor. That would never happen in Italy. In Italy, everybody lives in a community that's very close.

If you're dating or you have a relationship with your girlfriend, what happens is that they're so close that you make out on the park benches and stuff because everything is family and it's like that feeling of closeness. You go into a restaurant and you've got the older grandmother sitting in the corner, dad is throwing stuff in the pasta and in the stew or whatever and the kids are loud. They're running in and out and chasing each other. Italy is loud. It's family-oriented, and people are everywhere. No matter where you are, if you're open, you can be a part of it. They're generous people.

Yes. There are a lot of places in the world like that, too. Latin America tends to have that flavor as well. You and I talked about high-context and low-context cultures. I'd love for you to talk more about that and what attracted you. Where are you originally from, Francis?

I grew up in Cleveland.

Cleveland, Ohio.

It’s right across the border by the airport. Everybody in the community where I grew up, all of our parents, worked at the Ford plant. They had 30,000 employees or something and this was a community that, in its original form, was built to house all these people that worked in the same place. It was middle class. The people worked hard. Pretty much the lifestyle was that we all went to the same church.

Our parents all worked at the same place and we ran the streets with our friends, who were the same as everybody else. I think what it did was it made me feel a yearning for more because it felt like it was such a limited perspective. There weren't that many differences. Everybody seemed the same. I would sort of sneak off to the library and look at National Geographic magazines to dream about going to other places in the world.

You are not like the typical teenage boy, I imagine.

I don't know where I got it, but from a young age, I have wanted to travel. I grew up in an environment that felt restricted and everybody was doing the same things. I wanted to get away. There had to be more to life. I knew that from a young age.

What attracted you to that type of culture? I think you mentioned when we spoke about the high and low context cultures. You describe the low-context culture.

This is a brand new idea to me. I'm always learning about travel, but one of the things I came across is that if you look at culture, culture is what we share. I described growing up in a culture where what we shared was our parents worked at the same place. We had the same religious beliefs because we belonged to the same church. All the rules of our culture were pretty much established by the fact that we lived there. We knew that kids were supposed to be quiet and don't make too much noise. It was a very German culture,

That would be described as a low-context culture. What that meant is that you basically expressed yourself in words and you explained things to people. If they didn't understand, then you expected that they needed to be clearer in their communication. That's very much the norm for a number of cultures around the world. These cultures would include the United States, most of Western Europe, and Canada. What that means is that the emphasis is on the way that we connect and communicate with words and ideas.

NQS 14 | Journey To Your Transformation
Journey To Your Transformation: The way that we connect and communicate is with words and ideas.

That's the whole connection and that's the whole culture. In a high-context culture, what happens is that people connect on multiple levels. The relationship they have with somebody is important. When I talked about that family in Italy, that's a high-context culture. What was important was hanging out, having fun, laughing, and running around the country together because all of that was part of the context of our relationship.

I think in high-context cultures, which are the majority, people look at so many more things than what you're saying. People from the United States who are not used to being in a high-context culture have a difficult time fitting in. They might need some support to figure out that they're not matching and that the way they are at home isn't going to work here. If you try to spend too much time being serious and talking and communicating in Italy, the Italians would think, “What's wrong with them?”

I think part of what travel does, and especially for people from the United States, is it gives us the opportunity to leave a very limited type of cultural experience and to be able to open up and learn what it's like to be in a culture that's rich with all these different levels of relationship going on. In some cultures, you hang out and you get to know people before they even want to hear what you have to say. That's a rich culture and we have a chance to learn that by traveling.

I'm curious, though. The US is such a large country that you can find high and low context within probably many communities. You don't necessarily have to travel that far. How have you seen that play out in your own life here in the US?

There are lots of ways I could talk about it, but I'll talk about it as a therapist because I worked as a licensed clinical therapist for 35 years, but I was working in the field for another seven years or so, even before I became a therapist. I have a long history of being around people in the United States who are in their own culture. If you think about people who the medical model identifies as having certain types of illnesses, they have become a culture unto themselves.

That was the culture that I spent most of my day with because if I was working, usually more than 40 hours a week, I was surrounded by a culture of people who were not always understood or accepted because of their illness. They were often told that they were never going to be able to have the life that other people in this culture have and that they would never be able to do the same things that other people did to move up the ladder in society.

