Don’t you love when an experience unexpectedly gives us an opening to see ourselves more clearly? It’s when we get to witness the effect a particular circumstance has on our thoughts and behavior and it’s those illuminating moments that bring us closer to an understanding of our self and our inner world.

My most recent travels did just that. They were wrought with many challenges and gave me enormous insight. But before the enlightenment came the struggle. And it was real.

I consider myself a lucky, carefree traveler. The journey itself always being more important than the destination. This attitude has taken me all over the world and rarely have I had to deal with a canceled flight, a dreadful hotel or lost bag. Until this year.

3 ½ weeks of holiday travel was initially conceived as a special big birthday experience for my husband. A sailing adventure on a Windstar 5 mast sailing ship for 14 days from Lisbon, Portugal across the Atlantic to the Caribbean island of St Martin. Lisbon is a long distance from Los Angeles so we would kick off the trip with a few days in Lisbon before the sail and a few days in St. Martin afterwards. With just a little research we found classy boutique hotels in Lisbon and on the French side of St Martin. A perfect plan!

Windsurf 5 mast sailing ship

The newly refurbished Windsurf ship would make the maiden voyage with us onboard to enjoy its’ new Spa, renovated suites and loads of upgraded facilities. As fate would have it, the timing of the trip landed closer to my actual birthday than my hubby, so we planned for a double celebration. Why not?

Our first stop was the Heritage Hotel in Lisbon and we instantly loved it. Centrally located, we could walk easily to explore lots of cool neighborhoods and the hotel offered a daily gorgeous self-serve breakfast until noon. Nothing makes me happier than to wake up to a Nespresso machine and fresh baked breads and homemade jams! We were excited to wander Lisbon just as the festive Christmas markets were opening for the season.

Unfortunately, the Universe had other plans for me. By day 2, I contracted a horrific case of food poisoning (most likely from one of the many raw samplings I tried around town) and spent the remainder of my time in Lisbon, well you can imagine where. Bedridden and sicker than I can even remember, my new goal was to get well enough to get on the ship. Now forced to stay in my room, the Heritage Hotel turned out to be even a better choice. The spaciousness of the room was exceptional for European standards and the towels and sheets were soft and luxurious. When the staff heard I was ill, they brought me fresh brewed chamomile tea and offered gracious assistance. Their kindness did not go unnoticed.

Big blue sea view

A few days later, I arrived to the port of Lisbon weak but still wanting to sail. One of the unique aspects of this particular Windstar transatlantic crossing is the intimate nature of the smaller sailing ship. Fewer passengers means more opportunities to connect to those traveling onboard and plenty of room to dine at any of the 3 gourmet style restaurants. I had been looking forward to the fancy specialty cocktails each night and the live music under the stars.

Sadly, my stomach wasn’t ready for anything but rice and water. Leaving Lisbon, the weather was stormy and the sailing rocky. My husband felt unexpectedly seasick. I never mind the motion but my food poisoning had left me wreaked physically. We spent the first several days spending lots of time in our roomy suite (a real luxury onboard a ship), ordering 24/7 room service while I tried to wrap my head around the reality of being on holiday on a strict diet of no alcohol, caffeine, sugar, raw foods or spice. No holiday menu for this foodie in sight.

Several days into the sail, with milder seas and sunny skies I began to accept that this trip would be different. Philosophically, I was learning how to be sick and still grateful. I started my days creeping up onto the top deck as the sun rose to meditate and take in the beauty of the big blue sea. I wasn’t well enough to do my usual yoga routine but I did the postures I could manage on a moving ship and added a whole lot more gratitude into my morning rituals. I relearned how to play chess and backgammon and enjoyed witnessing my husband’s participation in trivia playing, golf putting and talent night escapades. My former “party girl” self was discovering the bookworm me, devouring memoirs, novels and poetry day after day while lounging on a comfy chaise on the deck all day. My Pina colada subbed out for a lemon ginger tea. Quiet, early simple dinners replaced late nights dancing and socializing in the lounge, my normal extroverted self nowhere to be found.

14 days later as we approached St Martin, I felt ready to shift gears and enjoy Parisian croissants and Caribbean fare but our luck had not changed. As we hopped off the ship and into a taxi, we were told that striking workers and civil unrest made traveling to the French side of the island impossible . Now with no hotel, we had no idea where to go. Our taxi driver had a sticker posted to her dashboard that read, “Positive Mind, Positive Vibes, Positive Life.” This I took as a good omen. She knew a resort on the Dutch side of St Martin, so off we went.

Balcony view Divi Little Bay Beach Resort

We arrived at the bustling Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, a seaside spot whose outdoor reception area was already packed with luggage and travelers. I approached the busy desk with no reservation yet was surprisingly met with warmth, understanding and empathy. It was early morning and check-in time was 4 PM but I was assured we would have a room that night. We headed to the beachfront and spent the morning with our welcome drinks under a comfy umbrella and by midday we were escorted to our room. The moment we saw the spectacular sea view from our balcony and the giant jacuzzi tub, we knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be. To spend the last few days of our holiday wrapped in Island hospitality made us feel very happy.  

This particular trip, with all its challenges, sent me home with a renewed perspective and appreciation for small kindnesses, good health, the joy of a sunrise, my morning meditation and so much more. My heightened awareness and renewed attitude of gratitude is exactly the way I want to begin this new year of travel and adventure.


  • Dr Sharon Ufberg

    Dr. Sharon Ufberg is a freelance writer, entrepreneurial coach, founder of Borrowed Wisdom and hosts Force of Nature on NPR’s 51% radio.

    Dr. Ufberg is a radio host and freelance journalist who writes and talks about human spirit, people and places that make a difference, women, musicians and philanthropic initiatives.She creates and teaches online personal growth courses and privately coaches individuals as the senior consultant for Borrowed Wisdom and Good Advice Works, companies she created to assist people to turn their dreams into reality.