I love to travel. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a car trip to another Minnesota town or flying halfway around the globe, there’s something about exploring new landscapes, new geographies, and geometries of cities in the distance and close up.
Part of that love of travel is embedded in the knowledge that at some point, we will come home again. Returning home to the old familiar is as wonderful as the going away with its new adventure.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that dichotomy this month as the nation goes through its back to school/back to work season. In this country and a few others, this is the time of year when we get organized, go back to the grindstone, focus on professional goals, and buy new pens. More than January 1st, this is the time of year when I sit back and reflect on where I am and where I’m going.
The same happens when we travel. We always know where we’re going to board the plane and where the plane is scheduled to land. Now that we’re beyond the backpacking phase of our lives, we also have hotel rooms locked down and an itinerary in place when we fly off. Our suitcases have been packed, repacked, and pared down to carry-on status and we have a definite idea of what we are planning to do and see.
And then we land and the experience of it all takes over. The itinerary – the plan – becomes a mere outline to what circumstance and the weather determines is preferable. Sometimes the heat of a day will drive us into a cool museum or shady café with iced beverages when we thought a good hike was the plan. Sometimes a day by the pool wins out over seeing the Kasbah once more - just because.
The best part of travel is in the foreground of all those landscapes and geographies. It’s the people. There’s the friendly face that brings our morning café au lait in the hotel, the smiling and eager merchants on the street, and the head chef at the most popular restaurant in town.
Our waiter laughs with us as we try out Spanish, French, and a bit of Arabic while his English can easily handle our basic requests. But we keep trying to improve our meager language skills. We all know it’s good for us as our brains age – either that or we need to learn a new musical instrument.
There was the driver in Gibraltar who made a tour of the Rock doable in our available afternoon. His skill at vertical driving along switch backs combined with stories of serving in the tunnels of the rock during his service in the Gib national guard kept us all on edge – pun fully intended.
I always find the adventure of the new and unexplored so exciting because it’s a reminder that no matter where we go in this world full of the exotic, there are people who are eager to share with us – to share their perspective, their pride of place, their food or customs.
Then it’s time to come home – back to the lives we’ve created in the place we love. Unpacking, reengaging, reflecting on all we experienced in the places we explored.
It’s the final step of the itinerary of travel – the reflection part where we realize we’ve been changed by the experience of travel - that we’ve grown and learned by our interaction with those in other places. We recognize once again that the world is full of kind, engaging people who are interesting because of their differences.
The same is true here at home.
Even though we’re launching a very regular back to school year in the midst of a very irregular and divisive political campaign, this country remains full of kind, engaging people who are interesting precisely because they’re so different. I’ll try to hold on to all I learned from our travels as we move through this fall.