I think it's because they were defined as having anxiety disorders, depression, and sometimes psychosis. What I learned when I traveled, and this went both ways, is I would come home and I'd look at these people and I started understanding that they were experiencing culture shock when they tried to fit into the normal culture. However, their culture had them defined in such a limited way that they couldn't when they tried to get on the streets and walk around and feel normal. They didn't belong.

I was learning that there was a cultural disconnect even within the community of people that I worked with, but I also found that if I worked with them, I should let go of that rigidness around, “You're no good. You're never going to make it. You're not as good. You don't have what other people have. You're limited by your illness.” What I found is when we started to help them to let go of that and to have fun. We used to hang out in my program and they learned to enjoy life and to joke around with each other.

What naturally happened is that as they became a more rich cultural group, they started fitting in. They started getting beyond a lot of the symptoms of their illness. Travel helped me to see this group of people as people with whom I could interact just the way I did when I traveled. They had their own culture. The other thing it did then was working with them helped me to open up at a heart level because we can connect to anybody.

I think that as people, there's something that we share that is so genuine that it doesn't matter what culture you come from. Somehow, all of us share this and when we touch on it, that's the magic. That's what I was learning when I was overseas with people. I would bring it back and I'd feel it with this group of people that were my culture at home, the people who were struggling with mental illness. They taught me to become more open and accepting of them.

I felt so comfortable in their community because they opened up to me and they allowed me to experience who they were in a deeper way. It helped me to go and travel and be more open with people overseas. I was back and forth and I was basically learning from people how much we have to share that is beneficial when we get to know people, no matter what culture they come from.

We will ask you one more question, and I'm going to open it up to everyone to participate. One of the things that you point to there, especially in this country, is that it's so diverse. There are so many different types of people. There are so many different subcultures, ethnicities, races, and languages represented, you name it not only in the United States but throughout. The world does lend a bit.

You and your wife now take people on these trips, these journeys, and in some cases, people who've never traveled before and have yet to have the type of experiences that you've had. I'm curious about what it takes to prepare someone to be able to engage and connect where you don't have that judgment about what's right or what's wrong or this isn't the way things are done. When you're able to see openly and be accepting of the culture or the subculture with which you're interacting, what does it take to accomplish that?

Let me take you through a little bit about how we, as a group, prepare ourselves to travel. It starts before we leave. We get together on a Zoom call like this where people get to meet each other, but the thing about travel is that there's something that even starts to happen before they get on a plane. That's what we start to talk about. That excitement starts to grow in us, the anticipation. Part of what helps us to prepare happens before we get there.

Also, to have a chance to connect to that and talk about it makes it even stronger. It helps to bond us with the people that we're going to travel with. I think that's a huge and very important part. Also, once we get there, we get together every day and start our day with what I call a morning practice designed specifically to help us do exactly what you're saying. How do we get to where we can be present and open and enjoy this experience?

What we do is, let's say on the first night if you're traveling with me, we're going to sit down at a restaurant and we're going to look around and we're going to start to talk about, “Look at the signs and listen to the language,” or, “Look at this food. I've never eaten anything like this.” What we're doing is we're inviting our mind and our body to experience, “I'm not in the United States anymore. I'm not at home. Look at all this stuff.” It gets exciting and we open ourselves up to it.

I think that overcome fear because fear is the danger point. If someone gets afraid when they travel, it shuts them down and they call that culture shock. How we keep ourselves from shutting down is exactly what that meal is designed to do. What we do is we talk about it. We get excited about where we are and what we're doing is we're using our natural curiosity to overcome our fear.

That curiosity will help us to be present and open to what's around us throughout the whole trip. It gets stronger. Each morning, we tune our bodies because I think in the United States, at least as a child, I was never taught how to tune up. I would go into situations untuned. You can think of an orchestra where nobody knows how to tune their instrument. It's crazy. Could you imagine what that would be like?

Everybody is making noises, but nothing matches when that orchestra is tuned, then something happens that'll give you goosebumps when the harmonies hit and everything happens. That's what we need to do for our bodies. Our bodies are an instrument that the traveler uses. Travel is an art form and as an artist, the traveler has to tune their body so that they can be present to what's around them.

