Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Do YOU Travel?

Rush hour on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

 Bonjour, mes amis.  I’ve missed you, but I’ve been in the throes of preparation for another summer away.  Plus, my arthritic knee is acting up again, my dog is showing more and more signs of her age, and, well, there’s the rain.  And rain.  And rain.  But an e-mail from a new reader of this blog pulled me back to the page.

A recent empty nester, he has found himself with an itch to travel to far off places.  He says he wants to see something “new, old, and different.”.  After stumbling upon my blog he wrote to ask what triggered me to do something as dramatic as building this second life in France.

Here is a more articulate version of my answer to him:


In my much younger days I never imagined I'd have the funds or the nerve to take off for parts unknown.  I did all my traveling lying on my stomach in the living room reading the encyclopedia.

As a wedding present, my husband and I received plane tickets to London and one night in a good hotel.  Since this was long before the internet, we had no idea what we were doing when we touched down in England.  After arriving, we found an affordable B&B (my first unfortunate experience with a full English breakfast) and bought a book about castles in Wales and our adventure was set.

Me and the locals in Skenfrith, Wales

Driving in the English and Welsh countryside felt like a scene straight out of a National Geographic magazine.  I bounced around in my seat as Brad navigated our rental down narrow country lanes between verdant hills.  Even going ‘round and ‘round the roundabout in Gloucester because we couldn’t figure out how to exit the dang thing was more an adventure than an irritation.  Who cared, because I was in the land of Shakespeare’s Duke of Gloucester.  I stood in a small field next to a real castle in Skenfrith, Wales in the land of King Arthur, surrounded by fluffy sheep, and I was hooked on travel.

My first sighting of an honest-to-goodness castle

Instead of spending money on nicer apartments or better cars Brad and I traveled the U.S. and Canada.  There were a lot of $9 campsites and $45 hotel rooms.  I also traveled for work and I loved the idea of touching down in a new place and feeling like I owned another piece of the world.  How great to know people in places beyond where I was born and raised and still lived.

My husband's job took him across the ocean to France.  On one extended stay I swallowed my fear of stepping outside my comfort zone to fly there with our two kids for a vacation.  He drew diagrams of the airports and signs to follow.  He gave explicit advice about taking buses.  He told me all the essential phrases, which I memorized.  Then I showed up in a foreign country and somehow managed to get myself and the kids from here to there and feed them and entertain them while my husband worked each day.  All without even knowing the language well enough to read a menu.  I felt empowered for "mastering" another part of the universe.

Since Brad kept returning to France for work, I finally gave in to the necessity of learning the language (I still suck at it).  Then last summer we decided to just act on what had been a constant dinner conversation "If we owned an apartment in France . . ."  We haven't moved there permanently because he still has his job here, but I love the idea of living elsewhere.  It's a place where I can "vacate" my regular life.  It’s not about becoming another person, but going someplace where I can bring out new parts of who I am and shake off  ruts of my primary routine in the US.  And I love the thought of leaving my mark in a foreign place.

Traveler and writer Pico Iyer, in his Salon essay “Why I Travel,” said it even better:
“For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.”

Travel clears my mind.  It exercises my brain because it has to wrestle with so many new problems/situations.  It keeps me physically young because I work to be able to climb both the mountains there and the three flights to my apartment.  And I still haven’t had that bike trip in the Netherlands or hiked the Grand Canyon.  It keeps me from going stale in many different ways.  For Iyer, “the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle.”

Travel, as I see it, is not about distance but about moving in a new direction. One old friend reached mid-life and bought herself a motorcycle just to feel the freedom of the road when her workday ended.  Another friend invested in a DSLR camera and now travels through her own part of this country photographing the places with which she has a lifelong familiarity.  She sees something new on each photo shoot.  Really, “travel” is just a term for finding a way to move outside yourself.  Or deeper in.

Unless you’re doing that, you’re just a tourist.

So tell me – what moves you?  Why do you travel?  Have you found a new passion that lets you “travel” outside of your routine?  If you have your own definition of travel or want to disagree with any part of mine, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments box.  Or simply tell me where you’re going this year and what you hope to find when you arrive.

An award-winning photo by my friend, Marsha Masters Hughes.
You can see more of her work here.

9 comments:

Bella said...

Julie, I travel to Spain every summer. I travel because it allows me to charge my batteries, because time spent in such a place gives me the energy to return to the daily conundrum. I spent a magical two weeks in Paris a couple of years ago. I was never the same person. There's something about eating croissants and drinking a latte in a French bakery that is almost surreal. I'm happy that you are living your dream. Good for you! I hope that soon you will be able to move to France permanently! :)

Patricia said...

"Travel, as I see it, is not about distance but about moving in a new direction. " - You've expressed the feeling perfectly here, Julie. Travel, like so many other new experiences, adds more layers to the spaces we already inhabit. I can never get enough! I'm looking forward to your summertime posts from France. We won't be over there until September and I am already counting the days!

Anonymous said...

Martine Said.....Your summary is excellent. In France, there is a quote by Michel de Montaigne "the travels broadens the youth". "les voyages forment la jeunesse" from "essais" « De l’institution des enfants ».

Martine said....
He thinks that travel, meet other people, other living habits, find ourselves into a situation where we can understand another culture or different civilization from his own, we can form our personality and see more clearly .
I agree with this deduction but each person have their motivation . Also, I would add my quote: The Travels enrich our mind but deplete our bank account.

Julie Farrar said...

Oh, Martine. Thanks for quoting Montaigne, my favorite French writer.

Bella and Patricia, I like the idea of adding layers and recharging batteries. So many people in America never take a vacation BY CHOICE (not talking about people who can't afford it). I can't imagine what it's like to never want to go anywhere.

Nadine Feldman said...

Hey, Julie!

I had to chuckle at some of your post. I remembered my first roundabout (in Ireland), and how I had to go around a few times to figure it out...then I loved them! I also relate to the challenge of speaking another language, and the decision to put money into travel rather than into cars or other luxuries.

I always tell people that I travel because I'm bad at geography. :) I love learning more about my world, and once I've been to a new place, I have a better understanding of the shape and location of cities and countries.

Over the years we recognized our love for mountains and hiking -- more and more, we found ourselves in places like Switzerland. After our last trip there in 2011, we realized that we wanted to live among mountains. Now that we do, we don't want to travel as much. When we do, it's usually nearby.

Greg mrakovich said...

Julie,
You are awesome. And I can't thank you enough for answering my question. Finding your blog and others like it has helped fuel this new found passion to see the world. I like Bella's comment of "There's something about eating croissants and drinking latte in a French bakery that is almost surreal", I for one can't wait to have that experience. Thanks again!

Julie Farrar said...

Glad to help, Greg. And Nadine, I remember well that trip to Switzerland because that's when I discovered your writing.

janiceheck said...

HI Julie, Two of my life-long goals have been to live in another country (accomplished: I lived in Hong Kong for seven years), and to become fluent in another language (not accomplished...yet). Exploring other countries and cultures around the world is fascinating to me. Travel takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me take control of my environment, rather than letting it control me. I love claiming areas as my own by getting up close and personal with these new surroundings where every day brings new challenges and discoveries.

Julie Farrar said...

hi Janice. I like your idea about travel making you proactive and not passive. I think you've hit on something.

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