The Traveler

Just a little bit into Summer, and I’m reflecting on one of the really nice things about having more flexibility in my current stage of life:  being able to travel whenever I choose. If I haven’t already booked a trip, then I’m in the process of planning one. I find that I need something on the horizon that I know is going to give me what only travel can. I won’t go so far as to say it’s an ‘addiction’ for me, but I do know that if I don’t get to explore other countries and cultures on a regular basis I become bored and cranky.

I was in my early teens when my parents (French teachers) took me and my younger brother on our first international trip:  England, France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. Full-disclosure:  as a kid, I hated it. As a parent, I think there’re a couple of (very) narrow windows during which travel with children is either ‘tolerable’, or, can actually be a meaningful experience for them. Teenagers are always risky (read:  moody), as my parents found out ( I never got enough sleep during that trip, and they paid the price.) There was a similar trip when I was 16, then another at 19 (the last year I traveled with them). This one spanned over two months and 18 countries: intense and life-changing. I’m pretty sure that this last trip did something to my brain, turning me into a Traveler. Here’s how it played out…

We were in Athens, in late July (yes, super-hot). Our modest hotel was in the main part of the city (convenient, but noisy and with no A/C). We’d been traveling non-stop for two full months and nerves were frayed – make that shredded (living out of a suitcase, coordinating and negotiating with one another, and simple physical exhaustion). Our itinerary’s next stop was Grafrath, Germany (near Munich), to visit family friends, then on to Paris to meet with more friends. I realized that I just couldn’t take another two weeks in the Family Configuration. (As I noted in a previous Post, “The Fountain in Kyoto”, traveling and remaining at peace with your companions is an ‘art’). I made a (desperate-sounding, I’m sure) phone call to the agent we’d used and was able to change my ticket, flying out of Athens in two days and back to California.

The flight from Greece back to the States was blissful:  the plane was a 777 with lots of empty seats, so I was able to get those arm-rests up and stretch out my 5’10” frame. The crew was due for a furlough, they announced amiably, and were upbeat and “Whatever!” with food, wine and cocktails. It was one of those flights of ‘yesterday’ (that I haven’t experienced much since):  people wandering freely between first-class and economy, talking and drinking with one another.

When we landed in San Francisco (after a 3 a.m. Customs stop in Seattle), the weather was typical for the summer:  cold and foggy. As I gathered my belongings to exit the plane, I began to feel it:  Where am I? No, it wasn’t the jet-lag crazies, it was something deeper. As I stood still in SF’s International Terminal, people pushing past in both directions, I probably looked a little dazed. I was nut-brown, arms and legs bare, in a long, thin gauzy dress, with my favorite Greek sandals on my feet. I was suddenly freezing and tore into my bag for a wrap. Now sweater-ed, I tried to get my bearings in a once-familiar airport. But the entire scene felt foreign to me. Disorienting. Kind of a culture-shock in reverse. Even the English language sounded weird to my ears.

Becoming so used to unfamiliar sights and sounds; adapting to multiple currencies, social customs, time zones and climates; I suddenly felt out of my ‘element’ in my own country. I didn’t feel the relief, at first, of being back home in the U.S. – just separation from the experiences that I realized had changed who I was. This is why I travel. It’s so much more than the excitement of visiting new places. Travel is an amazing portal that I step through – for however long my trip is – and come back through, feeling different; knowing that new and important ‘pieces’ have been added to Who I Am, and Who I Am Becoming. Next stop:  Morocco , 28 September, 2019.

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