How do you do that?

We go through practices that literally help us start with grounding ourselves. You think of the traveler. What's most important to them is their feet because we walk a lot. If your feet are not solid on the ground, you can easily twist an ankle or something that'll make the whole trip different. We start with our feet. That's our grounding, but we want to ground in a foreign country, too. We want to feel what it's like to be part of the earth. It's like what the Native Americans do. They connect to the earth.

We connect to the earth as a starting point, and then we move up and we begin to tune our gut because that's where we get our gut instincts. When the travelers are walking down the street, how do they know to make a turn on this street? Their gut knows and they follow it. We learn to tune our gut so we're more sensitive to feeling what we're picking up in our gut, and then we move to the heart. That's where we connect to people. We learn what it feels like to open our hearts to a country that has all these opportunities and all these potential relationships. We learn to open up at that level to be trusting our gut and then we work at clearing our mind of anything that might get in the way.

You can think of that. It's an overview of what our morning routine each day is about. It is how I can tune my body so that by the time I go out and start walking, I can be curious and present and available to the experience and to the people I might meet. When that's going on, I'll tell you one more thing, and then we'll go on to more questions. Why does a traveler go back? People who are travelers like me never stop.

What is it? A lot of times, people would think, “They want to see more and more of the world, which is true, but it's not the real reason we go back. We go back because we know when we allow ourselves to be connected and be a part of people's lives no matter where around the world, what we know is, it changes us. We cannot be the same person. What keeps the traveler going back is what happens to me inside. I know I'm going to be changed and I'm going to be affected by people.

When we allow ourselves to really be connected and be a part of people's lives, no matter where in the world, it changes us.

You said so many wonderful things and as a fellow traveler, I agree with all of them. I think for some people, it sounded like I was just trying to rack up miles. I'm on my third passport and visited different countries, but it was never about racking up the number of countries. You're right. There's something that transformed me every single time I went someplace else, whether that was Japan, Brazil, or Poland.

I always felt that it shifted something in me, some aspect of my personality. I got to know myself better and relate to other people. Whether I spoke the language or not, there was always something about me that I was like, “I didn't think I could connect this way or I didn't think I would be interested like this,” or, “I didn't think that I would be as adventuresome.”

With all of these different experiences, I can absolutely see how having used my body as that instrument or vehicle to connect with myself and other cultures has absolutely transformed me. I want to get involved with the people who are reading this. I'm curious about some things that you all are hearing about your own experience in travel or perhaps some of the things that Francis has alluded to in connecting with yourself or others. I'm going to start with Johanna. We haven't talked to Johanna in a bit. Johanna, are you there? How about Meg? Meg, I would love to hear from you. Meg is one of our regulars. Meg, what are you getting from this conversation so far?

I don't know. Maybe come back to me. I can't put two thoughts together right now.

No worries. I appreciate you joining us.

Thank you.

Johanna's back. What are your thoughts? Can you tell us where you're connecting from?

I am in Dallas, Texas, which is a little different than it was last week but nonetheless the biggest takeaway for me. As he was talking about Italy, I was like, “That sounds very similar to our Hispanic culture.” Mexican-American people are all in your business and certainly always close by and that kind of thing. My son's godfather’s family is from Sicily. The first time I had Thanksgiving with them, I was like, “Are you sure you all aren't Mexican?” It's identical. It's the same thing, and I love it. When I'm there, it feels like home. It feels like just an extension of my family and they have completely embraced us.

My son believes that that is his grandma. It's great. I've come to understand, and I think having been in the military, being exposed to different cultures for an extended amount of time, and having the ability to live with people from different parts of the country, I think you learn to appreciate different things. It's not right or wrong. It just is different. I could resonate with a lot of the things that were said, but I have to say that the one thing that I probably took away from the conversation was that I didn't have fourteen brothers and sisters or anything. I came from a large family like that. I also was one of those kids that had to grow up fast.

I struggle a lot with what I want to do and what the next step is. How do I plan? Thinking for myself outside of other people is very foreign to me and feels almost wrong. It was pretty profound to hear that perspective and I am not sure how to get around it necessarily when you're accustomed and programmed to think that way. However, probably knowing is maybe the first step.

