Polar Bear Cubs

Photo by Holly Glessner

I’m one of those people who tends to travel with zero expectations. This isn’t because I have some overly pessimistic worldview or have had some unfortunate litany of bad travel experiences. On the contrary: I’m optimistic to a fault and all of my “top ten” life moments have occurred while traveling. I’ve just found that, when you approach a situation with no expectations, you leave room for being amazed.

But if I’m being honest, when I touched down in the tiny hamlet of Churchill, Manitoba, I had more than just a few expectations for my polar bear adventure. In my role as an Adventure Specialist at Nat Hab, I talk about this trip on an almost daily basis. I was there to ensure that everything was running like the one of the well-oiled machines I know Nat Hab trips to be.

  • I expected seamless transfers.
  • I expected easy pickup of my boots and parka.
  • I expected passionate naturalist guides, thrilled to share their knowledge with me.
  • I expected effortless logistics, happy guests, and enthusiastic support staff.
  • I expected to come home thrilled to reassure my travelers, with confidence, that this was the most well organized and executed trip I’d ever been on.

Even at our first polar bear sighting, I was busy mentally checking expectations off a list:

  1. “Excited guests?…check.”
  2. “Are the guides helping to interpret what we’re seeing?…check.”
  3. “Is everyone getting a clear view?…check.”
  4. “Are guests getting good photos?…check.”
  5. “Are guides floating evenly around the group?…check.”

I was entirely, and completely unknowingly, consumed by checking off these expectations.

Then. This. Happened.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Photo by Lauren Deeley.

On a trip where I was uncharacteristically expecting a lot, Mother Nature served up the one thing I was definitely NOT expecting. While the northern lights happen above Churchill about 250 days a year, it’s extremely rare to get a night clear enough in October to see them.

It was our first night on the Tundra Lodge and we were treated to an incredibly long, vibrant display of the famed aurora borealis. It was my first time seeing the northern lights, but even veteran viewers found themselves swept up in the energy of the shifting, swirling lights above us.

I cried.

After the natural light show had subsided, and I lay in my bunk drifting off to sleep, a shift occurred. I spent the next five days allowing the experience in Churchill to unfold and wash over me like the northern lights from the first night. I approached each moment unencumbered by expectations and was delighted with polar bear sightings and long moments with snowy owls.

It is so easy to get caught up in our expectations for life, travel, work, and family. Leave it to Mother Nature to, in one beautiful night, deliver a reminder that life (especially travel) is best experienced with no expectations.

Green Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Photo by Court Whelan.

This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Adventure Specialist Lauren Deeley.