Breeze, a shaded balcony, bare feet, sun-kissed shoulders, salty air. The sound of mid-day Spanish news fills the room beyond the open sliding glass door which pulls the breeze in with the curtains; a constant current of cool air. These are intoxicating ingredients for my eighteen year old self. My first experience abroad. I’m far away; from family, from being someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. A continent away from English, I am steeped in Spanish. None of this is familiar, everything is new. Pen in hand, journal in lap, I am anonymous, foreign and full. I am content.
If there’s a seed, a lineage to which one can trace the tree of her adult life back; Alicante, Spain, the location of my first study abroad experience provided the soil. That moment, on that balcony was my awakening from girlhood into the fresh and inquisitive ever-present now; it was when I became in the insatiable woman I am today. Eighteen years later, I find it no coincidence, looking back at that little seedling cracking open, a pen and paper bore witness.
I still have that journal. It’s covered in maroon fabric with iconic travel images— the Eiffle Tower, vintage postcards and a stamp-covered trunk. My mother’s best friend gave it to me as a going away gift. I used to gaze at its hardback, mesmerized by the mystery of never-before experienced nostalgia. Its inside pages bear quotes by writers who were very much unknown to me at the time but who I’d slowly come to discover. My journal captured more than my imagination, it became a container, a holding space for tender beginnings.
At age thirty-six, it’s difficult to quantify the effect that traveling and writing have held over the trajectory of my life. What I can say is that both have been fundamental in the making of me. Since that first Spanish scrawling, I’ve done what I consider some of my best writing on planes, trains and boats. There’s something about being participant to motion, the conscious knowing of our body’s movement through time and space that spurs the imagination along paths it would have otherwise missed. Clacking down a track, bobbing in sparkling waters or somewhere around thirty-thousand feet tunes us into the possibility of magic. Somewhere within that magic the muse freely emerges.
I've found that the limbo land of travel lends itself to writing in ways that living out our ordinary lives in our regular routine never could, playing up our awareness, helping us look with sharper eyes, listen with a keener ear. Traveling, like writing, is a rare two-fold reality. We set out with a goal, a destination— whether traveling or writing— and end up a great distance from where we intended to be. To write, in many ways, is to travel — a stepping into another way, place, and time of being.
To me, one of the most interesting similarities between travel and writing is uncertainty. Rarely do my travels or my writing take me where I expect to go. It's a truth that makes me both giggle and gag. And I suppose that’s part of the allure of both making art and travelling: to encounter the unexpected. Be brave enough to take the risk and gain a delightful return on our investment.
I’ve run out of gas, lost luggage more times than I can count, vomited in a few different hotel toilets (either hungover or jet lagged or both). I’ve been moved to tears for reasons I can barely grasp, felt bewilderment experiencing my own smallness, just tiny spec in the vastness of humanity and history. I’ve experienced crippling loneliness and I've also randomly run into people I know. Like my beloved high school Spanish teacher in Florence as she walked out of a tie shop. I’ve been pickpocketed in Madrid, car-jacked in the Dominican Republic, jeered at, leered at and even been crapped on (by a bird) my first five minutes in the eternal city. (Luckily that means good luck in Rome.) I have learned this: have little to no expectations and you cannot be disappointed. Expect to be surprised. Expect it won't ever go as planned. Sometimes it won't turn out. Mostly, it won't turn out.
And still, I keep planning my travels. I keep returning to the page. Why? Because traveling and writing are the best vehicles I've found. Surefire ways to (re)locate my innermost self.
Both on the page or in a remote corner of the planet you may find yourself in a place where you can’t find the language for what you want to say. Even yet still we are forced to find our way. And sometimes the only way to arrive is to journey boldly toward said destination despite and in spite of those uncertainties.
When the destination ultimately turns out not to be at all where we thought we're going, we might look around and shrug in slight disappointment. Or we might celebrate in recognition and in knowing that actually, this was really where we were meant to arrive all along. If you've ever gone anywhere you'll know; get there and be sure that what's beyond is still ahead. In my eighteen and thirty-six year old opinion, it's a marvellous and mysterious unveiling worth moving toward.