What it sounds like you're saying is a part of what resonated in what Francis mentioned was connecting to yourself because it sounds like so much of it. It was all about other people, your obligations to others and your responsibility. It sounds like this is an opportunity in your life where you're likely challenged to connect with yourself even more and not certain how to do that.

It's absolutely right. When people are like, “What do you want to do?” I'm like, “What?” I'm not sure even how to answer that. I know what I like and don't like necessarily, but it seems very bizarre. Thank you so much for bringing that to light.

Let me talk to you a little bit. I'm excited by what you're saying because you're touching on some other areas that we haven't had a chance to talk about, but that sense of not knowing what the next step is, I think there are two sides to that, and I wonder if that's true for you. On one side, it feels like I have no idea what I want to do, but some other part of me feels like I think something in me wants to happen even though I don't know what it is. It's like it's there.

Absolutely. I know that the next step is there. I don't know what it is and more than anything, it's fear. It's what if I am kind of manifesting this in my own mind? What if it's too much of a risk? What if it's this? Again, I was programmed to think about my son. It seems so risky to just jump.

What if that fear that you're talking about isn't you? What if fear is something that we inherit from our cultures or from the people around us? The way that people live, we take it in and act like it's us, but maybe the truth is that when we have fears, often they may not be who we are, but they're from the people around us in the way that we were raised and the way we think.

NQS 14 | Journey To Your Transformation
Journey To Your Transformation: When we have fears, often they may not be who we really are but they're from the people around us, in the way that we were raised, and in the way we think.

Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind that's what's going on.

Also, that's pretty cool because that's freeing.

Yeah. Getting around it, though, I think, is probably hard.

What you're looking for is already inside of you and it's not even afraid, but it doesn't know how to come out yet.

Johanna, I think you said something about getting around it. Is that what you said?

If it's there and that's what you know, it's so hard to get past that. It's a block. It's like this wall or something. How do you get past that?

Let me ask you this, Johanna, because sometimes it's easier when we're talking about something a little bit more concrete. Can you share where you might be feeling that? Is there an experience or situation where that block is showing up that you wish you could get around it?

My career. Valerie, we had this conversation. Now, going on more than six months where I know and there's an itch. There's this some kind of something on the other side, but the needs of our business and our families and all of that. Also, that feeling of security. Also, I love my role. I do, but I know that I've outgrown it and I need to move. I'm scared. It's fearful. I know that's what it is, but I’ve been praying a lot. “If it's your will, it will happen. I got to let it ride and not fight.” The worst part is that I know that I'm doing this.

I think the good news is that you're listening. You may not know exactly where to go, but it sounds like you're also listening to that urging that Francis mentioned. You're having something that wants to be expressed. We'll probably be handled in this conversation. You should join my coaching group. We're starting this evening. Let's talk offline about that because I think you might be able to make some progress there. Francis, what comes up for you? I remember you shared with me that there was some fear involved before you even started traveling and you were able to connect with yourself. Is there any advice or recommendation on where Johanna can start getting free from that?

One of the things that's not really as integrated into our culture for most of us that might be more a part of some cultures in other parts of the world is this whole idea of understanding transformation. I think that that might be related to what Johan is talking about, so let me share what transformation might be. The image that we use a lot is a good one. You start with a caterpillar and then the caterpillar goes into a cocoon.

The next part is something that most people may not know because I figure I didn't know, so I guess a lot of people don't know it. When the caterpillar gets into the cocoon, it becomes a liquid soup. The whole caterpillar comes apart into a soup, and then the parts come together as a butterfly but there are those three stages of being a caterpillar, going into this cocoon where you come all apart, and you're a soup and you become transformed into a butterfly.

I think what happens for those of us who are in a transition in our life like Johanna is talking about, is we're aware that the old caterpillar is no longer what we want in our life. There's something more but the idea of getting away from that caterpillar and allowing ourselves to go through a process that can be pretty scary when we don't anticipate it or we don't expect that things have to come apart and we have to maybe be undone for a while before that process starts to make sense where it comes together.

That's one of the things I like to remind myself of. There's a place in life and transformation that may often feel like, “I don't want to be here.” That's the part that allows us to let go of the caterpillar. Otherwise, we would stay caterpillars for life. We wouldn't let go of it unless we get to that place where we understand that going through this period of being uncomfortable is for a bigger purpose. It's for the purpose of becoming a butterfly. I believe that the part of us that knows that there's more is waiting. It's inside going, “Go for it. Let yourself feel uncomfortable a little bit because I'm behind this. I'm moving you forward.” I think we know what's next.

Going through this period of being uncomfortable is really for a bigger purpose. It's for the purpose of becoming a butterfly.

One thing that I think you mentioned about that cocoon, I want to explore this because the cocoon serves as a safety capsule in order for something to liquefy. That's probably the highest level of vulnerability to liquefy. There's nothing left. It's consumed by whatever that chemical reaction is. For me, that equates to the vulnerability that you could leak. We're not protected.

This idea of the cocoon, what I see in my mind when you were expressing that is that's why it's so important for us to surround ourselves, be so mindful about surrounding ourselves with the environment and the people, especially with people we're talking about connecting with. The people with whom we could have that sacred experience of transformation where we would feel comfortable because safety is the main thing. It’s because I think the fear that Johanna was talking about if you are not contained by an environment that is there knowing that, “I'm here to support your transformation. Go ahead liquefy. I'm here for you. I got you,” it's going to be very difficult to want to transition into that.

One of the things that I've learned over the years is that as independent and as assertive as I've been throughout my life, the times when I've had to have a significant transformation, it's been crucial for me to have what I call a personal board of directors that understood where I was transforming and that could hold a safe space for me to do so and it didn't require them to do much else. That could be a person that I could talk to and vent. It could be a person that I could call and get perspective.

In our conversations, Francis, you've been one of those people where I’m like, “I'm having these ideas and these new thoughts. What do you think?” You give me a perspective that’s very safe. You're not pushing or forcing me to do one thing. I also find that if we're not mindful about nurturing those relationships, getting into a cocoon, and staying in there long enough for anything that is as beautiful as a butterfly to come out on the other side, it's nearly impossible.

I want to transition a little bit because I know your wife is on the line here, and I've seen her facial expressions. Kathy, I want to bring you into this conversation because I imagine in having your many years with Francis here, that you've had to be that cocoon holder. I'm curious about how that shows up. You guys are traveling partners. How does this impact you?

The cocoon holder, I love the image that you gave of that container because we met in graduate school. Both of us were therapists and one of my images has always been that in a therapy or even in a coaching type of relationship, my goal is to always create that container. That's what I think Francis and I have done with each other as well that he has been that container for me and I for him.

It’s a place that does allow vulnerability. I loved your languaging around that because I think it's so needed and something that in the low-context and high-context culture conversation is relatively new. However, I think that that vulnerability is not often allowed as much in those low-context cultures as we generally have in the US. I think those containers are even more important. We've been married for a long time, and we were best friends from graduate school prior to that. We have quite a history together.

Kathy, I'm curious. Are you a world traveler as well, and if so, how have you transformed your relationship with Francis on this journey that you guys have been on?

I had not traveled prior to traveling. During grad school, a friend of mine and I went to Jamaica. Beyond that, I'd been to Canada, but that was about it. My first travels to other cultures, which the first time we traveled was to Greece and Egypt and going to different cultures that were so outside my own experience. At first, it was scary for me. Had I not been with Francis and had his experience of traveling, I probably would've felt much more threatened.

That was because of my own lack of experience and I grew up in this White middle-class suburban community. Being around anything different was pretty rare at the time for me. I had had some experiences, but not a lot. It was interesting. What I learned is to track myself is to go inside and say, “Oh.” “I'm starting to feel like, “This guy's trying to get me to buy something,” so I'm defending myself.

The minute I would feel that defense, then I would go, “That's what they do here. It’s what they have. Maybe I'll buy it, maybe I won't,” but just paying attention to that point at which I would feel defending that I would need to defend myself that wasn't even myself. That point would be something that I learned from Francis to be able to use as a way to tune in to the culture around me.

Before we move on, I want to have a way for people to get ahold of you, Francis, and Kathy. If they choose to travel or to participate in one of your trips or even learn more about the way in which you help people transform through travel, how should they get ahold of you?

The easiest way right now is to email that. They could send an email to In that little thing where you can put in a note, put travel in there, and that way, it'll trigger me that it doesn't get into spam or something. I love to talk to people. If somebody were to set up a chance to talk, I love to do that. If they want to know more about what I'm doing, definitely I'm always excited to share what I know about travel with more and more people.

This is so great. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been a wonderful time. Next time, we'll have another opportunity to learn about the final installment of our personal board of directors. This time, we're going to talk about the karmic members of your board. Those that are here to teach us and challenge us to grow. We'll have that conversation in our next session.

That’s the official end, but we want to continue because Kathy said some very interesting things there about your own travel experience. One of the things that I think is interesting, and Kathy, you mentioned that your instinct when you are feeling like you're defending yourself when you're no longer connected to the moment, but you're more guarding yourself. You mentioned Francis' travel experience, but at what point did you get so present and clear that it was what you needed to do in order to relieve, enjoy, or be present in that moment?

I think the first time I became aware of it was when we were in Indonesia. I had already done some traveling with Francis by then. It was such a moment of clarity that I was feeling contracted rather than open. I identified that feeling of contraction as a need to protect myself, and I recognized that I looked around me, and there wasn't anything I needed to protect myself from. Nobody was threatening me. There wasn't any yelling. It wasn't there.

I recognized that that contraction was a sign of fear for me. That meant that the way around that was to be more open. When Francis talked about the morning practices that he does with the travel with the purpose, a lot of that has to do with allowing that openness to be conscious and aware of what's around us so that we can be open to it and not shut down, not contract around it.

Maybe I could add to that a little bit. When we travel, I think the biggest challenge is how to deal with the fears because there's something that's inherent in all of us that so easily can get afraid. We talked about that transition period when you're in a cocoon that it's almost like, “How do we go through that without having our fear? Turn this around so we go back and become a caterpillar again.” I'll put two pieces together now and they might make more sense.

The one-piece is the importance of forming that community that we travel with. As a therapist, that was my thing. I basically did groups for the entire time I was a therapist. I love groups. I came from a large family, so I continued. That's what we start with. We create that community that can be the container, the cocoon. Now, what travel looks like is the caterpillar is leaving home. It gets on the plane.

The caterpillar is left behind and enters a foreign place where you don't always know what's going on, but you've got your cocoon. You have your support group around you that allows you to go through an experience that will deepen you into being more of who you truly are. You emerge as the butterfly and then you'll want to go back again for more. Kathy's right that when we travel together, what we're taking with us that's important is that relationship that we have that allows us to be more present.

NQS 14 | Journey To Your Transformation
Journey To Your Transformation: When we travel together, what we're taking with us is that relationship we have that allows us to be more present.

I think it's interesting, too, that when you talk about having that level of trust in the community that you build, whether you're traveling with your spouse or with an organized group, there has to be a high level of trust in order for that to happen. It's interesting because for many years, to be honest, and probably still to this day, I have felt a lot more comfortable traveling on my own. I've had a lot of experience.

My family traveled quite a bit because my father was in the military, so we moved around. I trust them and I trust that they can adapt to anything. I also realized that I've been somewhat hesitant to travel with other people because I know I can trust myself. I know how to connect with people. I know how to engage, and the travel experience is sacred for me. This is interesting. I don't think I've ever thought of it this way. Travel experience is so sacred for me that I'm like, “I don't want people to mess it up.” Are there fears? Are there issues or whatnot?

As I look back through some of my experiences with travel, I can see what Kathy said. Those moments where I could go, “Let's just be here with whatever's happening at the moment,” and not necessarily having to force some outcome or not necessarily trying to influence something because I think it's the way to do it. Those are the moments where I feel I can provide a cocoon and then allow others to cocoon me.

I think that's probably part of it. I've been a little bit hesitant about, “Who gets to be in the cocoon?” I've been very selective. One of the richest experiences I've had has been when I've dropped that. I think Kathy, you mentioned when you were in Indonesia, perhaps, and people were trying to sell to you. I had a similar experience in the Dominican Republic, where we went to these markets, and bartering was the thing there. They gave you some exorbitant price for something. You're like, “That doesn't make any sense. How is it that expensive?”

There's always some kind of discrepancy in how it was quoted. For the longest, I was trying to exert this control over, “You're supposed to do it this way,” because I live in the US and we don't trade. We don't barter. We don't negotiate the same way. There are certain places and certain things that you negotiate, but not jewelry, handbags, or clothing. I remember the moment when I noticed I was trying to force some sort of outcome and for it to go a certain way.

I started to notice how playful they were in the approach of bartering. It became like a game. I didn't even think I was that great a negotiator, but all of a sudden, I became more flirtatious. I would laugh and I'd touch people on the shoulder. I'd go, “Are you sure you want to sell that ring for that? Come on. I think you can do better.” I found this part of myself that I was like, “Wow.” It was quite fascinating. I love this conversation because I'm connecting it back to some of those.

That's the butterfly we're talking about. You discovered who you were and you didn't know about it.

I have no clue. This is fantastic. I am so grateful to you, Francis, for taking the time to join us and, more than anything, for what you share and the opportunity that we have to now connect to ourselves even more, and also the value of connecting with other people because of what you share. There's a lot of wonderful nuggets in here and I'm sure we'll have you back at some point.

I like the whole idea of you and Kathy traveling together because I think that's the other piece. Sometimes, in couples, how do you reconcile someone who needs and loves travel with someone who perhaps is a little bit more reticent and not as experienced with travel and how do you meet halfway? It’s because it sounds like you have had so many adventures together at this point in your life and in your relationship. I'm sure that would be a helpful topic for other people. I'm going to invite you to come back as a couple and share how that has impacted you. Would you guys be open to it?

We would, I'm sure. I traveled solo for the first six years. I traveled totally on my own.

Before you were married.

I was a solo traveler. Kathy and I learned to travel together. We then learned to travel with some of our friends, our travel buddies. I learned to take my experience of working with groups and focus on it as a transformational experience. Every single one of those is different and unique. When I talk to somebody who's young, in their late teens or early twenties, my recommendation is not what I'm recommending here. My recommendation is solo travel. Get a one-way plane ticket, get a backpack, and go off. You have plenty of time to wander around the world and that's for young people. I think that they're different and they're for different times in our lives and for different purposes.

Why young people only?

Not only. I guess that's not fair. Who do you think is the largest number of solo travelers?

I would say someone that's in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.

It’s women. They are the largest numbers. I guess I've got to take that back. A lot of women are finding that traveling alone this way is giving them something that they're longing for that they couldn't find in their own culture. That’s for women and young people, let's say, but what it does is give you a chance to learn what you're capable of because you have nobody else to fall back on. That's why I think for me, starting off that way was the best way I could have because it gave me a chance to see who I was and what I was capable of. There was nobody else, so you had to do it all.

Solo traveling gives you a chance to learn what you're capable of because you have nobody else to fall back on.

It’s funny you say that because now I think back. My very first significant trip was by myself and it was to Italy. I went for ten days. It was after my divorce. It was like my Eat, Pray, Love trip. I remember that it did show me what I was capable of. It showed me how comfortable I could be in a culture. Being in Italy helped because the culture was so easy. I agree. I think that particular trip was so meaningful because it did show me again that I became a butterfly after that. I remember I got so many compliments when I came back. They're like, “Valerie, you're glowing. What did you do?” I wanted a trip to Italy. There's nothing like very expressive Italian men to get your groove back.

It’s been a pleasure for me too. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Kathy. Thank you for participating. Meg, as well, and Johanna, for sharing. I’m so glad that you guys were able to join us. Now, we'll formally say goodbye and I hope you join us next time.

Thank you.

Important Link

Confucius: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

This week on our "Time to Come Alive" coaching session, we welcomed our intrepid, globe-trotting guest, Francis Conrad. He has all the right qualities for an effective transformational travel coach!


Francis shares how travel enabled him to not only connect with others but gave him the ability to connect with himself. We discuss how connection happens when we can learn to tune into ourselves and explore the impact of becoming more open and accepting.



  • It doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you go, you can choose to embark on a transformational journey.

  • Learn how to tune into your body (our gut) to address your fears.

  • Engaging and being present during travel brings out our best selves.


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